Climate Tribalism on Display

Several weeks ago, I wrote that the climate discourse was “trapped in a negative feedback loop.”  The two extremes on the spectrum, I said, reinforced each other via their “separate echo chambers.”

A strong characteristic of this dynamic, which many have lamented (and just as many have dismissed) is tribalism. The reaction to the Heartland disclosures/leak/theft/fabrication is thus far utterly tribal, at least judging by the comment threads in the climate blogosphere. This face-off between the tribes produces a caricature of the two sides that one commenter at Bad Astronomy has captured well:

I don’t want to speculate on specific right or left wing agenda’s, my point is that currently climate science gets hi jacked by both the right or the left. It is as if atmospheric dynamics are somehow directly linked (teleconnected one might say) to the political persuation of the particular debater. We see it all the time”¦”¦ “what you question CAGW? you must be some sort of right wing creationist nutjob in the pay of BIG OIL!” or “What you believe all that global warming guff? you must be some sort of tree hugging, crystalgazing, unemployed leftie!!” The actual arguments (good and bad) get lost in the political/social/religious sterotyping. You see it here all the time ( have even done it myself ;-) on occasion) and you see it on just about every climate blog.

25 Responses to “Climate Tribalism on Display”

  1. EdG says:

    I think that the main driver of the ‘tribal’ response of the ‘skeptical’ side was not so much the ‘Big Oil’ label as the use of the word ‘denier.’

    Not only is that term offensive and absurd but it also confirmed to any rational person that the underlying arguments had NOTHING to do with real science.

    Which leads to the big question of whether or not the ‘tribalism’ which developed was a ‘good’ thing. Where would we be now without it?

  2. Joshua says:

    “I think that the main driver of the “˜tribal’ response of the “˜skeptical’ side was not so much the “˜Big Oil’ label as the use of the word “˜denier.’.”
    Well, I think the main cause of tribalism on the “realist” side is the myriad posts on “skeptical” sites about communist/socialist/eco-Nazi/leftist/progressive/capitalism-hating/limp-wristed/liberal/academic elitist/pocket-lining/Al Gore-inspired/ AGW cabal?
    Do you really not get the point? The tribalism exists on both sides not because of what the other side does, but because of what is intrinsic to the combatants on both sides, and to the nature of the battle itself. Do you not see that what you just wrote is that “tribalism” exists among “skeptics” only because those ebul “warmists” made them do it? All you did was quibble about which “warmist” offense caused the tribalism among “skeptics.”
    Bro, wake up. Look around. Smell the coffee. Get a whiff of the bacon. And sit down at the table to exchange opinions. Pointing fingers ain’t going to get you anywhere.

  3. hunter says:

    If skeptics had been successfully intimidated into silence, the AGW consensus would still eventually fracture, but after much higher cost.

  4. EdG says:

    Joshua, I find your condescending attitude to be both shallow and tiring.

    What we fashionably call ‘tribalism’ is simply primate groupthink, and it develops as a natural response to group conflicts. The greater the degree of conflict, the more this ‘us v them’ mentality is strengthened.

    My point is simply that the deliberate choice of the word ‘denier’ to brand one side was like a red flag waved at a bull, which only increased it. And, again, the use of that word and its implications only confirmed that real science was not the basis of the AGW project, as that thinking is the ultimate in anti-science.

    So, on top of the lack of actual evidence for the AGW case, and the Climategate confirmations about the non-scientific approach, the AGW Team only made things worse for their cause by using that term.

    In any case, I will continue ‘pointing fingers’ at the obvious. That is the real scientific approach.

  5. harrywr2 says:

    EdG Says:
    <i>My point is simply that the deliberate choice of the word “˜denier’ to brand one side was like a red flag waved at a bull</i>
    The problem is that Alynsky’s rules for radicals are not effective rules for governing. Just look at the ‘Arab spring’. Overthrowing their governments was easy…forming a ‘governing coalition’ is hard work.
    The ‘broad branding’ of one group or another as this,that or the other makes it difficult to form a ‘governing coalition’.
    Senator ‘Climate Change is a Hoax’ Inhofe is pro-nuclear, he is also the Ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works committee.
    No ‘serious’ environmental person hoping for legislation would call him names. At best environmentalists will need his ‘acquiescence’.
    But what the heck…the ‘Climate Community’ accused him of McCarthyism…now they can wait until Inhofe dies of old age before anything they want ever gets out of committee with his consent.
    At some point the ‘Climate Concerned’ will grow up and realize that if they want ‘real legislation’ that means working with people they don’t like very much.
    Personally I place the odds of that happening at zero. The only hope of addressing ‘climate change’ is that the price of coal continues to rise thru normal market forces.

  6. Doug S says:

    Well said harry, it looks to me like the climate change community is dead but just doesn’t know it yet. Here in what should be the hot bed of support for environmentalism, San Francisco bay area, municipal climate action plan meetings are poorly attended. The general mood of the residents in attendance is cool, skeptical and definitely not blindly just rubber stamping what the presenters are proposing. The game is over but the reverberations through the policy initiatives and the culture will take some time to taper off.

  7. Jarmo says:

    I cannot see how climate science could not be politicized.

    For greens and the left it is a godsend (or Gaiasend). An issue that possibly enables enforcement of policies that they have only dreamt about. Telling people how to eat, live, consume, work etc., in the name of science that is settled. Make the largest wealth redistribution in history. A chance to start the greatest infrastructure alteration project ever and create a just, sustainable world, overseen by a benevolent international organization advised by the brightest scientists.

    For the right it is the unholy alliance of eco-loons and scientists. Doomers with solutions that will doom us quicker than the proposed doom will. Taxation and price hikes up to yazoo to pay for green visions while crippling the economy.  All machinated by the green infiltrators who will throw away the green masks they have donned once the world government is in power to reveal their red faces. 


  8. hunter says:

    Bad Astronomy is almost there. The AGW movement captured climate science a long time ago. Leftists dominate AGW.

  9. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Keith: You keep using that term, “negative feedback loop.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

  10. Jeff Norris says:

    You have to read Kieth’s yale post linked above to understand what Kieth means by “negative feed back loop”.
    I  think it is more of a play on words dealing with how   the  extremes on both sides only  focus on negative or continous comments  as opposed to  searching for  issues  of agreement.

  11. Jay Currie says:

    “The actual arguments (good and bad) get lost in the political/social/religious sterotyping.”
    Actually, on the warmist blogs they get lost in moderation.

  12. Martha says:

    Keith, the detached arrogance and colonialism of describing this as “˜tribal’ may be clearer if you consider that the reality of impacts on indigenous and other people around the world is generally not part of the white “˜debate’.

  13. Keith Kloor says:


    Huh? I’m not following you. The rhetorical blood sport dynamic of the climate debate is dominant and already detached from everything else.

    I’m not making any reference to indigenous peoples. That’s a separate discussion. 

  14. hunter says:

    Why are you deliberately trying to misuse the term “tribal”?

  15. Jarmo says:

    White debate… here is an example of non-white debate … or actually there seems to be no debate but agreement over there:

    New Delhi: An internal note prepared by the Planning Commission, and endorsed by the Prime Minister, says India by simply maintaining the current growth tempo, can cut its carbon emission intensity of GDP by up to 39% by 2020 from the 2005 base. Therefore, the voluntary target of 20-25% cut in emission intensity announced by the government in Parliament on Thursday actually does not commit to any big reduction in carbon emissions in absolute terms. In fact, India’s new proposal merely seeks to keep its own carbon space for development while pushing the developed economies to respond to the new formulation of “carbon intensity of GDP.”
    “The West has problems with the per capita carbon emission formulation. But they cannot quarrel with the carbon intensity of GDP model as they too are interested in growth,” Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told FE. 

  16. David in Cal says:

    I think the typical response to the charge that skeptical scientists are in the pay of BIG OIL isn’t that the warmist scientists are tree-huggers.  Rather, its that they’re in the pay of BIG GOVERNMENT!  IMHO this particular response has some merit. because governments directly and through the UN pay the warmists some enormous multiple of what the Oil companies pay the skeptics,

  17. allen mcmahon says:

    Tribes?  More like Cults considering the small numbers on either side who react  with ideology predictability whenever chum is cast upon the waters.

  18. Steven Sullivan says:

    I pretty much stop reading at ‘CAGW’, which is an acronym a  ‘warmist’ would not use…not even a cartoon one.

  19. Harry says:

    “Several weeks ago, I wrote that the climate discourse was “trapped in a negative feedback loop.”  The two extremes on the spectrum, I said, reinforced each other via their “separate echo chambers.””

    In what way is following the scientific method being trapped in a negative feedback loop?  Tell me how many things anti-science has produced compared to science.

  20. hunter says:

    Steven Sullivan,
    @19, that would explain a lot.

  21. stan says:

    “the ongoing efforts “” often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated “” to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate”
    i.e. As I apologize for my fraud and dishonesty, I choose to take this opportunity to make another slanderous attack on those who disagree with me. 

    For years, every time skeptics asked for a debate, the rabid alarmists like Gleick said that there was nothing to debate.  The science was settled.  Skeptics shouldn’t even be quoted by journalists.  And now they claim that skeptics don’t want a debate?!  The dishonesty piles up exponentially. 

    I’d say this is a good place to start if Keith wants to examine some negative feedback up closely.  

  22. Martha says:

    “Huh? I’m not following you. The rhetorical blood sport dynamic of the climate debate is dominant and already detached from everything else”
    Keith, I think you are a thoughtful man.  However,  I am wondering how you could possibly both not follow my meaning AND make the above statement.  You and Curry both use this term quite a bit, in a manner that is stereotypical and racist …as you so clearly illustrate by using ‘”˜tribal’ to mean something like “blood sport”.  You not only imply but clarify that your meaning is savagery, maiming and killing.  Even the U.N. is historically aware enough to recognize why such a European colonialist meaning of “˜tribal’ is racist in many instances, and (rightly) no longer uses it.  It belongs to the lexicon of colonialism, and White anthropology.
    I believe is you haven’t thought about it and don’t appreciate the importance of language use, since you go on to use it in a subsequent post even though it thoughtlessly and wrongly implies that tribal people i.e., indigenous people, descend into maiming and killing each other without “¦ without what?  Your colonial rule? 
    Give me a break!  How about indigenous people and First Nations tell you how to meaningfully use the term “˜tribal’ to refer to relations, identity, and tribal government — instead of this white colonialist and racist use of the term?

    I am disappointed by such repeated thoughtlessness.

  23. Keith Kloor says:


    I can appreciate your concern for indigenous peoples and the respect they deserve. But your taking political correctness to absurd heights. Tribalism is used by many to describe the the kind of behavior that I’m referring to in the climate wars, as well as in other sociopolitical conflicts. 

    Just do a little googling and you’ll immediately see the term in use all over the place, including reliably liberal spheres, such as this one. 

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