Elevated from a comment by Doug Proctor November 14, 2013 at 10:00 am
I’ve been thinking about what makes the warmist-skeptic fight go on and on. What I have noted is the constant difference in how each side places its emphasis, and that this shows up in its speech. Specifically, the skeptics use declarative, as in “this will”, “this shall” or “this does”, and, of course, its negative equals. The warmists use conditionals, i.e. words like “could” or “should” or “may” or “might” that indicate undefined probabilities and, in truth, possibilities, things that are determinable only after the fact.
The use of conditionals after 25 years is remarkable (here I make a declarative statement). Despite all the models and claims of correlation/matching of observation, we still have no “does”, “shall” or “will” in the IPCC or other CAGW programme. The dangers and fears are in the distant future, discussed only as emerging from the present, but still only becoming obvious in some, never-close-to-today, tomorrow.
This is not an academic situation. The human world acts on what it thinks, and it thinks through words. If the words are confusing, its thoughts are confused and its actions are not necessarily the best. The Mainstream Media (MSM) is particularly prone to confusion from the way they are instructed, and prone to confusing the readership by the way they combine emotional response with a misunderstanding of what the use of conditionals in a discussion means. The MSM think conditionals represent scientific caution, but what they represent is scientific uncertainty. The extent to which they are used represents the consideration of the likelihood that what they think “will” come, actually comes.
From what I see, there are four different types of (Un)Certainty involved in the CAGW narrative: 1) Computational, 2) Emotional and 3) Representational and 4) Ideological. (There may be more, or more subtle versions of these, but these 4 are probably close to the general breakdown.)
The IPCC 95% type is Computational Certainty, that is the outcome as proposed by models is consistent with input data and mathematical relationships between identified factors. McKibben’s certainty is based in Computational Certainty, as in “Do The Math”. It could also be labelled “Intellectual” Certainty, as it is based on the idea that nature is deterministic enough, and we are smart enough and knowledgeable enough to figure out what is going on in a usefully predictive way. The application of the argument by ignorance is applicable to this form of certainty: if we can’t think there is another way, then it must be the way we say. While naively reasonable, and a reflection of the arguments Sherlock Holmes was claimed to use in solving crimes, how it is used by the IPCC adherents is actually a perverse misuse of what Holmes did: Holmes used the concept to bring to the table non-current, usually non-obvious solutions, which would be then investigated closely. The IPCC cabal use it to dismiss the non-current and non-obvious).
The second type, the Emotional Certainty, is what roots Gore, the IPCC Summary and the 97% Consensus concept. With Emotional Certainty, the statements say that we are personally comfortable with the work done and where it ended – with the understanding that not everything could be done, but we believe to be the most important parts were covered. Outside the workers themselves, this comfort derives from authority, the trust in credibility of certain socially recognized individuals or groups. The MSM in particular seizes on this particular form of Certainty (regardless of how they, themselves, perceive it). Anyone connected with the IPCC is credible, therefore I am comfortable with what they say. Personal investigation in this regard is unnecessary, and indeed is a “skeptical” activity for those still not convinced, as it suggests a “better” understanding can exist outside what one gleans from just the Summary remarks. The notable history of a President misleading America about the reasons for going to war, or a Bernie Madoff misleading investors as to what was happening to their money makes no impact on the credibility of other parties: that was then, this is now (and these ones).
Ideological Certainty is what drives the eco-green. Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Maurice Strong, David Suzuki, Friends of the Earth, the Waterkeepers, opponents of the XL Keystone pipeline: the arguments for CAGW are mere backups for other, anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, pro-nature beliefs. This is not to say that those other beliefs are not valid, only that the principle position is not CO2-based warming per se. With Ideological Certainty, the certainty is that continuing the path we are on, the status quo, will cause socio- and environmental damage that is unacceptable (and may be catastrophic). The devil is in the general, not the detail: if we continue to consume and destroy – and fossil fuels are a fundamental part in this activity – the bad things will happen. Arguments about actual temperature sensitivity are not relevant. Whether we will experience 4 degrees or 1 degree warming by 2100, our societies are still on the road to ruin. It is this movement that must be stopped.
The fourth type of Certainty is Representational, in which what is projected is compared to what, at an initial state, is observed. This is where the skeptical position focuses. The skeptic wants to know the detail of what IS to happen and so looks to what HAS happened as a true indication (by pattern or observation) of how closely a predicted outcome has been matched by actual outcome. He does this so that he may respond – as he would say – “appropriately”.
The skeptic recognizes that responses are, and should be, proportional to the triggering event: a minor problem should not have elicited a large preventative measure if a small one would have sufficed. Energy – emotional, physical, social – is liimited and should be used wisely and sparingly if possible. To determine the details and hence the level of action that is appropriate, of course, one needs facts. And facts are not determined in policy summaries but in the field and the laboratory. Facts are not nailed down by consensus, i.e. group opinion, but by falsifiable testing. The skeptic, in his hunt for facts, is forced to read and question. Arguably having this desire for Representational Certainty is where the various skeptics or luke-warmers like Pielke, Lindzen, Watts and ourselves come in.
It should be noted that not all anti-CAGW narrative is driven simply by a desire for Representational Certainty before we act. Ideology, emotion and a narrow but intense trust in intellectual work also drive some skeptics. Certainly CFACT, Morano, the GWPF are seen in the eyes of warmists to be not just attacking the facts of the CAGW story, but the spirit: the obstructionism against CO2 reduction is perceived as anti-regulatory, pro-free market, pro-energy industry sentiments. Which, to some extent, is true. But all of us determine the course of our lives and support on the basis of multiple pulls and pushes, motivating factors that shift through time.
What makes the CAGW fight persist, IMHO, is that we argue about “Certainty” as if we are dealing with the same thing and each side is either foolish, perverse, or a paid shill not to recognize what each side holds. What I am saying in the above essay, is that we are not dealing with the same thing. I have listed four different aspects that lead to the decisions we make on supporting or not supporting CO2-related initiatives. The technical, dictionary-defined words are the same, but we argue because we are not using the same mental vocabulary.
UPDATE: Maurizio Morabito (omnologos) observes: