Why climate change communications is like 'Shaka, when the walls fell'

Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel
With the pending climate pajamafest all-nighter at the U.S. Senate, (powered by the Washington DC coal burning power plant) the release of former NASA scientists and engineers Right Climate Stuff message that there is no need to be worried about CAGW, and Bill McKibben’s empty boxes fiasco, these loosely related events coaclesced into a moment of understanding last night after I watched what is probably my favorite episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation titled “Darmok“.

So, with “eyes wide open”, I thought I’d write about it. In case you don’t know how the episode plays out, it goes like this, borrowing from the Memory Alpha Wikia description:

  1. The USS Enterprise-D is on a mission to attempt to establish communications between the Federation and the Tamarians after several previous attempts had failed. The Enterprise and the Tamarian vessel make a rendezvous in orbit of El-Adrel IV. The two parties try to communicate but, like the occasions before, neither party can comprehend what the other party is saying.
  2. Captain Picard is captured by the Tamarians, then trapped on a planet with the Tamarian captain who speaks a metaphorical language incompatible even with the universal translator. They must learn to communicate with each other before the “beast of the planet” (Memory Alpha’s label) overwhelms them.
  3. They are both thrust onto the planet’s surface, and the Tarmarians send out a particle beam that disrupts transporter functions. The idea is to stage a showdown between the captains, with hope that they can communicate to overcome the common enemy; the mostly invisible, hard to detect, and fleeting “beast of the planet” which manifests itself as some sort of electromagnetic disturbance.
  4. The Tamarian captain, Dathon, keeps repeating what appears to be nonsense phrases such as “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”, and “Shaka, when the walls fell”. Even when Picard tries to ask factually probing questions. They bed down for the night, eyeing each other warily, and Picard fails to make a fire, but Dathon, taking pity, tosses Picard a burning stick from his own.
  5. Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, they start analyzing the Tamarian language, and counselor Troi notes: “Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It’s how they communicate and it’s how they think.
  6. The next day, repeating the same metaphors, the Tamarian captain, Dathon, looks exasperated that Picard can’t seem to “get it”, especially when Dathon offers Picard a knife, saying “Temba, his arms wide”. Picard takes this as a offer to a knife fight.
  7. Finally when “the beast of the planet” starts growling and making fleeting appearances, Picard takes Dathon up on the knife offer, and they start fighting the beast of the planet together. Unfortunately, knives don’t seem to matter much.
  8. Dathon is injured by the beast, and at the campfire that night, while dying, Picard and Dathon try once again to communicate. Dathon sticks with metaphors, Picard still asks factual questions, though some level of understanding ensues when Picard finally realizes that the Tamarian method of communications is emotive, based solely on imagery and metaphors.
  9. Dathon dies, and the next day while Picard starts to bury him, the beast of the planet attacks again, but by this time the Enterprise crew has disabled the transporter disruptor on the Tamarian ship and beams Picard back aboard in the midst of a fierce phaser battle between the ships.
  10. Picard enters the bridge, opens a channel, and repeats the series of nonsensical phrases that are metaphors (learned from Dathon) only he and the Tamarians can comphrehend. The Tamarians reply angrily but they quickly calm down when Picard addresses them in metaphor. The Tamarian first officer, hearing these familiar metaphors repeated back to him exclaims: “Sokath, his eyes uncovered!”. Meanwhile, the “beast of the planet” is ignored by both sides.
  11. The battle ends, the Tarmarian exclaims this understanding represents a new story/metaphor, the story of “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel”, and they depart. Picard tries to make sense of it all, and reflects upon Homeric Hymns in his ready room, explaining to Riker that maybe more familiarity with their own mythology may help them relate to the Tamarians.

This table might be helpful for people whose eyes have already glazed over.

Tamarian Metaphors:

Cultural Reference Meaning
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Friendship as a result of a fight against a common enemy.
Shaka, when the walls fell. Failure.
Sokath, his eyes uncovered (or, his eyes open). An understanding or realization has been achieved.
Kailash, when it rises. An accident or unavoidable loss (e.g. natural disaster).

I’m sure readers can see the parallels with climate change debate and its communications problems. One side repeatedly uses metaphors, imagery, and emotional attachments to convey the urgency of fighting the often invisible and fleeting “beast of the planet”, while the other side keeps asking pointed questions, tries to analyze what is being said and the situation, and tries to learn the language of the other side, even though it seems nonsensical. Neither side seems to get much from the other.

The climate change debate has always been mostly about two viewpoints where the players talk past one another without really understanding much of what the other says.

In “Jarmok”, the side using the imagery and metaphor was so desperate to get their story across, they even resorted to kidnapping to force an understanding, and the issue. And, they created new imagery and metaphors in a story to explain the brief moment of understanding. It reminds me of some of the desperate acts we’ve seen from climate advocates, such as Gleick willing to commit a crime, and Bill McKibben making lies in the open to tout the imagery surrounding the delivery of 2 million comments to the State Department just under the deadline, except the boxes were nothing but empty metaphors.

Recently Bob Tisdale wrote on WUWT: It Isn’t How Climate Scientists Communicated their Message; It’s the Message

While he has a point, the “how” still figures into why many people just don’t seem to care much about climate change anymore. Many people simply look at the increasingly wild imagery, metaphors, and claims used by climate change proponents, decide it is nonsensical, and simply stop trying to comprehend it anymore. Climate fatigue sets in.

A good example is John Cook’s “Hiroshima bombs” metaphor, turned into a phone app.


Only the truly faithful pay any attention to this. Anybody with a lick of sense can see the atmosphere today doesn’t look anything like that sort of hellish imagery atomic bombs conjur up, so they chuckle and ignore it. It wasn’t even Cook’s idea, he borrowed it from James Hansen’s TED talk and tried to make it an everyday scare tactic for the science challenged.

Undeterred, Cook and company have moved onto “kitten sneezes“.

When accounting for all heat accumulating in the climate system, global warming is proceeding at 7.4 quadrillion kitten sneezes per second.  Image created by John Cook at Skeptical Science.

“Shaka, when the walls fell.” might very well be an apt metaphor for climate change proponents failure to communicate.



Post Script: I had tried to visualize a similar meeting on a planet, using climate players from today. I gave up when I realized that it was likely none of the proponents would have the skills to build a fire, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t share the burning stick like Dathon did.

Can you imagine Steve McIntyre and Michael Mann in those roles?

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Rick K
March 9, 2014 11:13 am

Watts Up With That… meaning… Truth if you can handle it.

March 9, 2014 11:14 am

AGW is a proven lie, there is no need for any other message.
Two stages, call it what it is and provide the logic.

March 9, 2014 11:14 am

Cook really blew it with the atomic bomb scare tactic : when you tell everyone everything is going to hell, and one looks around and sees the same old thing, credibility evaporates. Apparently either atom bombs don’t represent (in their totality) all that much heat, or Cook’s atomic explosion heat clock is running way too fast.

March 9, 2014 11:16 am

Ok. But we expect climate science to be science.
Not caveman talking.

March 9, 2014 11:17 am

Considering one side is trying to talk science and the other is talking politics dishonestly disguised as science it’s no wonder they can’t communicate.

Tom J
March 9, 2014 11:21 am

[snip -lets not go there with personal looks – Anthony]

March 9, 2014 11:24 am

Oh, also this best argument I seen for the Star Trek Prime Directive.
Obviously these Tamarian should not be star faring people- there must
have been a violation of the Directive. Probably Klingons or whoever did

March 9, 2014 11:24 am

I think the warmists perspective is “alien” to me. Ha ha. couldn’t resist.
My favorite episode is “11001001”, when Riker falls in love with the “woman” in the holodeck created by the vast cultural/individual data uploaded to the Enterprises’ computer by the Bynars.
Yet while I’m quite fond of STNG, I’ve always openly laughed at the idea of a society in which there was no money and yet everyone reported to work on time. Sure. Like they all wouldn’t be living in the holodecks 24/7. Ha.
Happy weekend.

March 9, 2014 11:25 am

The planet has warmed up six of my curry and Guinness farts…they are that powerful!

March 9, 2014 11:26 am

Lysenko, when Stalin played the flute.

March 9, 2014 11:27 am

Gilgamesh at Uruk.

March 9, 2014 11:27 am

“If only we could communicate with them, everything would be better.”
Naive! Time will reveal who has the better understanding. Humans have a record of these disagreements and of hysterical actions taken. The debate isn’t amenable to better communication, but must die from a common understanding that emerges over time.

March 9, 2014 11:29 am

Which follows the theme that has been known for a long time.
1. Its not science.
2. It follows very closely aligned to some of the most extreme doomsday cults/faiths.
3. You can never prove them wrong scientifically in the views of the faithful because only they speak the language of the faith.
4. The easiest way to combat this problem is to cut the faith off from the money supply and like all extremest faiths they will either faith away or commit suicide.
This is one of the reasons why a purely science based argument has zero merit in winning the battle… because science is meaningless to them. The “let play nice and all get along” MUST STOP if we are to make true progress on this issue.

March 9, 2014 11:31 am

Jo Nova at hearing.
Watts and suface stations project!
McKintire playing Hockey in Canada.
The list goes on forever.

R. Shearer
March 9, 2014 11:33 am

[snip -lets not go there with personal looks – Anthony]

March 9, 2014 11:42 am

You’re giving the alarmists credit for goodwill which is not in evidence.

Robert of Texas
March 9, 2014 11:43 am

“Al Gore, when the Temperatures Fell” – Translation: Unendurable embarrassment causing one to hide from reality.

March 9, 2014 11:46 am

Zenda, his face black, his eyes red!

March 9, 2014 11:47 am

In a domain where imagery seems everything, I enjoyed your simile ‘…like ‘Shaka, when the walls fell’, thank you. I’ve sometimes thought that those members of a small technical group, living in a smaller world populated by trace gases and tiny, almost unmeasurable temperature changes, while poring over a clutch of arcane models, somewhat like glass balls, instinctively gravitate in Freudian manner to symbols that project size, power, strength and meaning, hence their silly and repetitive incantation of ‘97%’ together with a frequent reliance upon massive, overwhelming end-of-times scenarios.
One is reminded of a bright red sports car with a very, very long hood.

March 9, 2014 11:50 am

jorgekafkazar says: March 9, 2014 at 11:26 am “Lysenko, when Stalin played the flute.”
Well done! The failure of a metaphorical language is the likely lack of common experience with one or both, the tenor (subject ascribed attributes) and the vehicle (object’s attributes borrowed).

March 9, 2014 11:52 am

I’ve had the view that the left, which is a synonym for greenies and other eco enviromentalists, see everything in terms of emotions. This has always made it hard to argue with them as when you point out facts and figures to them it tends to go over their heads and they stick to the story they’ve been fed.
Its also why such people are more easily swayed by advertising and other marketing gimmicks like FUD which is a common theme amongst those who use the simple minded greenies for their own ends.

Rud Istvan
March 9, 2014 11:52 am

The error here is assuming the CAGW crowd wish to communicate. It is apparent that they don’t. ‘The debate is over, therefore there is nothing to communicate about. Simpy our mandates.’
Naturally the get a bit testy when that approach doesn’t work.

March 9, 2014 11:57 am

The parables according to Anthony Watts

March 9, 2014 12:01 pm

Piltdown, when the jaw dropped.
I propose: Cook’s Law of Metaphor Inflation, (something similar to Godwin’s) i.e. when you start expressing or (more specifically) measuring things in terms of a nuclear holocaust –you’ve already lost the argument.

March 9, 2014 12:02 pm

I liked the comparison to that S.T. episode, but I remember that the earth people are supposed to also be emotional. We have the Vulcan characters that are much more logical and unemotional than the earthlings. A spectrum if you will.
I want a real experiment conducted that would demonstrate that CO2 does have the properties that the alarmists say it does and hopefully the experiment would show by how much. No experiments means no settled science to me.
What about two box canyons near each other out west with ultra sensitive, continuous, and automated thermometers placed in the middle. Record the temps each day when the sun is overhead for a period of time until we have a baseline and then fill one canyon with huge levels of CO2 and watch the temps jump — or not. (note; trained in math and logic I never claimed to be any good at designing experiments — we need some engineers to get on this perhaps)
In science, almost everything that “everyone knows is true” turns out not to be so true sooner or later. Experiments are King. (well to me anyway)

March 9, 2014 12:06 pm

Great analogy for the climate change debate. Except that the warmists are not really trying to communicate. They do not want anyone to understand the garbled thought.

March 9, 2014 12:09 pm

I don’t agree with the comparison.
The Tamarians, while not disposed to talking directly, are still disposed to talking about real, verifiable events (whatever happened at Tanagra, for instance).
The AGW crowd are opposed to talking about events. Instead they change the modern temperature record to distort past events (see Steve Goddard’s blog), they make the medieval warm period disappear, they pretent the current “pause” does not exist, they ignore any and all studies that show a lower climate sensitivity, and the list goes on.
What they want to talk about are nothing more than their biased studies, models and theories, which are a departure from reality into the hypothetical, are backed by nothing more than appeals to authority, and are completely divorced from actual predictive capability or explaining previously misunderstood phenomena (divorced from real scientific value, in other words). They even go to absurd lengths to come up with ridiculous “97%” numbers that are so absurd, that they expose anyone who uses the fabricated numbers as nothing more than propagandists for their religious “cause”.
So while the Tamarians and Picard had a middle ground that was reachable (and based on reality), I see no such middle ground in the AGW “debate”. Behind the whole AGW debate is something called reality, and to me there is only one side that it willing to allow reality to prevail in the end. The good news is that sooner or later, reality eventually prevails (but in some cases t can decades or even centuries, beyond the lifetimes of individuals).

Robert in Calgary
March 9, 2014 12:12 pm

Darmok is also one of my favourite episodes.
The key flaw with this post, as mentioned a bit earlier, the other side does not have the goodwill required.
They have their edicts and they want them obeyed. End of “conversation”.
That’s their concept of communication.

Ian L. McQueen
March 9, 2014 12:21 pm

Clever analysis. A pat on the back.
Ian M

March 9, 2014 12:23 pm

The whole thing with AGW was never about warming. It was about wealth redistribution. They want the income inequality to be lower. But in Margaret Thatcher famous words (when it was made clear that all levels of income were better off under her time in office), what the Left really wants is to make the poor poorer so long as the rich are less so.
Why would they want the poor poorer? Easy. It creates a dependent class. It’s how they get elected. It’s how they hand free stuff out. It’s how they demonize anyone that disagrees with them.
If this post is anything to go by, perhaps appealing to the emotional side wouldn’t be a bad idea when used with facts.

March 9, 2014 12:25 pm

What is a bit disturbing is that for at least some academics, SkS is a *good science based website*. Quadrillions of kitty sneezes do not make their perceived crisis any less unreal.

March 9, 2014 12:29 pm

I envision the final outcome of CAGW as “Mudd meeting Stella 500”.

March 9, 2014 12:35 pm

All the understanding in the world doesn’t change the lying and deceitfulness of the alarmist crowd. They pretend it’s about saving the world when they know it’s about stealing and destroying civilization. They use emotional leverage not because they have nothing else to work with but because it manipulates and controls people.
They are very deliberately not speaking the language of science – the equivalent of Dathon PRETENDING not to understand when he can and does.
Don’t make excuses for them, Anthony. Don’t give them any room.

Clay Marley
March 9, 2014 12:35 pm

Here, let me translate for you:
Humans are a disease upon the skin of this planet. Since the death of God, sin against the planet is the most dreadful possible sin (Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra).
The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease. Everyone who understands this has an obligation to implement these changes. (Arne Næss and George Sessions, Basic Principles of Deep Ecology)
Humans are not created by God in the image of God. Humans have no intrinsic value above any other mammalian species. Culling the human population is not only morally justifiable, but obligatory to the extent that it would serve the integrity of the biotic community.
Let me inform you about truth. Truth is what we say it is. This isn’t about “science” and it isn’t about communicating. You deny our truth. CAGW is true because we say it is true. It is our “self evident” truth. You fight this as if it were about science. It is about replacing anthropocentrism and embracing ecocentrism. And the means justify the end.

March 9, 2014 12:36 pm

Al Gore and Bill Nye at Tanagra.

Alan Robertson
March 9, 2014 12:38 pm

Hansen, when his pants caught fire.

Steve from Rockwood
March 9, 2014 12:41 pm

Hansen in Washington, his sails unfurled (start of a hoax).
Gore, where the snow fell (the Gore Effect).
Mann, when the hockey stick broke (failure).
Muller, his eyes closed (an understanding by others that nothing has been achieved).
BTW the best episode of Star Trek Nex Gen was “The Inner Light”. Enough to make a grown man cry (sniff, sniff). “Darmok” is a very close second.

March 9, 2014 12:42 pm

Hansen, with windows open.

Richards in Vancouver
March 9, 2014 12:51 pm

Al Gore, preaching ocean rise, buying seaside condo.

March 9, 2014 12:57 pm

McKibben at Washington’s Wall — with Boxes Full!

March 9, 2014 1:01 pm

The alarmed ones, can emote all they desire.
Just as long as they keep their hands out of my pockets.
The current situation, where these parasites live lives of luxury at the public expense, but devote their energies to destroying the society and industry that they leech off of, will end.
Probably not well, as I am at a loss to comprehend how one negotiates with a parasite and history has few peaceful examples of the correction of society from kleptocracy back to democracy.
Once we separate these emoticons from access to our wealth, they can talk amongst themselves forever as far as i am concerned, but we run the current risk of not surviving their help,their theft, wealth destruction, public policy idiocy and inability to understand human nature are making our current civilization unaffordable.
Look around, once the cost of government exceeds the benefit, people start vanishing from the “official economy” in ever increasing numbers.

Steve from Rockwood
March 9, 2014 1:03 pm

hunter says:
March 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm
What is a bit disturbing is that for at least some academics, SkS is a *good science based website*. Quadrillions of kitty sneezes do not make their perceived crisis any less unreal.
John Cook (SkS) recently compared the Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott to former South African President Mbeki who refused to believe Aids was caused by a virus and let several thousands of people die as a result. It appeared in the Saturday Star (Toronto paper). A jump from the holocaust denial to Aids denial.

John West
March 9, 2014 1:10 pm

Another flaw in the analogy is that we don’t agree that we have a common enemy. It’s more like if Pickard and Dathon saw the creature differently. Perhaps something like Pickard seeing Canis lupus familiaris and Dathon seeing Canis lupus. Pickard would be trying to pet what Dathon would be trying to kill. Working together is hardly an option under these conditions.
I don’t agree that CO2 at 2-4 X pre-industrial concentrations is anything to worry about no matter what imagery they conjure in attempts to make CO2 scary, I still see one carbon atom (the basis of all known life) and two oxygen atoms (necessary for animal life) combined (necessary for photosynthesis and by extension most life) at concentrations well within known tolerances for life on Earth.
BTW: I can make fire.

March 9, 2014 1:12 pm

I think the division of the language is not along the lines of emotion and science.
The ancient Greeks had a view of language and thinking in a division of Mythos and logos.
Religious or mythical language which could not be argued in terms of reason. What the gods were up to was unfathomable in not subject to logic.
Logos was the language of reason.
This disappeared from the western world in the fifth century when the christian church set down that logos was delivered by religion. It set in place non reasoning principles of thought and orthodoxy which was not set aside until the age of enlightenment.
For a brief time reason prevailed in the Islamic world until it was set aside by orthodoxy in the 11th century.
So the real threat in the global warming is that religious thinking will prevail over logical reasoning.
This is exacerbated by the increase in the power of the State. More and more research is under the power of Government and ideologues in academia.
So you have this toxic brew of academic theorists in the social “sciences” infecting politics with unreasoning. A media set on sensationalism full of advocating journalists reared in the halls of non impartial academia to the emotional tenets of left wing dreams of the apocalypse of capitalism. And politicians who can buy votes from the scared voters hustled into worries about a future they will not live in.
The problem is further added to by the observation of one of the astronauts that these religious greens did not arrive at their conclusions through logic and reason so logic and reason will not persuade them to any scientific point of view.
What will do it is reality. The trouble is it might take another twenty years of cooling before a grudging admission they might be wrong. And most will stick to the religion, it gives them such comfort as the world progresses to prosperity along a path their ideology and hatred of free markets and democracy says it should not.
More research in private hands, smaller government and less control over peoples lives and some rigor in academia would help. As for the media, well this internet that we are on will hopefully deal to them. The BBC is getting desperate as its duplicity and fall from standards gets starker everyday.
So I think its not the mode of communication interesting as the analogy is but rather the force of mythos versus that of logos.
The saving grace is that its logos that provides the airplanes, the trains, the energy the water the health systems.
So if these fanatics wish to beat us back to the miserable caves of “sustainability” resistance will appear as it has in Germany when the subsidies, the tithes to their religion are cancelled by the State and we revert to the tried and true.

Cynical Scientst
March 9, 2014 1:22 pm

Stalin; on behalf of the people.
Gore; on behalf of the planet.

Frederick Michael
March 9, 2014 1:30 pm

I was at a meeting recently where one person was referred to as “The E F Hutton” of the organization. One young guy spent the whole meeting trying to Google what that meant (without success).

Tom in Florida
March 9, 2014 1:31 pm

Rick K says:
March 9, 2014 at 11:13 am
“Watts Up With That… meaning… Truth if you can handle it”
The AGW scam is not about truth because they can’t handle the truth. We use words as falsifiable, scientific method, real data. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent searching for the truth. They use them as a punchline.

March 9, 2014 1:32 pm

LOL ok I imagined Anthony with a drinkie poo or 2 in hand when writing this LOL 🙂
but…it all came together and makes sense.
Thank you.

Mike McMillan
March 9, 2014 1:34 pm

That poor kitten.

Bruce Cobb
March 9, 2014 1:35 pm

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate climate change.

March 9, 2014 1:36 pm

While there is definitely a lot of talk about communication, or the lack/failure thereof, in things climate we also know that past a certain psychological point there is literally no further point in attempting to communicate.
The best example I can point to is a paper we discussed here at WUWT a few years ago now”
“We show how the prevailing majority opinion in a population can be rapidly reversed by a small fraction p of randomly distributed committed agents who consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence. Specifically, we show that when the committed fraction grows beyond a critical value pc ≈ 10%, there is a dramatic decrease in the time Tc taken for the entire population to adopt the committed opinion.
“Human behavior is profoundly affected by the influenceability of individuals and the social networks that link them together. Well before the proliferation of online social networking, offline or interpersonal social networks have been acknowledged as a major factor in determining how societies move toward consensus in the adoption of ideologies, traditions, and attitudes [1,2]. As a result, the dynamics of social influence has been heavily studied in sociological, physics, and computer science literature [3–7]. In the sociological context, work on diffusion of innovations has emphasized how individuals adopt new states in behavior, opinion, or consumption through the influence of their neighbors. Commonly used models for this process include the Threshold model [8] and the Bass model [9]. A key feature in both these models is that once an individual adopts the new state, his state remains unchanged at all subsequent times.”
I tend to think that the last sentence is most relevant to this discussion.

charles nelson
March 9, 2014 1:47 pm

Sorry, you lost me at…’Next Generation Star Trek episode’.

John F. Hultquist
March 9, 2014 1:48 pm

On January 4, 1903, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant at Luna Park Zoo on Coney Island to “communicate” his idea (DC) was better than that of Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse, namely, alternating current (AC).
In 2014 we have a photo courtesy of fanpop.com. of a cute kitten and a message that is equally at odds with facts. So there is some progress in this communicating thing. All that is needed now is the truth.
In the USA that kitten is considered a Mackerel Tabby or a variation thereof:

March 9, 2014 1:59 pm

9 Mar: Holmes Report: Americans Believe Humans Causing Climate Change, Doubt Corporate Claims
More than half (60 percent) of Americans believe that climate change is a result of human action such as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, among other factors, according to the fifth annual Sense & Sustainability Study from Gibbs & Soell, the business communications firm with expertise in sustainability consulting.
Thirty percent of US adults are skeptical while 10 percent are unsure as to the impact of human activity on significant changes in temperature or precipitation over an extended period of time. Natural weather disasters are cited by more than half (57 percent) of Americans as highly influencing their opinions on climate change…
***“The results speak to the importance of making big issues like climate change more personal and relatable,” says Ron Loch, senior vice president and managing director, sustainability consulting, Gibbs & Soell. “Even for those people not affected by an extreme weather event, news of hurricanes, droughts and blizzards evoke fear, concern and empathy. That’s why storytelling is so important when discussing issues of sustainability and social responsibility. It makes the larger problem more relevant and helps gain the kind of attention that can lead to understanding and meaningful action.”

March 9, 2014 2:20 pm

The best metaphor for what the climate alarmists are up to: Prince John’s tax collectors.

Les Hack
March 9, 2014 2:26 pm

Kind of profound how what we say says more about us than the subject we address.
I am reminded of a very distinguished man, who in another field of research led the fight in critical battles that defended truth and enabled those who followed him to build healthy structures for his community.
After more than a decade of being at the front of several of those confrontations, he ‘inexplicably’ withdrew and went and formed a small community, dedicated to a positive development of his research and ideas. Many who looked to his leadership were profoundly upset; there were rumors of personal crisis and his betrayal of the cause. He however refused to respond.
In memoirs published many years later he reflected back on that time. I paraphrase his thoughts… “The horn is sounded and you rise up once again to go out and do battle to defend the truth… but there comes a time when you realize, that doing battle has subtly replaced the truth, where joy is not in the triumph of the truth; but in triumph. That is when, for me, I knew I must leave and find another way…”
May you guard your hearts.

Gunga Din
March 9, 2014 2:26 pm

“Shaka, when the temps fell.”

Dr Delos
March 9, 2014 2:29 pm

Speaking of Cook’s ridiculous four bombs/second app. . . The obvious propaganda angle of trying to relate theoretical heat build-up to nuclear weapons is clear to a 7 year-old. Besides, the facts are that a nuke’s heat output is released as a short pulse and their energy output, in addition to heat, consists of of: blast (over pressure and shock), radiation and an electromagnetic pulse. His comparison to a “Big Ben” full of dynamite is just as transparent. Another pulse of some heat along with blast/shock and destruction.
I suggest a couple of alternative comparisons. One would be to have two graphs. One would be the chart as used in the current graph but overlaid with a second representation of the *total* amount of solar heat falling on Earth during the same time period. The current graph of so called *global warming heat* would disappear into the noise floor.
The other alternative could be a *per square meter chart*. To keep it as simple as possible, illustrate a graph using Christmas tree lights. In other words, a chart that shows the equivalent of current solar radiation in quarter Watt light bulbs and the additional heat of the past 50 years in a different color of bulbs.

March 9, 2014 2:45 pm

Is there a difference between climatology and storytelling?

March 9, 2014 2:53 pm

I just thought of a great caption for the SDA caption contest:
I’d better hurry and put in my entry before its too late.

March 9, 2014 3:22 pm

I hugely enjoyed that episode myself.
The many that compare CAGW to religions are nearer to the mark, they are both memeplexes. And emotive language is a major feature of memeplexes.

March 9, 2014 3:45 pm

This was a fun read and I guess I can appreciate the attempt at sort of sanitizing the fanatical efforts of the libcult and their glo-bull warming chic crusade, but two things immediately don’t add up.
First, the idea that you could have a sophisticated tech savy culture/society that communicates primarily through emotive imagery and metaphor is just plain silly. It ain’t gonna happen. Similarly, climate change (aka AGW glo-bull warming) isn’t really science in the sense that it is based on the scientific method and rigorous standards of evidence and an honest appraisal of that evidence, Libcult “science” is steeped in the mythos of the libcult whose accolytes imagine themselves as grand and glorious saviours of the planet and pretty much everything else is manufactured/manicured/mythicological in nature, certainly NOT science.
Second, The entire article seems to be an attempt to understand and forgive those poor souls who are simply emotive in nature and (as I thought it implied) not culpable for their messy but honorable efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe a large majority of the libcultists involved in the climate change crusade know full well that their claims are not truthful and their “science” is fundamentally unscientific. I also believe they do not care. They are fanatics who are fully invested in their crusade and they wrap their entire personal lives up into that crusade, so they cannot retreat one whit or their view of the world and their place in it is at threat.

March 9, 2014 3:56 pm

Alan Robertson says: “Hansen, when his pants caught fire.”
I think he’s got it! Nice.

March 9, 2014 3:56 pm

Lets say, for arguments sake, that CAGW is a religion. Also, that since it takes the side of lies, that it is a devilish religion. So, one way to understand how the people, that is, the great mass of brainwashed (of a sort) people who blindly follow it, think, is to ask a devil how they got them to think that way (if it can be called thinking). So let us ask our old friend Screwtape how he did it:
It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

So, what are “other such weapons” that got people to think like this? One of the biggest is television, and advertisers, who, since they are the ones who pay for the show, want the viewers to have a certain mindset. Examples, a show, the star has a choice between reason or “follow your heart”. You know how this one turns out, and if you think like an advertiser, you will understand why. Do you think an advertiser really wants people to use reason when they make their pitch? Yes, there is a sucker born every minute, but why wait when you can train masses of people to become suckers and to think that they have done the right thing to become so? There have even been entire shows dedicated to this type of training, look up “Oprahfication”, which can be explained as “maybe two plus two equals four, but how do you FEEL about that?”
Has this been successful? Think about car ads, do they usually say “our car is better, here’s why”? No, instead, they try to associate that car with purely emotional images, a car sliding in slow motion sideways through smoke, a car associated with classy British supervilliens, that sort of thing. Once you understand that, you will come to a realization, the age of reason is over. And once you understand that, two things become apparent. One is that many believe in CAGW not because of reason, but because it makes them feel good. They can feel good because they can say “I am saving the planet”, or “I am apposing THEM” (evil corporate greed types, ignorant hillbilly anti science types, and other caricatures). They can also feel like part of a group, the side of right, us versus them, and other slogans (Jargon, not argument, is your best ally).
So what to do? Well, you can use the truth, but in the same way that they do. Associate CAGW with corporate greed types, say, by showing that AlGore is one (it’s better as one word, try it!). Use humor to make fun of them when they screw up (as they usually do), thus making people not want to be associated with something so laughable. Expose lies and greed in emotional ways also works for the same reason. Couch the contest in different ways, the evil large envirobusiness versus the plucky underdog (basically, this site, with it’s nonfunding by big oil, versus the billion dollar a day CAGW funding).
And, of course, lots of images. Images work on the right, emotional side of the brain, which they are used to using. Examples: One could follow AlGore around to one of his speeches, associate it with especially obnoxious religious (of a sort) shysters (which is basically what it is, it uses the exact same tricks), with one corner of the screen showing his two SUV’s and a towncar running their engines for two hours spewing out all that evil CO2 while he tells you in ridiculous ways how evil, that is. And polar bears, lots of cute, cuddly polar bears, too many polar bears since there are now at least 4 or 5 times as many as there used to be (and they may not be as cute and cuddly as you thought close up). How about some dead birds around all those wind farms, or should I say, collection of death towers (make it a nice emotional slogan, which happens to be true), start with birds, nice, singing birds, then go to the towers, now dead birds, lots of them, end with a silent, empty sky.
Basically, you get the idea, associate the “skeptics” with the plucky underdog, with good images, with “stand up to the man” (which happens to be true, since government is so behind CAGW), with protest against injustice, that sort of thing. If 350.org can do it, so can you. One the other hand, associate the CAGW side with bad images and slogans, greed (true!), hypocrisy, lies (one could make some of their lies visual, for instance, like the polar bears, the “ice free” arctic, etc), and all that sort.
In short, realize that the age of reason is over for most people, and act accordingly. Some few can be educated, but for most, jargon, advertising tricks, sloganeering, and other ways to appeal, to emotions will work better.

March 9, 2014 4:07 pm

“I Borg” was my favorite episode. Maybe something like that could happen (let’s pretend).
Let’s say there’s blizzard. An airport is snowed in. A CAGW elitist is among the trapped.
Lets say it’s Michael Mann. At the beginning he goes around introducing himself as a Nobel Prize winner. And everyone hates him.
But over a few weeks Mann learns humility and the concept of individuality. He starts calling himself “Mike”. He says “I” more often instead of “we”.
Life goes on at the besieged airport and Mann becomes more and more decent. Something happens he has never known – people start to like him.
When the blizzard lifts, Mann goes on the to the conference of the BorgCAGW collective. There the new Michael Mann tells them his name is Mike. That they must call him that from then on.
And soon they all do it. Infected with this powerful meme they begin to act like human beings. They give up their elitism, start acting morally, their vision clears, they begin to see their former fake science for what it was, a despotic, elitist delusion.

Lew Skannen
March 9, 2014 4:49 pm

““Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra””
I think you might have made a major misinterpretation here. This could be a valid call in Star Trek Cluedo.

Theo Goodwin
March 9, 2014 4:56 pm

Alarmist communication is pretty easy to understand. Their collective goal is that each conclusion and each sound bite that they express must terrify the proletariat (faculty-lounge-speak) more than the last. This creates an illusion of communication, or an effort to communicate, for skeptics who see or hear their words, phrases, and images occurring in Alarmist presentations. Do not be deceived, skeptics. Communication with alarmists will become a congenial affair only when all participants speak or write to terrify the proletariat.

March 9, 2014 5:13 pm

You’ve hit upon something that I’ve noticed with left/liberal thinking. If you notice with liberal/progressive protests marches the participants are all about drum circles, puppetry, costumes, and guerrilla street theater. Facts are irrelevant and only used to support their ideological agenda. Hiroshimas per second, coal trains of death, and so on. Emotional content is everything and facts that don’t support those emotions are not only ignored but attacked. If someone could prove categorically that free market capitalism was the only way to stop CAGW, do you really think the alarmists would support it? No, because their belief system is based on anti-capitalism and anti-science. CAGW is just a lever to accomplish their real goals, which some of them can’t even articulate (remember they’re driven by emotion not rationalism).

March 9, 2014 6:29 pm

This is the most original climate-related blog post I have read in years.

Bruce Ploetz
March 9, 2014 7:14 pm

Legatus says:
March 9, 2014 at 3:56 pm
In short, realize that the age of reason is over for most people, and act accordingly. Some few can be educated, but for most, jargon, advertising tricks, sloganeering, and other ways to appeal, to emotions will work better.
Legatus, would you please write a book about this (maybe you already have)? This short post is the most cogent, thoughtful and insightful summation of the battle for the mind that is going on I have ever read. Other posters on this blog fondly hope that the warming hiatus, or coming cooling, will convince the warmists. They dream fondly of an idle fantasy. The warmists will just start saying that CO2 causes ice ages and try to reduce Earth’s population in the name of cooling instead. The point is to kill people, to save the planet from humans, not to find truth. I suggest another visual meme – ask the AlGore: how many have to die for your dream to become reality? How many birds, how many people?

March 9, 2014 8:25 pm

Yes, Bruce Ploetz, killing people is the real goal of a lot of “environmentalism.”
The reason the alarmists have not succeeded in scaring all the public as much as they want to is because the facts are strongly against them. And because they are expensive enough to make people want proof.
The reason our side has trouble with them is twofold. One, they make a lot of money from the government’s hopes for new (carbon) tax dollars. And two, people cannot change or improve except in areas where they are more than half right. That gives them the strength to deal with corrections. I estimate the AGW alarmists are about 90% wrong.
One place they are right is the rising CO2 graph. They can count on that–Dr. Keeling was very careful in his measurements. Start there, and they have an anchor to hold on to.

Ed, Mr. Jones
March 9, 2014 8:38 pm

Hilarious, Foolship, when the Ice embraced. Tobacco Son vanished, hiding.

March 9, 2014 8:43 pm

Interesting idea. But. It confers an innocence upon the other party that frankly does not exist in this case. We shouldn’t be dissuaded about this. They are engaging In deliberate deception and the most gracious we can be is with the idea of nobel cause corruption. Plain and simple.

Mac the Knife
March 9, 2014 9:15 pm

“Shaka, when the walls fell…” is an appropriate metaphor for this post but the rest of the ‘Next Generation – Star Trek analogy fails.
In the Star Trek episode Darmok, the Tamarians risked everything to achieve understanding. Dathon, their emissary, died trying to achieve mutual understanding.
Our opponents (Hansen, mann, Gleik, Cook, Gore, et.al.) are not the Tamarians. They are the Ferengi! They do not seek shared understanding or experience! They will tell any lie, any deceit, any half truth necessary to promote their agenda. They are the worst form of rent and grant seeking parasites, determined at all costs to promote themselves to adjudicators of global resource use. They want to be The Nagus. Don’t be mistaken. These ‘Ferengi’ are not capitalists. They are crony socialists who, as a result of their superior minds and efforts to save the entity Gaia while converting the ignorant masses to their Rules of Environmentalism, will reward themselves quite handsomely for ‘saving the planet’. Who will ultimately be The Grand Nagus remains to be seen….. but mutual understanding is not required. Their position is “The Science Is Settled and The Debate Is Over, you damn Deeniers!” Anything less is analogous to Bush ‘looking into Puti-Putin’s eyes and seeing peace’ before he invaded Georgia or Obama ‘pressing the reset button (mislabeled in russian “overcharge”) only to have Putin invade the Ukraine and threaten to shut off Europe’s natural gas supply.
“Shaka – when the walls fell…” means failure. Mistakenly believing our opponents have any desire for mutual understanding is self delusion… and ends in failure as well.

March 9, 2014 10:03 pm

The problem is that a LOT of people speak in imagery and emotions rather than words when given a choice. It’s not just some fringe hardcore supporters who follow those images. It’s pretty mainstream, especially when people assume that the hard facts and figures would be too complicated for them to comprehend (because they have been taught that science is too complex for them.)

March 9, 2014 11:01 pm

…Al Gore, with his palms outstretched….
Great post, Anthony! “Darmok” is also a favorite of mine. STNG was a great show!

March 9, 2014 11:23 pm

E. F. Hutton
ANYONE OLD enough to remember the heyday of
E. F. Hutton remembers their ad, “When E. F. Hut-
ton speaks, people listen” in which entire city
blocks fell silent to hear the pearls of financial ad-
vice spoken by in whisper by a Hutton client. Chief
Executive Officer Robert M. Foman was so enam-
ored of Hutton’s image that he built a 29-story,
$100 million headquarters in Manhattan, New
York City, that some people called a memorial to
corporate greed.
People stopped listening to Hutton, however,
after discovering that the company had been en-
gaged in a systematic effort to avoid paying interest
on short-term bank loans through a complicated
scheme of check kiting. The scheme came to light in
December 1981 when Hutton gave in to the pleas of
the Batavia, New York, branch of the Genesee
County Bank and moved accounts for its local of-
fice from the Marine Midland Bank to the small,
local bank.
People are stopping to listen to the science is settled crowd

March 9, 2014 11:27 pm

Lewandowsky and Cook at Oz when the curtains flew open.

March 10, 2014 12:20 am

The Star Trek episode is an interesting study of the communication problem. However …
choey2 says: “Considering one side is trying to talk science and the other is talking politics dishonestly disguised as science it’s no wonder they can’t communicate.”
This is the whole problem. Those who deny natural climate change are pretending to talk logic and science while really trying to communicate something else. They are saying stuff like “Kailash, when it rises, as shown by median of 100 bias adjusted records of global SST. Therefore it’s AGW ”
They also won’t to come to any meetings at El-Adrel IV to try communicate because they refuse to talk to those who do not agree with them.
Shaka, when the walls fell !!

March 10, 2014 1:28 am

AW transcends the final frontier, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Communicating with aliens is problematic. Even if a communications channel could be established there is no reasoning entity at the other end just a nebulous undifferentiated neural network plugged into belief, greed, corruption and stupidity.

Russell Klier
March 10, 2014 2:24 am

Climate scientists in hooded robes…….
Historical data in flames……
Mann, his lawyer in tow………..

March 10, 2014 2:46 am

semiotics. it’s subverbal. words are not required.
basically, the only thing it can communicate is affection or hostility; approval or disapproval.
logic requres words; critical thinking requires logic.
there is no intersection of these separate domains.

chris moffatt
March 10, 2014 6:40 am

@clay marley: “the flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease. Everyone who understands this has an obligation to implement these changes. (Arne Næss and George Sessions, Basic Principles of Deep Ecology)”
There may well be some population number above which disaster will befall but to claim that we have reached it or that we can know what it is is utterly false. Even so the greenies solution to the “overpopulation” they see is also completely wrong. If we know anything about populations we know that better education (especially of women), better economic opportunities and circumstances and higher living standards will result in lower populations. There is no need to freeze or tax or drown people out of existence. Just improve living standards by the usual methods. Of course then we’ll have the other doom scenario of aging populations around the planet……
Tch, tch – always some crisis to be overcome, innit?

March 10, 2014 7:19 am

If the greenies really believed that overpopulation was the problem, they would prove it by committing suicide. They do not, so we know what they really believe. They do not believe that there are too many people, they believe that there are too many other people.

Box of Rocks
March 10, 2014 7:54 am

Cynical Scientst says:
March 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm
Stalin; on behalf of the people.
Gore; on behalf of the planet.
Nah –
Gore: wealth for me, poverty for thee on behalf of me.

Doug Proctor
March 10, 2014 7:56 am

First, you have to want to communicate.
When you what you want is TO WIND, communication is a tool of war: you use it to confuse, mislead and manipulate.
A lot of conflicts, personal, tribal, national, international, are about one side trying to win. Negotiation as a way to peace is not an option. Peace is to be achieved by winning, the other sides, by losing. Explaining yourself is important only in that the opponent knows what, where and how he is to give up.
The warmist view on the conflicts with skeptics on CAGW is the same as the tribal/religious wars of Africa today: cleanse the world of the opponent, don’t find common ground and compromises. The warmist is Right; by definition, the skeptic is Wrong.

March 10, 2014 10:23 am

This is my favorite episode. I am glad you understand the, “What If.” When trying to explain why this episode is so important, I felt “Shaka, when the walls fell.” Today’s metaphor would be “CAGW warmist in the EPA.” Meaning, failure (of the sane).

March 10, 2014 11:02 am

Ha! Awesome post!
The thought of Steve and Mikey spawned this image in my head.

Gunga Din
March 10, 2014 3:24 pm

Legatus says:
March 10, 2014 at 7:19 am
If the greenies really believed that overpopulation was the problem, they would prove it by committing suicide. They do not, so we know what they really believe. They do not believe that there are too many people, they believe that there are too many other people.

They need to stick around to make sure the rest of us do our part for Ma’ Gaea.

March 10, 2014 3:55 pm

Institutional paradise, when they ate the competition.
Shaka , no brotha.
Thanks for the interesting articles and comments.

Rational Db8
March 10, 2014 5:37 pm

The problem with the analogy is that to be equivalent, the Tamarian’s would have had to have started the communications exchange with a statement something along the lines of “hello, we have this excellent understanding of your language and your science, better than you yourselves do actually, and using your own science, we will prove this to you…” Then lapsed into nothing but “Shaka, when the walls fell.” interspersed with more claims of completely understanding our language, science, and technology better than humans understand any of it….
In other words, it’s not a failure to communicate – or an emotional plea vs. a scientific one. It’s a failure of the AGW True Believers to actually stick to the scientific method and be honest about what it does or doesn’t show, all while claiming that’s EXACTLY what they are doing.

Rational Db8
March 10, 2014 5:41 pm

David Ross says: March 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm
Piltdown, when the jaw dropped.

ROFL!! Good one! All sorts of innuendo tied to that doozy.

March 11, 2014 3:38 pm

Why climate change communications is like ‘Shaka, when the walls fell’

Because it’s full of NERDS?

Brian H
March 12, 2014 12:09 am

The Desire for the Dire seems dominant; Drastic Warming which unleashes floods and rising seas would make CAGWers ecstatic.

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