This is the second of 3 posts by Andy West examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.
IMHO the engagement of psychologists with the social phenomenon of climate change has been hugely disappointing. As noted at the end of the last post, knowledge of cognitive bias by no means guarantees protection against it, and as a consequence of this simple fact psychologists do not apply their knowledge and tools to the entire social landscape of the climate change domain. Instead they appear to assume that the dominant paradigm of catastrophic AGW is magically free of bias, and so focus only upon negative reactions to that paradigm, namely skepticism and inaction, with which they appear to be obsessed. This obsession in turn appears to stem from a kind of prejudiced fascination in attempting to solve what is perceived as a fundamental riddle: why is there an apparent gulf between attitudes and action on climate change? And why do a small band of ‘way-out’ skeptics appear to foster so much success? An article on the New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) website, Psychology may yet be the most potent foil to climate change, finds Harriet Palmer (November 9, 2011), summarizes the appeal of the problem thusly:
‘That contradiction between what we feel we should be doing, and what we are doing, is fertile ground for the social sciences. Psychologists, analysts, academics, policymakers, politicians – they’re all dying to know why what we think about climate change, and what we do about it, seem to be two very different things.’
Palmer later encapsulates the lack of progress on this perceived problem, essentially stating that we still don’t know the answer, along with pleading special case (‘unique’), which is never a good sign [my underline]:
‘Psychologists are trying to find out what happens in our heads when we hear the ‘CC’ words. They suspect that climate change presents a unique set of barriers that stop people engaging with the reality, and sap their will to act.’
However, this hasn’t prevented very many proffered insights and candidate explanations from a wide array of psychologists. From the same article:
‘It feels like environmentalists are asking us to give up the good life. That’s when we’re tempted to slip into what Albert Bandura, Professor of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, calls “selective moral disengagement,” a neat trick we’ve learned to keep guilt at bay.’
‘Dr Niki Harré, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, argues a better appreciation of human psychology would prompt a much wider response [to the challenges of climate change]. Harré believes our morals, and beliefs about justice, are a big part of the equation. Inherent moral values guide much of our behaviour, and Harré says we’d make more progress if people thought about conserving resources at least as a societal convention, but better still, as something that was simply morally right.’
‘Psychologists describe climate change risks as having ‘high psychological distance’ – a long way off in the future, happening to somebody else, on the other side of the world.’
In the article Psychological Factors Help Explain Slow Reaction To Global Warming (August 10, 2009), the American Psychological Association appears to agree with the ‘set of barriers’ approach:
‘While most Americans think climate change is an important issue, they don’t see it as an immediate threat, so getting people to “go green” requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.’
This approach certainly allows for much ground (and much ass, perhaps) to be covered; they identify ‘numerous’ barriers, of which half a dozen (uncertainty, mistrust, denial, undervaluing risk, lack of control, habit) are briefly expanded, adding:
‘The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers.’
Yet these ‘barriers’ have very much the feel of a large mish-mash of second or third rank factors that have all been rather forcefully marshaled into some kind of coherent narrative.
Many contributions from psychology seem to run along similar lines, and some psychologists even claim that they may have an answer to the riddle. An article in Time, The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head (August, 2013), is subtitled:
‘Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is.’
Yet once again these ‘answers’ invoke a range of factors, up to 30 in fact, and hardly seem convincing. From the same article (and noting that in respect of climate change not taking ‘a human form’, I’d say it has been massively anthropomorphized over the last thirty years!):
‘For some, the answer lies in cognitive science. Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”’
‘Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paper on the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.” Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the “Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?”) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.’
While the above quotes represent a tiny fraction of offerings from the field of psychology, and indeed there’s heaps of text I haven’t sampled, finding anyone who is applying psychological principles to the whole domain is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail. So far, I’m coming to the conclusion that the entire discipline appears to have missed the fact that there is absolutely masses of psychology going on in the Consensus too, which is a far larger and far more coherent and far more dominant social entity than anything aligned to overt skepticism. If they did but apply their tools and knowledge to the whole domain, then the place of skepticism (plus a largely inert public – poll figures are provided in Post 3) within the overall psychological interplay, may well emerge as a much simpler answer than the ‘unique’ 30 barriers (or however many). Of course such an inquiry will likely expose some uncomfortable characteristics of the Consensus, e.g. that its ‘truths’ are not after all absolute or its bias minimal, hence worldview aligned psychologists could be afraid to tread there. So, these posts are applying their acquired knowledge to the whole domain upon their behalf, doing what they seem very unwilling to do for themselves. And in taking such knowledge mostly from the papers by Lewandowsky and associated authors (he appears to hold the most extreme position regarding the touted illegitimacy of climate skeptics, so-called ‘deniers’), there can be no possible objection about sampling work from the discipline of psychology which might have some inherent sympathy to climate skeptics, or be ‘tainted’ by some subconscious resistance to the Consensus.
Summarized as warnings for an individual seeking to avoid bias, the various papers by Lewandowsky and associated authors as examined in the first post (see refs at end), include the following wisdom:
Type 1: Beware of the bias from one’s worldview.
Type 2: Beware of the bias caused by explicit emotive content.
Type 2A: Beware of implied emotional content, which via a powerful type 1 reaction may
enhance or attenuate Type 2 (essentially an interaction of 1 & 2).
Type 3: Beware of the bias from the CIE, which can never be wholly eliminated.
Type 3A: Beware of information that does not come with health warnings.
Type 3B: Try to be aware of corrections / retractions; be suspicious if these are not on a par
with the vigor of the original information transmission.
Type 3C: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE.
Type 4: Beware of the ‘third person effect’, especially for oft repeated / saturating information.
So now we’ll look at the applicability of each of these warnings to the social phenomenon of CAGW, and hence to the enormous body of information that this has engendered in recent decades (including both CAGW consensus information – the big majority of transmissions, and opposing skeptical information – a small minority of transmissions).
Regarding Type 1, first of all we have to assess whether CAGW is the kind of topic which will arouse worldview motivated reactions. Is the topic itself expressed in worldview terms, for instance? Despite that the ‘C’ in CAGW means catastrophic, essentially on a world-wide scale, a worldview expression is not necessarily implied. The topic could be both expressed and perceived as one of ‘pure science’, for instance, or ‘flat fate’, and therefore mostly insulated from worldview impacts. The latter would be the case for a large meteorite on a certain collision course with Earth, for example, one much too large to fend off by any means known or imagined. It is what it is; one’s worldview would not be too relevant, except maybe for seeking solace in prayer. However, despite the fact that CAGW is not infrequently presented as a narrow topic of science plus ‘obvious’ tightly coupled policy, it is clearly acknowledged to spill well outside such scope, overwhelmingly so in fact, into practically every area of social thought and enterprise. This can only mean that CAGW is indeed an ‘insistent culture’ in its own right, and therefore one that will create, enhance, morph, ally with, challenge, and outright combat pre-existing worldviews.
It is hardly surprising that clear acknowledgement as underlined above is expressed by many skeptics from different backgrounds. However, these are the ‘dissenters’, right? Maybe they’re exaggerating? Maybe Big Oil has paid them to artificially expand the perceived social scope? Okay then, so what do those from the core Consensus itself within CAGW think about the scope? How do they themselves view this phenomena which they so ardently support?
Well let’s start with Consensus climate scientist Mike Hulme, from his 2009 book ‘Why We Disagree about Climate Change’:
“The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.
Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition. . . .
The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.
…climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences…climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics – from global to local – is now framed…Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations…?”
Um… well I think that could hardly be clearer. If this vision of ‘climate change: the cultural construct’ continues to unfold into our future (many hold that this is already occurring), a major impact on pretty much everyone’s pre-existing worldviews seems inevitable, for better or for worse depending upon whether you believe that the climate narrative is indeed serving us, or rather mastering us. Hulme clearly thinks the former. Al Gore, probably the world-wide best known advocate for fighting climate change, appears to agree with Hulme regarding the transformative nature of the issue and the ‘opportunity’ this represents. As reported by the NY Times, a statement he gave upon learning of his (joint with the UN) Nobel Peace Prize award, included this:
“The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift Global Consciousness to a higher level.”
In order not to interrupt the main thread too much, I’ve punted out to an Appendix some more acknowledgements of CAGW as a (transformative) cultural entity which will thus impact worldviews. This includes some quotes supporting the widely recognized reality that while such impact will result in a spectrum of effects (typical for a major cultural entity), which also varies from country to country, the net effect is an amplification of left-leaning / interventionist / redistributionist mind-sets, at the expense of competing views.
However, one other important aspect of CAGW’s cultural inertia, and hence its consequent influence / impact, is worth noting here in the main thread. This aspect is represented by the following three quotes, in date order. First up is former U.S. vice president Al Gore again, in a May 2006 interview with David Roberts at Grist:
“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.”
“Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection. The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated.” (hat-tip the GWPF).
Third, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph on 16th September 2013, the European Union’s climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard said:
“Let’s say that science, some decades from now, said ‘we were wrong, it was not about climate’, would it not in any case have been good to do many of things you have to do in order to combat climate change?”
Connie Hedegaard’s quote is within the context of talking about poverty and energy; nevertheless even within this somewhat narrowed scope, it is incredibly naïve at best to assume things won’t go seriously awry at some point if we are spending trillions and also moving social mountains to address the wrong problem. This is not just leaving the door ajar for misspend and unintended consequence to slip in, it’s laying down the red carpet and inviting these normally unwelcome guests to dine at the palace. Bio-fuel production pushing up world food prices springs to mind; if it was never about climate change in the first place, there won’t even be any return benefit for the greater hardship and potentially increased starvation, not to mention the environmental damage from such production. Without a factual base, what is ‘good to do’ becomes subjective. Hedegaard’s and Edenhofer’s quotes both demonstrate that worldview influence within the culture of climate change has become so strong, it has reached the stage where any original ‘facts’ are, for some folks at least, completely eclipsed. In the eyes of those who are worldview aligned and highly influenced, fighting climate change has become a self-evident truth in its own right, justified by the policy responses and not by the original trigger which is (theoretically at least) from the physical environment. This is the ultimate and even self-admitted influence upon ‘facts’; both a confirmation of worldview bias and, given the high profile of those quoted, yet another social amplification of that bias.
The first quote, from Gore a few years earlier, demonstrates part of the cultural trajectory via which worldview frames (which may include a genuine fear of doom) work to separate perceived facts from reality, leading to the eventual situation of the later quotes. Gore is essentially participating in a process that modifies ‘facts’, because after a while everyone, even the scientists who started the process at his behest, loses track of what ‘the facts’ actually were; during any further research, noble cause corruption, confirmation bias and motivation reasoning etc. then seriously skew the science itself. From the point of view of the narrative (a figure of speech – NO, it is not agential, let alone sentient!) there isn’t any contradiction between “we’re all doomed” and “maybe it’s not about climate change anyhow”. Once the realistic bounds upon the range of possibilities are lost along with our grip on facts, iterative narrative selections dominate the majority perceptions. So any stance, even multiple conflicting stances, which improve propagation, will be preferentially selected. Confusion and conflict are actually very helpful to narrative propagation; they promote emotion over reason, thus allowing worldviews to come to the fore.
One hardly expects that the Consensus would explicitly admit to the critical role of worldview bias (and hence to the active climate change culture shaping those worldviews), upon the basic perception of what actually constitutes climate related ‘facts’ in the first place. Such an admission would dismantle much of their position. However, representatives of the Consensus are surprisingly frank on occasion and skirt pretty close to admissions of this kind. For instance a major report, Time for Change? , issued by the University College of London Commission on Communicating Climate Science, states in the summary for Chapter 2, entitled ‘What is Inside Our Minds?’, this:
‘Disagreement within climate discourse is more to do with differences in values and world-views, and our propensity for social evaluations, than it is about scientific facts. Climate science contains enough complexity and ambiguity to support a variety of positions. Simply providing more facts will not resolve the disagreements.’ [Hat-Tip Climate Etc.]
Because of the stated ambiguity, which is amplified by transmission processes yet ultimately stems from genuine and major scientific uncertainty†, no-one can know what the ‘facts’ are anyhow, at least in terms of any that would usefully constrain the debate. This is why providing yet more of these kind of (non-constraining) ‘facts’, does not resolve the disagreement. Those ‘facts’ which do have a higher level of scientific certainty, tend so far to be of the subsidiary sort that cannot provide much constraint. (The Commission above is pretty central within the Consensus; professor Chris Rapley, its Chair, has often voiced concerns about climate change from the Consensus perspective, though laudably warns against using terms such as ‘warmist’ and ‘denier’).
I’ve spent quite some time on this type one warning from Lewandowsky. But it’s an extremely sound warning indeed, and it’s important to demonstrate just how relevant this warning is regarding reactions to the heavily promoted climate Consensus. Any payload of information set within the dominant cultural package of climate change will be subject to a worldview interaction between that dominant culture and those who seek to understand the information; resulting in bias at some level, for or against. One cannot ‘know’ how true (or otherwise) the payload is. And which of us can say we have no worldview of any type, which won’t be bruised or stroked or strangled or engorged by this potent climate change culture?
Incidentally, scientists as people are no less subject to this bias than anyone else. And academia as an enterprise appears to be considerably more vulnerable to such bias, probably due to the ‘cellular’ nature of academia, within which each scientist in a narrow domain often trusts much too uncritically the output of nearby cells, which he / she uses in his / her own research. (At a WUWT post here I detailed a specific example of heavy bias within academia towards the climate Consensus). Hence ‘external’ reactions to the Consensus aren’t the only issue here. Because Consensus-orientated scientific and policy endeavors now constitute a vast field with constant internal feedback loops that have run for decades, all of which are heavily dependent on bias-fragile and often politically similar (left leaning) academic institutes, this has resulted in a major amplification of bias, enacted via noble cause corruption and confirmation bias and the other effects mentioned above.
So indeed beware the bias from one’s worldview: For instance from the deep satisfaction one might feel that the climate itself is apparently voting for the governmental systems one has always hankered for, yet frustratingly couldn’t get near to achieving until now; from that tingling spine when hearing speeches that high ranking politicians all over the world now make regarding co-operation and redistribution and the taming of capitalism, for the sake of our grandchildren, which chime so well with ‘what I would have said myself’, which will be what I say down the bar or community meeting or next works outing; from the feeling of sheer elation that the ‘good things’ one likes anyway and supports with gusto regardless, are saving the planet; from one’s heartfelt relief that even in this time of hardship and recession, we urgently need trillions stuffed into environmental related academia and ‘sustainability’ and climate messaging, within which network one happens to work; the feeling of absolute wonder that one will be helping lift Global Consciousness to a higher level. Okay I employed a storyline here, but one which highlights the huge ‘positive’ bias that occurs in the social domain of climate change, as well as the ‘resistive’ bias that psychologists appear to focus almost exclusively upon; post 3 will return to this point.
This leads us nicely to Type 2: beware of the bias caused by explicit emotive content. Well even a cursory look at the information landscape of climate change reveals that this is absolutely saturated with emotive content, which also appears to be hugely weighted towards the catastrophic scenarios promoted by the Consensus (e.g. as expressed by the major NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF, advocacy orientated climate scientists, most mainstream media channels, numerous politicians committed to CAGW – from presidents and prime ministers on downwards, mass comments on very many pro-CAGW websites and stretching way outside the domain of climate into many aspects of society, etc.) Content includes the highly exaggerated scare language of disaster, the inappropriate emotive leverage from ‘threatened grandkids’, demonization of ‘denialists’ and more, all of which proliferate. While emotive content certainly exists within the sub-domain of skepticism too (e.g. as centered upon ‘scam’, ‘hoax’, or ‘left-wing conspiracy’ perceptions), within the overall domain this is massively outgunned by the stronger emotive storylines pouring out of all the above major sources, such as (I paraphrase) “we’re all gonna fry”, “your coastal cities are gonna drown”, “your grandkids are gonna die”, “only N days to save the planet”, “extreme weather is our fault”, plus the attempted suppression of argument by deployment of the ‘denier’ term, which diverts enormous and negative emotive power from a completely different narrative domain (Holocaust denial) and injects this into the climate arena. As does James Hansen’s stance on coal: “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death”. Nor can this deluge of emotion somehow be ‘disconnected’ from the science. Albeit typically in more subtle forms, these emotive messages thread deep into Consensus science communication, and also as noted above scientists are people too, so no less subject than the rest of us to emotively driven bias, especially when amplified by the authority of senior politicians. (In fact at the time of the above quote, 2009, Hansen was NASA’s leading climate scientist).
Because the two main sides in the climate arena are so polarized and committed, examples of Type 2a bias, from implied emotional content, also abound. This is essentially a combination of worldview bias and emotive bias (or looked at another way, perhaps ultimately the hidden cause of all worldview bias), with the most obvious examples of implied emotional content occurring where there happens to be an explicit emotional content of zero. Hence all of the emotion observed springs from a strong worldview challenge or endorsement of some kind, yet then acts just as potently as if it had been explicit emotive content. For instance, the five main Global Surface Temperature (GST) series report a standstill in GST lasting about 14 to 18 years (depending on which series one takes). The graphs these series provide are devoid of emotion; they are just colored lines on our screens. However, it has proved tremendously difficult for both official organizations and grass roots supporters within the Consensus to acknowledge these simple colored lines. Typically very late and very grudging, such acknowledgement has also been bristling with caveats and bursting with pre-emptive distractions and justifications about why it doesn’t matter. One can almost smell the emotion. Well maybe indeed it doesn’t matter to the bigger picture, but if so, why therefore this aggrieved and reluctant mode of expression?
The difficulty here is that GST was promoted for so long as the icon of global warming (aka climate change), underwritten by ‘the science is settled’ storyline. Hence ‘the pause’ in GST has fundamentally fractured that storyline and soiled the icon. So the Consensus is frantically attempting to pivot from GST onto other markers for climate change, along with associated explanations for ‘the pause’. This speaks volumes about the level of uncritical commitment invested in the original simplistic icon, and hence the emotional bias that comes with such commitment. While the insidious influence of emotive bias seems still to hang around some of the theories about the emergence of ‘the pause’, the fact that there are many such theories seems a welcome return of the scientific diversity that should never have been suppressed in the first place. Had that suppression and the focus upon a simplistic icon not occurred, those colored lines would elicit only healthy curiosity, not unhealthy defensiveness.
The icon of GST became not just an inspiration for an isolated culture of climate change, but also for the worldviews that have become so aligned and dependent on catastrophic climate change as their cultural engine for this era. ‘The pause’ has threatened those worldviews. If for instance in the recent past, ‘one felt deep satisfaction that the climate itself was apparently voting for the governmental systems one always hankered for’, then right now one might feel rather ‘betrayed’ by the climate. An emotive state. Yet given one can’t really blame an inanimate climate, then ‘deniers’ might form a useful scapegoat on which to project blame instead. With GST starting to fall out of the bottom of model projections, the more formal pillar of support for aligned worldviews, i.e. the models themselves, are also threatened. Hence all that is ‘good to do’, which aligned politicians proposed upon the basis of that foundational pillar, is also now threatened. Of course as we noted above regarding Hedegaard’s quote, what is ‘good to do’ becomes subjective once one’s supposedly rock-solid factual base turns out to be soggy marshland.
The level of emotional entanglement for some in the Consensus is such that they don’t welcome the news implicit in those simple colored lines, i.e. that in addition to some delay of catastrophe, a lower climate sensitivity is more likely, meaning that perhaps ‘catastrophic’ may one day fall off the agenda anyhow. This can only be good news for human-kind, and indeed to the extent that some skeptics may feel elation at ‘the pause’, which once again is an emotional response that will trigger their own bias. And for some skeptics that trigger is itself rather less noble; whether permanent or temporary, victory over an opponent is another powerful emotive driver which is hard to set aside. Post 3 looks briefly at the relative scale of total effects for the Consensus versus the skeptics; however it is not hard to see that the vast cultural engine of CAGW, with its huge tracts of policy and employment and social alignment and governmental support and enormous academic backing plus PR from thousands of major organizations and outlets, dwarves whatever is happening in the skeptic domain, whether in emotive messaging or pretty much anything else. Even since official recognition of ‘the pause’, the scattered skeptic voice only rarely breaks through to a level that will likely have some effect on the public consciousness.
In case too much skeptic influence has crept into this section, then just as we sampled Consensus sources regarding worldviews above, we should look at what the Consensus itself thinks about the importance of emotive drivers across the full social range of Global Warming / climate change. Fortunately there is a recent study investigating this: The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition, by Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz (S&L2014), published in Risk Analysis, Vol. 34, No. 5, 2014. First its Consensus credentials, from the opening lines:
“Global warming is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Unabated emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, are likely to have irreversible consequences. Substantial reductions in these emissions are therefore required if “dangerous” anthropogenic impacts are to be minimized, as recognized by international law.” [Hat Tip WUWT].
Okay so I think we’ve established those pretty easily. A paper with any skeptic leanings would highlight scientific uncertainty and hence the debate about how pressing the problem actually is, rather than assume ‘one of the world’s most pressing problems’ from the off. Dangerous is presumably in quotes as a direct copy from their sources. The reference given for the first sentence is the IPCC 2007, and for ‘international law’ is the Rio de Janeiro climate conference of 1992, from which came the Kyoto protocol (though the US did not ratify this and Canada pulled out in 2011).
Before we look at the abstract, please note that the word ‘affect’ has a (debated) particular meaning in psychology. Precise definitions vary, here are three out of many: ‘the observable expression of emotion’, ‘the conscious experience of emotion’, ‘the manifestation of emotion or mood’. ‘Affect’ is considered positive when the emotions or moods experienced are pleasant (e.g. joy or elation) and negative when these are unpleasant (e.g. anger or guilt). S&L2014 considers ‘affect’ to be a generic positive or negative emotive feeling, in contrast to any of the specific emotions which may have caused that generic feeling (e.g. joy or hope, or guilt or fear). Here is the abstract:
‘Prior research has found that affect and affective imagery strongly influence public support for global warming. This article extends this literature by exploring the separate influence of discrete emotions. Utilizing a nationally representative survey in the United States, this study found that discrete emotions were stronger predictors of global warming policy support than cultural worldviews, negative affect, image associations, or sociodemographic variables. In particular, worry, interest, and hope were strongly associated with increased policy support. The results contribute to experiential theories of risk information processing and suggest that discrete emotions play a significant role in public support for climate change policy. Implications for climate change communication are also discussed.’
In starting off by stating the ‘most pressing problem’, then straight after this reflecting upon the consistent decline of public concern about global warming internationally (various polls are quoted), S&L2014 sets a context for the focus thereafter. This focus is to analyze specific emotive drivers in the climate change domain with respect to which ones garner most support, or opposition, for policies to fight anthropogenic climate change. In closing, the paper uses this information for recommendations on how best to modify climate communication in order to increase support for the above policies; this appears to be the goal of the whole exercise (Smith and Leiserowitz are both part of the Yale Project on Climate Communication, YPCC). As the abstract notes, S&L2014 finds certain specific emotions to be even more important factors than worldviews or socio-demographics regarding whether individuals support climate change policies. And while it is new to me that ‘interest’ is an emotion (will have to think about that), two of the three specific emotions quoted, i.e. interest and hope, are positive ones. These findings verify both the big influence of emotion across the entire social landscape of climate change, i.e. regarding the Consensus as much as the skeptics, and also as noted in the first post, that positive emotions are just as important as negative ones. Hope for instance may be generated by a belief that the policies can really work. And via the interaction of worldview and emotion it is much more likely that those who also approve of the policies for their own sake (aligned to worldview), are actually going to end up hopeful in this regard.
Along the way, S&L2014 also verifies some factors that will hardly be a surprise to skeptics, for instance that the specific emotion disgust is associated with opposition to climate change policies:
‘Disgust was associated with opposition to climate and energy policies, likely reflecting the emotional response of the respondents most dismissive of the issue.’
And that overall it is disadvantageous (from the Consensus PoV) to deploy appeals that utilize fear:
‘Worry, in particular, was the single strongest predictor. That is, the more respondents worried about global warming, the more likely they were to support national climate and energy policies. Interestingly, however, fear was not associated with increased policy support… …This finding has important implications for climate change educators and communicators. Fear appeals have often been used under the assumption that scaring the public about climate change will engage them in the issue, motivate individual action, and generate public support for broad policy change, but recent research demonstrates that fear appeals are often ineffective or even counterproductive. “Dire” fear-based messaging around extreme weather and other climate phenomena has been found to raise anxieties, but also to distance the public. O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole found that catastrophic and alarmist visual imagery actually decreased public engagement with the issue.’ [reference numbers clipped, see original paper for the full references].
There seems to be broad agreement about the latter in the Consensus lately (e.g. see The Breathrough article), although this hasn’t translated into an end of fear-mongering (it’s out of scope here, but there’s a memetic explanation for that).
The survey via which all of these conclusions were reached is essentially a ‘snapshot’ of the current emotional vectors of the (US) population with respect to climate change issues, i.e. how folks would react now. The paper doesn’t directly address the longer term evolution of those vectors via constant emotional pressure, nor assess the level of that pressure (i.e. the amount of emotive messaging out there). Regarding the latter however, the fact that there is and has been a high degree of emotive messaging is indirectly confirmed by S&L2014 at various places, generally in the context of Consensus messaging, not skeptic messaging. For instance, the above quote mentions that ‘fear appeals have often been used’[i.e. by the Consensus]. And the quote below confirms a long-term deployment of positive emotive messaging:
‘In another study, Hoijer examined how the Swedish media communicated emotions in the social construction of global warming risk and found that hope and compassion were used as emotional anchors to help people understand projected climate impacts. These results suggest that many people do not view hazards merely as something to avoid. On the contrary, interest and hope may motivate people to learn more about the hazard and to take or support mitigation or adaptation measures.’
When considering the evolution of emotional vectors, one realizes that confirmations like those in the paragraph above are, in a sense, quite an admission from the Consensus (and S&L2014 is just one source confirming long-term deployment of emotive messaging). Given the type 2 warnings about bias from emotive information as published by Lewandowsky and associated authors (essentially triggering the long known effect of emotional bias), then such confirmations are tantamount to confessing that there are both deliberate and long-term campaigns that together, surely, is known will create significant bias towards the Consensus position.
We must bear in mind that the scientists, politicians and bureaucrats who are empowered in the climate arena, are not magically extracted from the public, they are embedded. Hence they are just as subject to this emotional pressure as anyone else. Almost everyone in the domain will be affected to some degree; only a very few folks possessing some opposing cultural inoculation, or a truly machine-like objectivity, might escape the consequent bias. For everyone else, emotive pressure will to a greater or lesser degree affect all their work within the domain; this is the inherent nature of bias. (Despite the once ‘science is settled’ narrative, revealed as false by the many explanations for ‘the pause’, there was and is enough raw uncertainty in the underlying climate science to undermine most constraints on bias, in either direction).
In addition to other fields, both Smith and Leiserowitz are trained in psychology. Yet it would seem that one set of psychologists engaged on emotive messaging, cannot be talking to their colleagues regarding studies of emotive bias; the field is apparently schizophrenic in some sense. The accepted principle that emotive messaging causes bias does not, as far as I can see, appear to have caused alarm bells to ring in the minds of Consensus-aligned professionals regarding long-term emotive messaging campaigns aimed at increasing the support for policy. The principle of emotive bias has not even been applied regarding an understanding of the dominant system in the climate change arena, i.e. the Consensus. Only, apparently, to the much looser and by comparison tiny community of skeptics. To make matters worse, S&L2014 suggests furthering and ‘improving’ the emotive campaigns, based on knowledge from its survey, which will increase the incurred bias still more. Other psychologists engaged within the climate domain and especially with climate communication, are also seeking to ‘improve’ the Consensus impact via targeted emotive messaging. The following three quotes summarize S&L2014’s recommendations in this regard:
‘By contrast [with fear], worry was the strongest predictor of public support for global warming policies, suggesting that perhaps “worry appeals” should be a focus for risk communicators. “Worry appeals” might promote a more sustainable and constructive emotional engagement with the issue of global warming.’
‘Elaboration likelihood models of persuasion also suggest that positive rather than negative emotions are more persuasive and likely to sustain enduring attitudes over time for issues of low involvement, that is, for issues where people do not see themselves personally “at risk” or vulnerable. Given the general lack of public involvement with the issue of climate change, combined with the relationship between hope, interest, and policy support found in this investigation, developing communications that increase public interest, inspire hope, and encourage positive feelings when people act in climate-friendly ways may be more effective than fear or guilt appeals.’
‘In summary, this research found that discrete emotions—especially worry, interest, and hope—appear to have a large influence on American climate change policy preferences. The challenge for communication strategists is how best to cue these powerful motivations to promote public engagement with climate change solutions.’
For a wicked problem dominated by the presence of Uncertain T. Monster‡, then long-term, over decades that is, these methods will not so much communicate the message as iteratively forge it to fit the mould of the projected emotions. Such methods, if they belong anywhere, belong to domains with much shorter timescales and much higher degrees of certainty that a calamity is coming. (‡ credit for name: Prof Judith Curry).
Note: I’ve done no checks at all on the math and methods of S&L2014, merely taking the paper at face value. We only need a yardstick here for the Consensus-orientated perception of the emotional landscape.
So now we are on to warning Type 3, beware of the bias from the Continued Influence Effect, which can never be wholly eliminated. Its subsidiaries are:
Type 3A: Beware of information that does not come with health warnings.
Type 3B: Try to be aware of corrections / retractions; be suspicious if these are not on a par
with the vigor of the original information transmission.
Type 3C: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE.
Let’s start with Type 3A. Plugging ‘climate change settled science’ or phrases with similar meaning into search engines nowadays, seems to pull up as many references from the last year or two about why the science isn’t settled, or at least arguably isn’t settled, than references claiming that it is settled. However, this is a relatively new phenomenon most likely caused by ‘the pause’. Prior to this time, the dominant message in the media was indeed that the science was settled. In retrospect it seems very likely that the problem was highly simplified – anthropogenic CO2 is the dominant cause of global temperature rise and hence also of a coming catastrophe – as was the solution – drastically reduce CO2 emissions at any cost. Model outputs and ‘multiple lines of evidence’ were presented as incontrovertible foundations for these stark and certain conclusions. The message was output via senior politicians and scientists and NGOs, then on down through a plethora of media and social channels. Yet whether or not there does turn out to be some significant climate problem, this approach is as far as it is possible to get from giving decent health warnings, or any health warnings in fact, about the primary information. If we are to believe what Lewandowsky and other psychologists tell us, bias will inevitably result. There can be no other possibility, unless that the psychologists were wrong all along. I very much doubt this. Because of the lack of health warnings, then the Consensus has essentially transmitted misinformation; primarily a false certainty.
As E2010 / E2011 point out, the CIE can never wholly be eliminated; so the misinformation put out by the Consensus now has ‘a life of its own’. Misinformation will not in the vast majority of cases equate to straight lies or scams; it is typically due to an avalanche of myth and misunderstandings caused by a whole range of effects, such as confirmation bias and noble cause corruption and amplification by the cellular science structure and so on, beneath which in turn lies more basic emotive bias. Catastrophe could still happen, yet as noted above the single largest item of misinformation within CAGW is the false level of certainty about that scenario. This falsity has now been exposed by ‘the pause’, and as observations start to fall out of the bottom of model projections it is slowly dawning, at least on the less committed adherents to the cause, that the wicked problem of predicting climate (with or without any anthropogenic effects) should never have had such high certainty attached to it in the first place.
I repeat: The CIE can never wholly be eliminated. Consider the timescales involved; many environmental scientists who are also embedded individuals within an emotively pliant society, have spent almost their whole career working under the harsh light of an emotional message of certain disaster (absent drastic CO2 cutbacks that is, which certainly are not occurring). This is a constant pressure that will invoke bias. Via the cell dependency in science where each cell often uncritically utilizes the results of another (for instance assumed temperature impact upon a particular species), the false certainty has spread to myriad fields within the overall sphere of environmental studies. Even if huge efforts were deployed to transmit proper caveats and corrections as part of a much more balanced understanding, it would be enormously difficult, more likely impossible, to undo all the damage caused by the original misinformation. As Jenifer Marohasy suggests, the re-emergence of proper science might only be possible via a completely new paradigm, one which essentially comes staffed by new people and so is not weighted down by the crippling emotional commitments of the current regime. While ‘the pause’ has probably had a stronger corrective effect than all the efforts of skeptics combined, this merely emphasizes the fact that no social corrective mechanism is likely to work. So unless the climate does something both relatively short-term and completely at odds with the Consensus envelope, then we are burdened with a disabling CIE; given the Consensus envelope has been stretched so wide these days, then this possibility is also very unlikely.
That brings us nicely to Type 3B: Try to be aware of corrections / retractions; be suspicious if these are not on a par with the vigor of the original information transmission. While ‘the pause’ has injected some sense of true uncertainty into both the core science domain and even the public domain, it is painfully obvious that any ‘huge efforts deployed to transmit proper caveats and corrections as part of a much more balanced understanding’ that I mentioned above, simply are not happening. In fact, completely the opposite appears to be happening. Many within the Consensus still cling to the ‘settled science’ thread as others attempt to pivot, yet even the latter are not promoting corrective information in high profile, rather they attempt a quiet morph to a more flexible position. The many weaknesses of models and their failure to match observations are hardly the stuff of presidential speeches and major news announcements, as was their ‘underwriting the certainty of doom’, which message still staggers on in fact. Such admissions as have been made are practically dragged out of official bodies in a exercise somewhat like pulling teeth from a patient who is fighting back, and the only impactful public notification is from brave and much maligned minority journalism such as that of David Rose, rather than from official sources such as a government minister, or even their science subordinates like NASA or NOAA or the UK Met Office or the Ozzie BOM. Similar defensiveness can be found across the environmental domain; for instance the uncertainty that has come to light about polar bear numbers is hardly the stuff of major announcements by WWF or Al Gore, as was the previous ‘high certainty’ about their coming demise. Data is dragged painfully out of official bodies by Susan Crockford, and finds minority expression in articles such as this from Matt Ridley. Whether or not any of this new information would in fact change the picture, according to Lewandowksy and associated authors we have every right to be suspicious regarding the sources of the original narrative, every right to be suspicious that the narrative was heavily weighted towards a specific position. Yet such suspicions are generally met by official brick walls, evasion, or indeed anger.
Even if the entire environmental domain was now working in good faith to transmit corrections and caveats, the CIE is still working against them. And it seems like almost no-one in the domain is making a serious attempt at high profile correction. Peer pressure within the Consensus makes it very hard to show a fuller picture, which will be perceived as admitting a mistake when compared to the original messages. And I guess authority figures from presidents and prime ministers on down don’t like admitting to policy errors, even if they could in practice shift the blame onto scientific advisors. Plus major vested interests (e.g. the renewables industry and considerable UN infra-structure) are now attached to the narrative of catastrophe, no doubt along with a few scams on the side too (these are attached to every major human enterprise). Authority figures are not embracing the emerging uncertainties that the public are dimly starting to perceive, they are resisting the knowledge and the implications. One reason the Consensus envelope is stretched so wide these days, is that its adherents are (through the action of bias) integrating various unanticipated positions into the narrative while trying hard to maintain a sense of continuity and also the critical imperative of coming calamity. Out of this process the public is not getting caveats and corrections and retractions on a par with the original narrative; it is at best getting ‘we are still right, but you have to wait and see’. [Note, some scientists are invoking the insurance of offsets, e.g. may, could, if, possibly, consistent with, etc. set within the original information. In fact the terms are typically deployed in a manner that has made things worse, because they provide for a big range of ambiguity that allows the previous bias types of worldview and emotion to find a subconscious foothold, while not, being just ‘glue words’, usually standing out enough to constitute a reasonable health warning in the minds of unwary readers. It is also to be noted that there have been a very few high profile corrections; e.g. the Himalayan Glacier melt times; though even these have hardly been made with grace and without pressure].
So we come to warning Type 3C: be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE. Regarding the Consensus attitude to skepticism, I don’t think I need to bother with much in the way of references; unfortunately it is all too apparent that the core of the Consensus either demonizes skeptics, or is happy to stay silent while such demonization occurs. The virtually universal use of the term ‘denier’ to describe skeptics is specifically linked to Holocaust denial, injecting enormous emotion into the climate debate and delegitimizing skepticism. Lately, some in the Consensus having seen that this has gone too far, there are attempts to reign in use of the term (which likely cannot be achieved, such usage so easily gets out of control). Attempts are typically based on ‘splitting’ skeptics into deniers, contrarians, or ‘true’ skeptics. Given that these definitions are constructed by the Consensus and can be morphed at will to attack inconvenient arguments or those presenting them, this is hardly any better: simply a means to keep control of the debate while moderating emotion sufficiently not to lose the moral argument at the same time.
So, the leeway granted by the Consensus for healthy skepticism, which would help in countering natural biases that are bound to occur on complex and policy relevant problems, is worse than zero. It is minus. The Consensus is actively attempting to eradicate skepticism, which would also eradicate any chance of folks escaping the CIE regarding the misinformation that the Consensus transmitted. If they stood by the conclusions of their own papers, Lewandowsky and associated authors should be supporting the rights of skeptics and indeed the need of skeptical opinion, plus countering the shameful actions of the Consensus in trying to suppress these.
Regarding warning type 4, beware of the ‘third person effect’, especially for oft repeated / saturating information, recall from the first post that in L2014 Lewandowsky uses skeptic messaging as an example of this: ‘Scientists may therefore think that they are impervious to “skeptic” messages in the media, but in fact they are likely to be affected by the constant drumbeat of propaganda.’ However, this could only be the case for Consensus scientists who constantly expose themselves to skeptic messaging; given the minimal public presence and low impact of such messaging compared to the sheer avalanche of incessant Consensus messaging about impending calamity (which pretty much saturates the media and is delivered by presidents and prime ministers on downwards), constant exposure would have to be a conscious act.
In a narrative war for influence on minds, volume of messages matters. To use Lewandowsky’s drum analogy, skeptics are trying to make a single tom-tom heard while the massed Consensus drum circle surrounds them playing a hundred strong. Objectivity constrains us to assume that both sides may have information that later turns out to be largely true, and misinformation too, but the net third person effect will be overwhelmingly aligned to the rhythm of the drum circle. Such misinformation as is therefore going to cause bias will belong to the Consensus (and per above this misinformation is mainly about the false level of certainty). And too, while a proportion of skeptic messaging might indeed be regarded as propaganda, the Consensus has an unwholesome tendency to redefine genuine questions about scientific uncertainties as propaganda. So to rephrase Lewandowksy’s quote such that it reflects the dominant beat within the narratives of climate change, we have: the well-known “third-person effect” refers to the fact that people generally think that others (i.e., third persons) are affected more by a persuasive message than they are themselves, even though this is not necessarily the case. Scientists may therefore think that they are impervious to “alarmist” messages in the media, but in fact they are likely to be affected by the constant drumbeat of propaganda. One might also add that the dramatic, emotive and simplistic narrative of coming catastrophe, is much more persuasive than skeptic attempts to point out realistic uncertainties within various complex fields contributing to the overall perception of climate change. And while some Consensus scientists do distance themselves from alarmist scare stories in the media, the Consensus as a whole makes no systemic attempt to prevent or negate such stories, which are sufficiently orchestrated by advocacy wings (e.g. NGOs) to label as propaganda.
So in summary, this post has shown how all the warnings about cognitive bias from Lewandowsky and associated authors, which I believe are valid, are highly relevant to the workings of the Consensus, and will produce heavy bias because these warnings are completely ignored within the Consensus context.
Regarding type 1, beware of the bias from one’s worldview: support for the Consensus is highly aligned to specific worldviews and this is self-declared; worldview endorsements will produce no less bias than worldview challenges. Regarding type 2, beware of the bias caused by (explicit or implied) emotive content: the Consensus is saturated with emotive messaging, both within itself and projected out to the public (within which its science and policy contributors are inextricably embedded). Deliberate and sustained emotive messaging campaigns have been carried out over decades, and the Consensus proposes to tune these for more efficient hits on the appropriate emotive hot-buttons, and continue hitting those buttons as hard as possible for the foreseeable future. This can only result in heavy bias. Regarding type 3, beware of the bias from the CIE (with subtypes): the Consensus has transmitted critical misinformation (primarily regarding the certainty of calamity), from the highest possible levels on downwards to every imaginable media channel and local interaction. It is hard to think of any other message in history that has received so much global attention from practically every nation upon Earth. The Consensus did not accompany their message with appropriate health warnings. Even when challenged by ‘the pause’, the Consensus has not promoted cautions, corrections or retractions at the same level of vigor as the original information; indeed it actively seeks to resist this activity and only acknowledges the absolute minimum adaptations, which are typically transmitted in the most obscure manner possible (while all along attempting to maintain undamaged the narrative of an inevitable looming calamity, which it still promotes). When healthy skepticism that might reduce the CIE is expressed, the typical response of the Consensus is to de-legitimize, and in cases even demonize, the skeptic voices. Hence the CIE, which even in the best of circumstances can never be wholly eliminated, will continue to play a big role in biasing both the public and also the current core Consensus contributors themselves. Regarding type 4, the third person effect: the massed drums of the Consensus, amplified by authority, which for decades have repetitively beaten out the narrative of ‘the science is settled’, and ‘calamity is certain’, will indeed have had the effect of causing considerable bias in any scientist honestly struggling to uncover the truth, let alone in the public, who are far less armed to resist such false certainty.
I started this post by saying how disappointing were the efforts of psychologists engaging with the social phenomenon of climate change. They appear only to be examining skepticism, as though this mole (some might say ‘beauty spot’ ;) was surgically removed from the whole social landscape of environmentalism, the rest of which is assumed to be absolute truth, yet they don’t understand why this mole is still alive and healthy! While caused by the sheer blindness of bias rather than malicious intent, such a misguided focus, probing endlessly for the ‘dilemma’ of skepticism, which of course remains ‘puzzling’ as it is founded on false assumptions, is essentially an equivalent to the old ploy of declaring one’s enemies crazy. You’d think all the puzzlement, coupled with the reality of a largely unmoved rump of the public (poll figures are briefly featured in the next post), would alert intelligent professionals to the fact that they might well have wandered down a blind alley. Yet we cannot be quick to apportion blame. In the end, the obsession of psychologists with skepticism and public inaction is a direct consequence of Consensus misinformation about the certainty of calamity. From the NIWA article on psychology quoted at beginning of this post:
‘Climate scientists tell us that, even if we sell our cars and turn everything off now, the mercury will go on climbing for years – possibly beyond the critical two degrees of warming tipped to precipitate drastic change – thanks to a lag effect. For a lobbyist, that’s a powerful incentive; it ramps up the immediacy of the threat, and puts a physical face on an abstract phenomenon.’
Despite inclusion of the words ‘possible’ and ‘tipped’, alarming statements such as this one for a zero emission scenario (‘turn everything off now’), and ‘drastic’ change beyond two degrees, underwrite with the authority of climate scientists an impending disaster, a serious ‘threat’, tantamount to fact, which then steers all the psychologists down their narrow quest. But even for a ‘business as usual’ scenario, such a high level of certainty regarding catastrophe has never existed, nor for that matter has much confidence in a highly damaging tipping point at two degrees, which is effectively an arbitrary figure. Economists for instance, have posited this same figure to be the point when overall benefits turn to overall harms; not exactly a catastrophic outcome. While the IPCC AR5 summary for policymakers continues to contribute to the misinformation of certainty, it does not even appear to be supported by the more moderate technical output it is supposed to be summarizing, nor any longer by model projections that are parting company with observations. The false certainty is criticized more frequently these days by a number of mainstream climate scientists, such as professor Curry, who are brave enough to risk the considerable acrimony and attacks this prompts (a sign in itself of likely cultural bias). An interesting summary of the uncertainty inherent in the climate models, which have long formed a foundational pillar for certainty itself, can be found in the WSJ article by Stephen Koonin, who summarizes thus:
‘Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.’
Dr. Koonin, a physicist by training, was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term, and could in no way be called a skeptic. But until very recently when a few are starting to speak up, the long silence of many in science who are probably feeling very uncomfortable indeed about the long imposed narrative of certainty, has contributed considerably to a situation where misinformation has come to dominate perceptions and events.
So thus far we’ve categorized the valid warnings about bias from Lewandowsky and associated authors, plus shown how each one is highly relevant to the position of the Consensus, revealing enormous bias and the transmission of misinformation, plus a failure to revise / retract in the light of new knowledge (e.g. as prompted by ‘the pause’). The next (and last) post looks further at the impact of these findings, on climate professionals, on psychologists, and on society as a whole. Along the way, we’ll include an extra subtlety or too, for instance an interesting angle from the Lew papers about attempting to induce false suspicion.
Andy West : www.wearenarrative.wordpress.com
† There is and always has been very considerable uncertainty in the Science of what is essentially a wicked problem (understanding climate), which because of groupthink and rampant bias the Consensus has not communicated. This quote is from Prof Judith Curry in response to an interview question about the current intellectual level of the climate change debate:
“Well, the climate change debate seems to be diversifying, as sociologists, philosophers, engineers and scientists from other fields enter the fray. There is a growing realization that the UNFCCC / IPCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has oversimplified both the problem and its solution. The wicked climate problem is growing increasingly wicked as more and more dimensions come into play. The diversification helps with the confirmation bias and ‘groupthink’ problem”.
Curry has a short Op-ed at the Financial Post and other venues (copy at her own blog here), which summarizes why the past and current narrative of certainty is false, plus the negative impact of this, calling for the ‘complexity and wicked nature of the climate problem’ to be recognized. This would result in a fundamental (and positive) change in policy, and likely too a huge deflation in worldwide panic.
Many WUWT readers may consider the content of this Appendix an exercise in the blatantly obvious. Yet folks come here from across the whole spectrum of climate interest, and I felt it necessary to add more to the above text, which makes very clear the scope of CAGW as seen by the Consensus itself, and also as seen by relatively independent observers (at least I think they have no dog in the direct fight; I picked a philosopher and a theologian). That scope is of a transformative culture that will impact the worldviews of all individuals it touches, bruising or stroking or strangling or engorging those worldviews depending on the pre-existing mind-set of the impacted individuals. It is the case that flattering and enhancing worldviews can cause just as much bias towards a culture as challenging and undermining them can against. Included is a brief sample of the large and increasing number of commenters from both inside and outside the Consensus (though more so the latter), who observe that CAGW has strikingly similar characteristics to those other major cultural entities which both impact and shape worldviews, namely religions. This frequent observation stems from common underlying mechanisms within both cultural entities, which lie outside the scope of this series; nevertheless it reinforces the admitted nature of CAGW as a potent culture impacting worldviews both negatively and positively. The sheer size of the Consensus and its cultural entrenchment in governmental structure, NGOs, the mainstream media and some of the business sector plus other social organs, leads to an expectation of major bias.
The aspiration that the ‘fight’ against man-made climate change should transform what we are and what we do, was set early in the arising of the phenomenon of CAGW. At the 1992 Rio Earth summit, from which came the ‘climate change convention’ that eventually led to the Kyoto protocol, and in which 172 governments participated, Maurice Strong, the first Secretary General of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the following within his opening address:
‘For both these issues <biodiversity and climate change> deal with the future of life on Earth. Over the next 20 years, more than one quarter of the Earth’s remaining species may become extinct. And in the case of global warming, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if carbon dioxide emissions are not cut by 60 per cent immediately, the changes in the next 60 years may be so rapid that nature will be unable to adapt and man incapable of controlling them.’
More than that twenty years later this storyline, which compared to Consensus scientific opinion now (as expressed in the AR5 technical papers) looks like a very serious overstatement of likely environmental impacts, acts as a main fear-based motivator for proposed difficult changes and actions, about which the same speech says later …
‘We are reminded by the Declaration of the Sacred Earth Gathering, which met here last weekend, that the changes in behaviour and direction called for here must be rooted in our deepest spiritual, moral and ethical values. We reinstate in our lives the ethic of love and respect for the Earth which traditional peoples have retained as central to their value systems.’
Anthropologists might argue that the Western perception of the ‘love and respect’ held by traditional peoples for the Earth is in fact a myth anyhow. This is a serious world leader essentially basing a policy direction on the old bunkum of the beautiful and noble savage, giving enormous emotive ammunition to the anti-technology, anti-energy and anti-medicine etc. memes that lurk ever in the wings and leap out periodically to capture a new crop of the naïve. However, whether you believe this bunkum or not, this is a clear proposal for a fundamental new worldview, one apparently rooted in some kind of ‘inner spiritual and moral truth’. Most definitely the stuff of transformative culture.
Also out of the Rio Earth Summit, which is officially named ‘the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)’, came Agenda 21, a multi-tiered (local, regional, global) agenda for ‘sustainability’ in the 21st Century. While highly motivated, and notwithstanding no-one is really going to disagree about wanting, say, less poverty or disease, or indeed conserving the environment, the agenda nevertheless embeds many assumptions about the way of achieving these things, which amounts to a rigid social blueprint. Hence although it is non-binding, love it or hate it, or both for different principles within, the prospect of implementation can only involve a major impact, for better or for worse, upon everyone’s pre-existing worldviews (since Rio, some alignment has already occurred). The perceived need to fight climate change is and has been a major justification for Agenda 21 and other sustainability initiatives. As recently as 2012 at the ‘Rio + 20’ United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in a document called “The Future We Want”. The leaders of 180 nations participated.
All the folks who indeed want this Agenda 21 future or something similar, who given the blueprint above is essentially a socialist one seem to abound in UN structures and other bureaucracies plus indeed in academia too, will possess intrinsic bias regarding the most powerful motivator for this transformative social project, i.e. global warming aka climate change. In very many cases they are the same people who are working within the science and policy wings of the climate Consensus, and over decades we could not seriously expect their judgment to have remained uncompromised by major bias. Standard work on cognitive bias tells us this, the papers from Lewandowsky and associated authors tell us this. While of course there will be opposing bias from those whose worldviews are negatively impacted by the advance of Agenda 21, these folks have not had a serious foothold in government or in climate science, and only in a part of business and the media. They are a small minority that haven’t owned the action, so to speak. Their best option has been in fact to try and resist their own bias and point out scientific truths that expose the bias of their opponents.
There is little attempt within the Consensus to mask the worldview alignments that are so tangled up with the topic of climate change in a cultural positive feedback loop, except when Consensus adherents argue that (their) ‘science is science’ and not impacted by worldview, which a) for an infant science engaged on a wicked problem is not true, and b) anyhow this undermines the parallel argument that skeptic science is merely a product of conservative and free-market orientated worldview. Either both or true, or neither.
So according to the Consensus itself, the Consensus is either part of a transformative culture or it is not, depending on whether it wants to promote the apparent benefits of its cultural aspirations, or whether it wants to argue against skeptics in a narrow scientific context while distancing from the inconvenience within this scenario of its worldview alignment. So much for what the Consensus thinks of itself. What do others think? Well in the abstract for the unfortunately pay-walled The Reason of “Climate Religion”, a Theological-Ethical Critique of Climate Skeptical Arguments, theologist Michael Rosenberger says:
‘Climate skeptics put forth many arguments against climate protection. Among them, two are particularly interesting from a theological point of view: First, climate protection is described as a new, secular religion, with dogmas and declared heretics and with a system of purchasable indulgence analogous to medieval Catholicism. Second, this “climate religion” gains its power largely from inducing fear – fear of apocalyptic catastrophes coming soon if people won’t change their lifestyles fundamentally. The article, written in a perspective of theological ethics, does not deny the skeptics’ analysis of climate protection as religion. It rejects, however, the underlying negative evaluation of any religion as behind the times and as lacking any rationality, providing evidence for the reasonability of “climate religion”.’
Note that while this statement is defending against the implication that religions lack rationality, it does not deny the skeptic premise that ‘climate protection’ has become a religion, which in other words is a cultural entity that will impact and shape worldviews. The increasing number (and depth) of comparisons between CAGW and religion strongly supports this concept (e.g. see a few I collected about a year back, there are very many more and they’ve kept on appearing since: UK MP Peter Lilley , blogger John Bell, Michael Crichton via blogger Justice4Rinka [Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am], Richard Lindzen, blogger BetaPlug, philosopher Pascal Bruckner, blogger sunshinehours1 [cult], professor Hans Von Storch [prophets], some Evangelical skeptics, and a Climate Etc post discussing this whole area).
One of the above is worth expanding, as the quote is from the mainstream Consensus climate scientist Hans von Storch, along with his co-author for ‘The Climate Trap’, cultural scientist Werner Krauss (‘the authors’). So this represents an inside view, not a skeptic one:
The authors reveal how they feel about alarmist scientists. Since the early 2000s they felt “something was amiss”.
“Was the climate apocalypse really at our doorstep as we could read in the media? Or were they exaggerating in their depiction of the results coming from climate science? […]
The climate scientist [von Storch] had the suspicion that climate science was dragging around a ‘cultural rucksack’ that was influencing the interpretation of the data. The cultural scientist [Krauss], with regards to the appearances by some climate scientists in the media and the roles they were readily assigned, was reminded of weather-wizards and shamans of foreign cultures.”
“Without really being aware of it, climate scientists had taken over the role of prophets: They predicted the imminent end-of-the-world if society did not fundamentally change soon, reduced its emissions, and behaved more sustainably with the environment. The problem was not only the message, but also that they were often completely way in over their heads with the role as mediator between nature and society.”
The fact that some Consensus scientists are now pointing to the alarmism of others, suggests some fracturing of Consensus culture under pressure from ‘the pause’. A (very) slow realization of the culture of catastrophe, itself based upon the misinformation of certainty, is beginning to percolate parts of the Consensus itself. Yet it is heavily resisted. Von Storch at least has realized that this must be influencing the interpretation of the data in a major way. His ‘cultural rucksack’ is packed with the worldview and emotive bias types that the Lew and crew papers describe much more formally. (Consensus credentials: Von Storch is still signed up to 2+ Celsius warming this century with ‘serious effects’ within 30 years, plus ‘sinister’ ocean acidification, against which effects we must continue with major emissions reduction).
I end this appendix with the view of philosopher Pascal Bruckner. His essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education makes an enlightened comparison of CAGW culture (or rather, the somewhat wider concept of ‘Ecologism’) not only with religions, but with at least one other transformative culture, Communism, and others are implied:
‘Ecologism, the sole truly original force of the past half-century, has challenged the goals of progress and raised the question of its limits. It has awakened our sensitivity to nature, emphasized the effects of climate change, pointed out the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Onto this collective credo has been grafted a whole apocalyptic scenography that has already been tried out with communism, and that borrows from Gnosticism as much as from medieval forms of messianism.’
While it is no doubt healthy to awaken our sensitivity to nature and some awareness of resource limits, the fearful and previously failed apocalyptic narratives now burgeoning within CAGW culture are not likely to produce positive results, regarding the protection of the environment or society. Yet whether you believe this or not, it is hard to deny that Pascal’s Ecologism, of which CAGW culture is a major component, is a transformative culture that will impact and shape worldviews. Hence it will have caused bias in those who’ve ‘owned’ the science and policy for decades, and who are creatures of this culture.
Main Reference Papers
L2014 = abstract for the video presentation Scientific Uncertainty in Public Discourse: The Case for Leakage Into the Scientific Community, by Lewandowsky. Video and text of the abstract at WUWT.
L2012 = Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing, by Lewandowsky et al.
E2011 = Correcting false information in memory: Manipulating the strength of misinformation encoding and its retraction, by Ecker et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky).
E2010 = Explicit warnings reduce but do not eliminate the continued influence of misinformation, by Ecker et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky). You may need to cut and paste this link into your browser: http://rd.springer.com/content/pdf/10.3758%2FMC.38.8.1087.pdf
G2008 = Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution, by Griffiths et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky).
S&L2014 = The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition, by Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz, (Lewandowsky not a contributor in this one).