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New York Times: We are all climate change idiots

The leading U.S. left-leaning daily has finally made a confession that many of us have eagerly expected for years:

We’re All Climate-Change Idiots (The New York Times, Beth Gardiner)
Well, yes, you are. And if some readers were still feeling uncertain about the proof of the proposition in the title, all their doubts evaporated after they read the first two sentences written by the lady.




She proved the proposition in the title in this elegant, concise way:
CLIMATE CHANGE is staring us in the face. The science is clear, and the need to reduce planet-warming emissions has grown urgent.
QED.

Yes, if you see a climate change staring in your face and if you think that the need to reduce planet-warming emissions has grown "urgent", despite the fact that the global temperature trend in the last 15 years is zero (slightly negative, in fact), then you are a climate change idiot, indeed.

Of course, most idiots are actually unable of introspection and self-criticism so what the lady actually wanted to express by the sentence "we are idiots" is that "you are idiots". Idiots often confuse these two propositions. OK, so how does idiot Ms Gardiner justify her incorrectly formulated claim that the non-idiots are actually idiots?
The mental habits that help us navigate the local, practical demands of day-to-day life, they say, make it difficult to engage with the more abstract, global dangers posed by climate change.
The "mental habits" make it difficult and thank God for that: these mental habits are usually known as "rational reasoning" and "rational behavior". Sensible people don't incorporate things like "global dangers" into the planning of their own behavior for a simple reason: it is utterly irrational. There aren't any real global dangers in the most ambitious sense and even if there were some, an individual couldn't "wrestle" with them. Every individual has his or her own place and job and he or she should do it right. Indeed, the thinking in terms of "global dangers" that should determine one's behavior is very different from the local, practical, rational behavior that many people know in their day-to-day life. It's the exact opposite of it.

Every second form of irrational behavior and thinking boils down to some spurious "global dangers". The irrational behavior of religious people is motivated by the efforts to avoid the "global danger" of an angry god or God or the judgement day. After all, this big threat is why Jehovah's Witnesses prefer to lose all their blood over a transfusion. The fear of a "global climate change" is completely analogous.

In all these cases and many others, the irrationality in the behavior arises from the people's inability to realize the modest, local impact of the people's acts which may be considered or predicted as an "isolated problem". Irrational people almost always link the things they see to some faraway ghosts and dragons. Even if there's something wrong about a transfusion, it only influences an organ or at most one individual – and it usually does so in a positive way. It is irrational to think about the global impact of a transfusion. There ain't any. The laws of Nature are local – at least with a huge accuracy.

Analogously, if a rational person is deciding about whether he or should do something that also leads to the emission of one kilogram of carbon dioxide, he or she compares the costs and benefits – either subconsciously or by more sophisticated calculations – and all these costs and benefits are determined by the local changes of the environment.

If the person is also told that the emission of one kilogram of carbon dioxide raises the global mean temperature by \(10^{-15}\) °C – and please feel free to check that this number is easily calculable from the overinflated estimates by the IPCC and the reality is approximately 3-10 times smaller (but it obviously plays no role in my argument and people's decisions), then he or she knows how to incorporate this additional information into his or her behavior.



Famous U.S. singer Anastacia who is unknown in the U.S. asks what can we do to celebrate again? Except for singing and shooting a commercial for Škoda Citigo (equipped with a semi-automatic communication tool and a big smiley instead of a steering wheel) in Prague, of course. ;-)

The right way to incorporate the extra information is to ignore it because the number is zero for all practical and almost all impractical purposes. Of course it's better to use a vehicle (train, car, aircraft) to get from Boston to New York than to walk if you can afford it. And yes, it's the right thing to ignore the femtokelvin of global warming. You may cause this warming "everywhere on Earth" but the impact of it anywhere is the same as it is here, namely none. Yes, people and animals are trained to ignore hypothetical effects that their acts such as trips by train or breathing cause thousands of miles away and it's very good and important that they ignore such things.
Robert Gifford, a psychologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who studies the behavioral barriers to combating climate change, calls these habits of mind “dragons of inaction.”
Except that it's the people who want to regulate carbon dioxide who also want to reduce the amount of action – and GDP – in the world. There's a funny upside-down terminology used by inkspillers such as Ms Gardiner. If someone is riding a car, it is "action". If he is forced or persuaded not to drive, he is led to "inaction". It is very demagogic to exchange these two labels. What the climate alarmists loons want to achieve is the reduction of "action" in the world and indeed, bans on many kinds of "action".
We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present.
But it's very correct that we have trouble imagining a future that is drastically different from the present. The reason why we can't imagine a future that is drastically different from the present is that it is impossible to do so. Because so many things will depend on random events that haven't happened yet, the predictions of the character of a future world are impossible even in principle.

However, the climate change idiots such as Ms Gardiner have some additional trouble: they can't even understand or imagine that the future will be drastically different from the present. That's why they're still spreading cranky delusions about the impossibility of continued GDP growth, continued population growth – despite the fact that all these Malthusian delusions have been proved ludicrously short-sighted dozens of times in the past. They are using the most naive ideas about the human life, priorities, and technologies extracted from the present and they apply these naive ideas to the year 2050 or 2100 or 2350. They think that if they suck in the practical life and predictions of day-to-day issues, they must be good at predicting the world in the year 2050 or 2100 or 2350. But this can't work, stupid ladies! You're guaranteed to suck even more in these more difficult disciplines.
We block out complex problems that lack simple solutions.
Regardless of the climate change example, this attitude is extremely reasonable, too. It's important for the generic humans – as well as the most important ones – to avoid the temptation to try to solve things whose solution doesn't seem conceivable or simple enough for it to be at least imagined.

A simple example. An Islamic suicide bomber may participate in a mission to erase the heretical Western capitalism from the face of the Earth. This complex task assigned by the top mullah doesn't look simple but he just tries, anyway. Well, he won't succeed. At least he will get those 72 virgin earthworms penetrating his grave and devouring some remaining carbon atoms from his body.

On the other hand, the U.S. army will (almost) never enter a conflict in which it is not more or less guaranteed to win. It will do exactly what is being criticized above: it will block complex problems that lack simple solutions. This attitude is what we call "being rational" and it's one of the things that distinguishes e.g. managers of major U.S. corporations on one side and Islamic suicide bombers on the other side. America may have ambitious goals but it will only fully concentrate on a "solution" once it has been processed, reduced, and designed to look beneficial and doable – or simple.
We dislike delayed benefits and so are reluctant to sacrifice today for future gains.
Yes, that's another vital part of our rationality. If I can earn a guaranteed profit $100 in 2040, it's not the same thing as getting $100 today. It would be stupid to think that it's the same thing. Chances are that I won't be around in 2040; chances are that the dollar won't be around or it will be much less valuable; chances are that the person or institution promising $100 won't be around or will no longer feel obliged to pay what it has promised to pay.

Moreover, even if both I and the dollars existed in 2040 and the dollars were equally valuable (which is unlikely and it is also an ill-defined adjective if it needs to compare two different worlds), it would still be stupid to consider $100 in 2040 to be the same thing as $100 today. The person labeled "I" in 2040 won't really be the same object as "I" am today. Not only many of the atoms will be replaced many times; but even the structures connecting them will be modified. So I would really be paying the money to "someone who is not quite me". He may even be senile enough to think about loop quantum gravity. Why should I be so excited about sending some money to a crackpot who arrogantly uses my name? ;-) For all those reasons, rational people consider the future events less important in their rational considerations of utility. In the economists' jargon, the decline of the perceived utility of the money as they are shifted towards the future is known as the discount rate.

There are various kinds of the discount rate and they have subtle relationships with the inflation rate, interest rates, GDP growth rate, and other rates but one thing is clear: the discount rate is surely nonzero and must be nonzero. The nonzero discount rate is what leads us to think locally, to link and compare costs and benefits associated with events that appear at a similar moment – instead of being controlled by irrational conflicts of "infinite" profits or losses in a hypothetical or spurious future. And indeed, it is generally irrational for an individual to plan what will happen more than 50 years in the future. (A very particular localized project such as the construction of a cathedral may count as an exception.) No one knows how the world will look and what will matter in that world. Ideas that we do know and it should affect our behavior are religious and insane in their character.

So once again, even independently of the climate change discussion, the point that Ms Gardiner criticizes is another pillar of the human rationality.
And we find it harder to confront problems that creep up on us than emergencies that hit quickly.
The right description is that we correctly realize that changes that "creep on us" are less important, not only because they're slower (and the "severity" is kind of proportional to the rate) but because people and societies simply adapt to changes as long as they are slow enough. It means that these slow enough changes turn out not to be problems at all!

Once again, it is completely essential for a rational person to take the "speed of a change" into account when he discusses the question whether a change is a problem. Thinking that every change is the same problem regardless of the rate would be a complete denial of common sense. (It's equally important not to forget that a change may also be beneficial, not necessarily harmful, and a hypothetical warming would almost certainly be beneficial. The negative sign automatically linked to any change is a terribly embarrassing error, one that demagogues love to artificially induce.)
“You almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Right. Except that a sane person would formulate the very same idea in different words: "You couldn't engineer another spurious problem and the associated recommended reactions to this spurious problem that would be in a more striking conflict with what we call the rational human behavior than the global warming doctrine."
Sometimes, when forming our opinions, we grasp at whatever information presents itself, no matter how irrelevant. A new study by the psychologist Nicolas Guéguen, published in last month’s Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that participants seated in a room with a ficus tree lacking foliage were considerably more likely to say that global warming was real than were those in a room with a ficus tree that had foliage.
It's because the global warming ideologues have deliberately brainwashed people to think in this stupid way (of course, some of these superstitions have been a part of the human nature from the beginning and the global warming ideologues have just abused these aspects of the human nature). The media – including Ms Gardiner, in fact even in this very article – are encouraging the readers to think about global problems behind every mundane event they see around. What a surprise that some people think of global warming if they look at a ficus tree. Incidentally, the effect of a higher CO2 on the foliage would be exactly opposite than hinted above but I don't expect anyone in The New York Times to be able to give correct answers to any questions that require common sense.
We also tend to pay attention to information that reinforces what we already believe and dismiss evidence that would require us to change our minds, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias.
Again, this procedure, when applied correctly, is totally crucial for rational reasoning. We live in a world where we are bombarded by terabytes of pure rubbish so of course that we must have our own personal filters that just filter the garbage away. The filter inevitably checks the new information against the old information we already know and if the new information disagrees, we probably reject it.

It's important to realize that while a particular gadget that (and perhaps even a particular experimenter who) should measure something (immediate conditions) should have no bias – and no memory that influences the current results (by the definition of the "immediate conditions") – a rational person just can't be a constant "tabula rasa". It is completely essential not to overlook our older, previous knowledge when we are forming an opinion about a question.

Of course that my predictions of what the LHC Higgs searches would find by July 2012 were heavily influenced by what I knew from the 2011 data. If I were forgetting everything I previously learned whenever I hear something new, I would be a complete idiot. (By this sentence, I don't want to suggest that there aren't idiots of this sort: there are lots of them. But there are also people who don't belong to this set, thank God.)

There may be a problem with the things "we think we know" because if we know wrong things, the filters will work incorrectly, too. However, if someone doesn't have any filters at all – either because he knows nothing or because he thinks it's right to accept any information that arrives to his senses – he or she will inevitably become an information trash bin in which the percentage of garbage and spam copies the percentage of garbage that is accepted by other unfiltered minds and mail boxes. Such a person shouldn't be used as an independent source of opinion because he's not one. Also, his or her opinions shouldn't really play any role in a working society or community because it's the same thing as filling grocery stores with the content of trash bins.

I also want to point out that Ms Gardiner contradicted herself. A few sentence earlier, she suggested that one shouldn't be distracted by irrelevant details such as a ficus tree. Now she suggests that one should be distracted by all the new data regardless of the previous knowledge, otherwise it is "confirmation bias". Of course that a sensible person must be able to find a reasonable threshold – some "expected power and reliability of new data" that is needed for him to change the opinions acquired from previous experience. One may err on both sides – and the global warming believers remarkably manage to err on both sides at the same moment (and/or they want everyone else to do both of these errors: believe new rubbish data as well as ignore the inconvenient important data as "details") – but only if one adjusts his filters to the right "size of the holes", he has a good chance to get an increasingly accurate idea about the world.
He and his research colleagues have found that people with more hierarchical, individualistic worldviews (generally conservatives) sense that accepting climate science would lead to restraints on commerce, something they highly value, so they often dismiss evidence of the risk. Those with a more egalitarian, community-oriented mind-set (generally liberals) are likely to be suspicious of industry and very ready to credit the idea that it is harming the environment.
The discussions about climate change are political in character and they have always been political. That's something that should never be true for a purely scientific topic; and that's why it's a lie to say that this issue is driven by science.

But otherwise, the attitude presented in the paragraph above is fully rational, too. What people are ultimately evaluating is whether or not it is a good idea to adopt some of the proposed policies and e.g. regulate carbon dioxide. Of course that in the decision process, people will consider the likely impact of such possible policies.

If someone thinks that freedom and free markets are important things and if he realizes that his well-being depends on many other people and their businesses and corporations, he or she will probably reject attempts to regulate carbon dioxide as a Big Government plot. On the contrary, people who want the government to be as big as possible, who hate human freedom, who believe that corporations don't play any positive role, and who want to build a society resembling Stalin's USSR in which the life of the society and individuals is planned and restricted, will enthusiastically support the global warming belief system and policies. Regardless of their estimates of the climate sensitivity – which is not the main source of different attitudes – they will simply vote Yes.

From a general viewpoint, left-wing political beliefs are a psychopathology. However, if you think about a thought experiment and you imagine that they're legitimate attitudes, the behavior of the left-wing people supporting the carbon regulating policies is "rational", too. They badly want a Big Government so of course that any way to introduce a Big Government is a "net benefit" for them they will endorse regardless of any detailed numbers. It's not about the numbers at all.



My hometown of Pilsen is ready to switch to carbon-free means of transportation. Google StreetView minivans were replaced by Google StreetView Video Skateboards. The guys rode along the Klatovská Avenue, from the Southern boundary of Pilsen to the central Square of the Republic.

The question whether societies should try to social-engineer the concentration of CO2 "from above" is a purely political question, a question about the values, so a sensible person can't be surprised that political considerations play the key role in determining people's opinions about these proposed hyenous policies.

My best estimate of the climate sensitivity per CO2 doubling is (0.9 ± 0.4) °C. I have various degrees of belief that the sensitivity may be negative or above 2 °C and so on. No number of this sort is "quite excluded". But as I have openly said and kind of calculated many times, the climate sensitivity would have to exceed 10 °C for me to consider the regulation of carbon dioxide as an acceptable policy at all.



Gary, Indiana (near Chicago), once a flourishing town, became America's ghost town and a role model for towns of every nation that abandons or heavily reduces the steel production and similar activities. Where are the promised green jobs bringing them the new prosperity? To abandon the industries producing billions of tons of CO2 means to decay, to commit an industrial suicide. Via Alexander Ač

This conclusion reflects my evaluation of the costs and benefits – possible improvements as well as losses caused by a certain amount of a hypothetical warming and likely losses caused by the proposed methods to "wrestle" with the greenhouse effect. I wouldn't consider it acceptable to sacrifice certain basic freedoms of all humans because of less than 10 °C of warming. That's just about my priorities, values, and a rational evaluation of costs and benefits. Of course that I am pretty sure that the climate sensitivity doesn't exceed 10 °C so this discussion is purely academic for me.
There are ways to overcome such prejudices.
Again, these "prejudices" are pillars of rational reasoning so attempts to "overcome" them are attempts to return the mankind to the Stone Age – or further than that. Leftwingers just love to use the word "prejudice" for certain important truths and methods of thinking that are ideologically inconvenient for them – that just disagree with their fraudulent caricature of the world.
Professor Kahan has shown that how climate change solutions are framed can affect our views of the problem.
And so on. These folks are spending way too much time by "optimizing" the methods how they present their lies. What is the most efficient way to lie, they are asking so often? Wouldn't it be a good idea for them to change the obsession at least once and ask themselves whether they shouldn't stop the lies? To stop lying to themselves could be a good beginning.

OK, Ms Gardiner proposed and described a propagandist trick with this punch line:
Thinking about climate change as a technological challenge rather than as a regulatory problem, it seems, made individualists more ready to credit the scientific claim about the climate.
More precisely, describing the "problem" as a technological challenge made hypothetical solutions more acceptable for the rightwingers. Once again, for obvious, rational reasons. This description suggests that the "solutions" will be technological in character and someone will just take care of them; the "solutions" won't be a way to reorganize or regulate the whole society.

However, what the lady fails to mention is the symmetric flip side of the same coin: presenting the climate change "problem" as a technological challenge makes the doctrine less attractive for the leftists because the leftists are supporting it exactly for the mirror reason: that the fight against a global warming chimera promises to be a trick to reorganize the human society and make it more leftist, totalitarian, egalitarian, centrally planned, and less prosperous and less growing (among all the other scary adjectives that the leftwingers worship). So if they learn that the doctrine has been downgraded to a mere technological challenge, they will lose their interest.

If Ms Gardiner herself learned that the global warming doctrine has been "downgraded" to the level of magnets for a next collider, she will never write a new rant about it for the New York Times because she doesn't give a damn about science or technology and she has no clue about these issues, either. What she's obsessed by are attempts (overlooking her own flagrant inadequacy) to moralize and control the society so if something will be really changed to a technological challenge, it will evaporate from her domain of interest.
Research also suggests public health is an effective frame: few people care passionately about polar bears, but if you argue that closing coal-burning plants will reduce problems like asthma, you’re more likely to find a receptive audience, says the American University communications professor Matthew Nisbet.
Except that people are not as complete idiots as Mr Nisbet and others think. There are genuine pollutants coming from some coal-burning power plants; and there is the harmless carbon dioxide. People know that one may largely filter the first group of chemicals because it is a very small portion of the emissions; on the other hand, regulating the latter is equivalent to closure of the power plants because the volume of the carbon dioxide coming from the chimneys exceeds the volume of the coal you started with – and it's large by itself.

You may surely find people who are stupid enough so that they are unable to distinguish these two things – pollutants from a harmless and vital plants' nutrient and filters from the closure of power plants – but I am sure that the left-wing ideologues similar to Ms Nisbet vastly overestimate the number and importance of people who are this stupid. Be sure that most people living in the U.S. are not this stupid. What their ideological strategies are all about is the search for the most hopeless idiots and methods to make their idiocy even stronger.

However, most of the actual impartial people exposed to this issue are actually understanding the problem ever more realistically and completely. The idea (of Mr Nisbet) that one may fool the U.S. population by mixing and confusing mercury with the carbon dioxide in 2012 is childish. Some people could confuse the element with the compound individually but they will always have someone smart and credible enough in their environment who will kindly point out that mercury isn't the same thing as carbon dioxide. ;-) So can't you just give up these stupid tricks already? They may have worked at some special moment in the past but they will never work again. Your tricks and lies are no longer potent enough.
Simply presenting climate science more clearly is unlikely to change attitudes.
Well, and if it will, it will be against the alarmists' "cause". The more people know about the climate, the more they know that the global warming doctrine is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on (not only) the American people.
But a better understanding of our minds’ strange workings may help save us from ourselves.
Right, especially if we carefully protect what is so good and demonstrably beneficial about our mental processes against attempts to turn us into irrational brainwashed obedient animals instinctively barking at infinitely distant and infinitely obscure chimeras.

And that's the memo.

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reader maznak said...

Right. And your point of discounting the future is a perfectly valid one. Even if there were to be negative effects of the global warming (I tend to agree that this is unlikely), people 50 years from now are going to be much more wealthy compared to us. Simply compound the modern era of GDP growth of 2% or so and you get almost 3 times more wealth. And this is misleading too, because they will have such technologies, health care and entertainment that none of them would most likely want to swap places with todays Bill Gates. Why should we then sacrifice todays well being for those lucky filthy rich bastards? :) And BTW by killing our growth we would most likely deny them the wealth, too. Imagine what would the worlld look like if the global growth was frozen in 1962...


reader David McMahon said...

The NY Times is at it again:


“SO far 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record. But does this mean that we’ve reached a threshold — a tipping point that signals a climate disaster?”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/opinion/the-climate-change-tipping-point.html?_r=1&hp


reader Werdna said...

It would be entirely fair to say that I would clearly belong to the ideological group which is claimed to "predisposed" to "doubting the evidence" of climate alarm thesis. But at least in my case, the "predisposition" theory simply was not the case. I was terribly unimpressed with the elementary school level presentation offered to us in the educational system that did not seem to get any more sophisticated as I got to higher levels. I did not immediately jump to the conclusion that the science must be wrong, however. I was of a mindset that there might be a warming problem, and I wanted to know some facts for myself. I began completely open minded about the scientific questions. It was only after investigating the issue that I became convinced that the climate alarm thesis was total bunk. Politically convenient for me? No doubt. It saves me the five extra seconds it would take to demonstrate why even if warming were a problem, it would not be best dealt with in the typical leftist manner. That's a lot of spared mental effort! :)


reader Luboš Motl said...

WTF? 2012 will approximately match 2011 so it will barely be in the top 10 warmest years.


reader David McMahon said...

The author (senior editor of Scientific American) is conveniently leaving out the detail that he is referring to year to date temperatures in the US, not global temperatures. Interesting how it is OK for them to focus on temperature of small % of earth surface when it suits their agenda but if you point out cold elsewhere they would say "don't you know difference between weather and climate!".


reader Luboš Motl said...

I see, I suspected this was the subtlety. Exactly - that's exactly this local focus they heavily criticize whenever it's inconvenient. But I do think that most people who are at least marginally interested in the topic have already understood this trick of selective interpretation or they're on their own way.


reader hum said...

Probably need to outlaw jogging and working out. That increases breaqthing which increases CO2. Also it might help people live longer and that also will cause more CO2.


reader Eugene S said...

German climate scientist Hans von Storch is always trying to position himself as a "moderate" or "centrist". He calls himself an "honest broker". You can trust me, is his message to the world; I am not a "hardliner" like Schellnhuber or Rahmstorf! But on his weblog a couple of months ago, he said this: "The most effective climate policy in recent decades has been Chna's one-child policy which has spared the world some 400 million CO2 emitters and emitter-procreators." A fine humanitarian.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Eugene, cute. It's been fun to communicate with von Storch a few times but this centrism is LOL.


Supporting hardcore Mao and pals is somewhere at the center between Hitler and Stalin. ;-)


reader WoodNfish said...

Hi lubes,

You know that if they repeat it often enough, it must be true.


reader Shannon said...

On the French news yesterday they kept showing us this video of a little piece of iceberg that fell into the water creating what they call a "tsunami" and they are saying it is a "120km²" "twice the size of Paris" ! duh !... It is a complete deliberate amalgam with a satellite photo of Nasa on Groenland Petermann glacier...
I call this a lie |-[
http://videos.tf1.fr/infos/2012/un-iceberg-geant-se-detache-d-un-glacier-du-groenland-les-images-7423107.html


reader Ann said...

There is a Journal of Environmental Psychology?? The social sciences really are in need of serious paring down. There is just too much noise being generated by quacks.


reader hunters said...

A very interesting deconstruction of a very silly article.