Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Andrew Revkin and merry cowards

I deliberately post this analysis of Andrew Revkin's motivations away from the top of my blog, for the sake of completeness, to avoid excessive ad hominem discussions.

Let me also write a few words about Andrew Revkin (AR) - if he kindly allows (or if he doesn't) - who became a phenomenon in our circles. ;-) If you're not interested in these ideas, please press "Delete" now.

People like Anthony Watts say that AR is mysterious. Others are offended by his text about the conference in NYT and they see a difference from his DotEarth blog.

I may be wrong but I don't see any mystery here. AR seems to replicate the survival strategies that 95% of people in Czechoslovakia and other advanced socialist countries were doing during the totalitarian era. And I am intimately familiar with those. He is pretty much playing both sides, and which side is being played is determined by the immediate context and a cost-and-benefits analysis of the advantages and disadvantages.

You know, I consider NYT to be the leading U.S. newspapers as far as many things, such as the interactions of science and politics, go. It is surely biased in the left direction (but in many cases, this bias is more acceptable than the bias of some competitors in stupid directions). And there are certainly many people in NYT who exert significant pressure on Revkin because even if you may find him insufficiently realistic and insufficiently skeptical, he is almost certainly more neutral and sensible than most of his NYT colleagues.

I am thus not surprised by one article that may be viewed as unflattering towards the skeptics. Moreover, I think that what he writes has a true core, whether you like it or not. The emotional labels and interpretations of this core are often hypocritical but the core is still partially true.

For example, Revkin explains that something is wrong with the skeptics because Exxon is not paying them. That's cute because in the past, similar people have criticized the skeptics for being funded by Exxon (which was never really the case, at least not when you compare the financial flows to the Gore-like 100-million-dollar and Kyoto-like trillion-dollar fraudulent money flows falsely justified by the climate alarm).

So Dr Revkin, what is the morally superior situation? To be paid by Exxon or not to be paid by Exxon? Is there a unique answer to this question that you can give us, or does the answer depend on which of them is better to advance your career?

While the interpretation of the Exxon's lunatic and self-destructive behavior is internally inconsistent and propagandistic in character, Revkin's very observation that fashionable PC alarmist whackos are taking over companies like Exxon is surely correct. Does anyone dispute it? The managers etc. have become detached from the actual purpose of the companies. They can easily imagine themselves switching sides and working in the green industry, for which they are already preparing doors. They're traitors of their industry and traitors for their consumers who actually need the products, they should be ashamed. But their positions are real.

Similar comments apply to Revkin's observations about disunity. Their basis is surely correct but the colors added to this observation are irrational. Disunity is also called a "diversity", it suggests that the opinions have been reached independently, and this feature is often cherished by liberals like Revkin (especially when it comes to relatively irrelevant, superficial things such as skin color or the geometry of genitals). But when it is inconvenient for their careers, the diversity becomes a "disunity". ;-)

But this disunity or diversity is surely there, too. Much like I am irritated by the people who emit nonsense about the "catastrophic" threats for the climate caused by our CO2 and who want to fight non-existing dragons for billions of dollars, I am also irritated by some of the "radical skeptics" who say e.g. that the increase of CO2 has nothing to do with the industrial activity or that the greenhouse effect fundamentally violates the energy conservation law.

Do I have the right to be irritated by both? You bet. That's what we have been officially allowed to do in Czechoslovakia since 1989 again, and many of us did so before, too.

One can create a "box" with all skeptics but it is an artificial construction. People have different levels of knowledge, interests, goals, motivation, and so on. What unifies all climate skeptics is only their knowledge of the ultimate fact that huge investments to such a "crisis" are a waste of money and a deep reorganization of the society justified by such threats is rationally unjustified.

That's the final result and pretty much all skeptics end up with this correct final result. But there are many possible procedures to obtain this result and the intermediate results differ for different people. Do I care about these differences? Well, if the key matter is to decide whether the society should adopt a new kind of communism, the crucial answer is No and I don't care much how the result was obtained. I don't really care whether someone thinks that the Earth was warming by 0.6 deg C, by 0.0 deg C, or cooling by 0.6 C in the last century, or whether the man-made greenhouse effect has added 0.3 deg C or strictly nothing. The practical implications are clearly isomorphic: there is nothing to be solved by politicians or governments here.

Obviously, the people who want the society to be protected against the alarmist lunatics are the good people, my allies, when it comes to the questions at the level of the society, its laws, freedoms, and budgets.

If the discussion were about the ways how detailed scientific research should be done, of course that the people who claim that CO2 hasn't been added by the industry couldn't be my allies (or allies of at least equally serious skeptics). They would deserve the label "crackpots" at this point. There are still many more crackpots in the alarmist circles (and among the doomsayers between Jehovah's Wittnesses, even though the latter got more sensible recently), I guess. There can be and there are crackpots among loud people identified as climate skeptics, too. That shouldn't be shocking. Being a skeptic doesn't make one a perfect, omniscient god. What a surprise.

What is worse about alarmism is that some of the worst crackpots like Al Gore are the very leaders of that movement. The hierarchy in the skeptical circles seems to be more meritocratic.

If I return to AR, I can easily imagine him in the first months or years after this global warming virago collapses - because I can map him to effectively similar people in Czechoslovakia transitioning from communism to freedom. He will surely be painting himself as one of those more courageous people who was oh so badly suppressed by the evil alarmist aparatchiks in the New York Times - but he was still boldly writing almost the right stuff on his Dot Earth blog. And of course, people will be buying it because many of them have been, let's admit, even less courageous than Andrew Revkin. ;-) Most people simply see the alarmist whackos infiltrating all important places in the society, including Exxon, so they will surely respect the party line, won't they?

This is a line of reasoning that must be thought about seriously by the skeptics, too. You know, many of us are the ultimate "dissidents". But even when we're proven right and when our basic answer to the question "Is there a crisis?" is generally adopted, it won't mean that the former dissidents are going to influence everything in this social-scientific arena. The strategies that many of us have been using will continue to be questioned, and so on, and people like AR will almost certainly continue to be allowed by the atmosphere in the society to write about things like the environment. That's how it works.

So I would expect the skeptics to be more realistic about the abilities and desires of AR. It seems that many skeptics expect AR, because of some vague hints, to become a full-fledged skeptical convert and they're irritated that this dream of theirs is not going perfectly well. I don't expect AR to get transformed in this way. Instead, with all the immense respect to him, I see him as a typical member of the "merry coward" category that we have known in socialist Czechoslovakia. ;-)

Such people are playing the games so authentically that it's not possible to operationally distinguish what they mean seriously and what they don't: they may not know it themselves and you shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer this ill-defined question, either. But don't expect them to behave as 100% skeptics until the alarmist regime completely and safely collapses.

Please, plan your interactions with AR assuming reasonable expectations about his diversity of viewpoints in different contexts. ;-) You can get an OK stuff with him but you will never get it against his interests or career in NYT. Don't expect any extraordinary courage unless there is a reason to expect that AR thinks that the courage would pay off to him in some way.

I hope that Andrew Revkin is grateful that I have identified him to be what he is, instead of forcing him to play additional games about being something that he is not :-), and I am also sure that he understands that the "merry coward" category is not a real insult because it is just a description how relatively average people from the moral viewpoint - well, opportunist people - in all social classes - typically behave.

No comments:

Post a Comment