What is the greatest barrier for victory for reason in the climate debate? The answer is quite obvious but many refuse to state it plainly.
Stop talking the claims of climate alarmists seriously. Stop pretending to take climate alarmists seriously.
Climate alarmism is a barely-coherent tissue of half-baked concoctions that ‘make sense’ only if you are a committed activist or an unengaged citizen trying to ignore stuff like climate and get on with your life. In many instances the claims are carefully strung up ramshackle talking-points that fall apart unless you ignore all distracting questions. Usually, the climate activist is relying upon goodwill and the desire to not cause harm (to ‘the planet’) than any strength in evidence to hold the narrative together.
Scratch the surface and you will realize climate change actually has no one behind it. Climate change has no natural constituency. The majority of popular support – thin gruel as that may be – consists of people who have a superficial grasp of issues and proceed directly to insults, if pushed hard. The next level of support is from committed activists who are either paid for their support, or true believers who make everyone suspicious with their unwavering beady-eyed glares. Many scientists in fact fall into this category. If any existential threat to funding does materialize, you will find this second level simply melting away.
So who are we paying lip service for?
The third is the geopolitical newspeak that wraps climate at the international level. Climate change is presented as a subtle tool to hold down opponents, force voluntary cash payments from them, berate them and appear pious with a Neomalthusian glow. Everyone attending the annual COP meeting thinks they are going to get something out of it at the end. The answer is no.
International technocrats need to be given a different bone to chew. ‘Climate’ has become a too harmful a mill tied around countries’ necks just because no one can rustle up the courage to shut down the UNFCCC and take away the activists’ toys.
Climate change is a typical example of a ‘captured moral domain’ model. What this means is politicians, leaders, CEOs, basically anyone with a real job, would be afraid to voice their frank opinion on the matter. If you are skeptical you are likely to stick out like a sore thumb, even if others have the same opinion as you because they’re keeping mum. Climate skepticism is shy.
A ‘captured moral domain’ gives several immediate advantages to issue ground troopers. For one, it gives them a license to smear opponents without compunction, and they use it. ‘Climate change denier.’ If you are a leader who’s worked hard to attain a powerful position, it is different being publicly labeled a ‘denier’ than when you were fighting your way to the top.
Climate change is a bubble configuration issue. When you live in the real world, it is easier to laugh at global warming. Inside government, surrounded by bureaucrats for whom global warming is a religion, it is harder to so. Politeness intervenes. If you are forced to attend parties where Leonardo DiCaprio shows up regularly, it is easier to nod along as he bores you about global warming and his latest DVD. Once inside, the climate bubble becomes the entire landscape for many leaders – they are surrounded by officials, celebrities, scientists, activists, party members and assorted hangers-on who inevitably believe in the climate consensus. You may be ‘the leader of the free world’ but your leadership projects outward, starting with the circle closest around you.
Because it is a bubble issue, climate like many progressive ’causes’ is a smartness trap. With a little effort on consensus material, you can appear really smart. With a lot of effort, you can become a skeptic and look stupid. As a result, for leaders the value of climate as social currency exists on the consensus side. Thankfully, this is the opposite of the real world social gatherings where if you utter the word climate people will run away from you.
Climate has long survived by making itself relevant to geopolitics. In the 1950s Cold War era, scientists successfully persuaded the US government to fund research by raising the specter of weather manipulation by the USSR. Today, Anthony Watts bans chemtrail conspiracy theory adherents from his blog. From the 1980s onward, climate became a staple of geopolitical chicanery following the successful template of acid rain and ozone control. Politicians have been successively tempted to play climate politics to harm their opponents, and allies. You have to pretend to believe to buy a ticket to play.
Climate activists focus all their efforts in targeting prestige media outlets and powerful politicians. They tell them climate change is an opportunity for international ‘leadership’ and statesmanship. As an example, take a look at this Tom Freidman article trying frantically to push all the right buttons for Donald Trump. Activists say climate research is an arena of global contest. War, peace, ‘clean energy,’ environmental ‘protection’ – there is virtually no end to areas in which global leaders could transform into beloved statesman by simply believing in the climate cause. ‘Go on, push the switch, keep the train going.’
Climate activism and research are mature fields filled with professionals with decades of work and with careers and families on the line. Want to be the one to tell them they’re out of work? It is far easier for leaders to let it go even if activists work toward reconfiguring or destroying whole-scale, segments of the economy because climate activism works slowly. The problem of climate activism is wickeder than ‘global warming.’
Climate is forever a problem of the future. Leaders and politicians, on the other hand, have more pressing matters to attend to. A politician may calculate it to be not in his or her best interest to tackle a slow-moving target like climate. It may appear more convenient to lob the hot potato to the next incoming guy if you are constantly surrounded by professional whiners.
A climate skeptic in the White House? Yes, that’s what we have.
While there are several ways in which the climate debate can move, as a skeptic, observer, and occasional participant, I wanted to outline some key points.
Who does the climate issue belong to? Here is one of the darkest, damnedest of secrets of climate/AGW activism: the climate issue belongs to no one. As a political issue, climate change has no owner. Climate has no natural constituency. It has no vote bank, no demographic, no sect or group.
What this means is, if you don’t push the climate cause as an elected government, no one will be angry or upset because there is no one to be angry or upset. No one cares about the climate, including climate activists who pretend to do so the most. Despite their best efforts not enough people have taken up climate change as part of the array of topics they hold partisan views about. ‘Climate change’ is an unparalleled repellent and buzz kill. But there is a constant noise and drumbeat in the media about climate, where does it come from? Only paid activists. There are many paid activists but they have precisely one vote each, and their money cannot buy elections. See Clinton, Sanders, Jeb Bush … See Obama, he did not utter the word climate in his re-election campaign.
If this comes as a shock you don’t have to take my word for it, I can provide two impeccable sources. First, the scholarly work of Roger Pielke Jr. He proved conclusively there is a ‘iron law’—people will pay for the climate cause to a point but not more. This is the same as above stated in reverse. If you don’t care at all about something, you would still be willing to part with some money for it. Second, the climate activists themselves. There is an entire body of academic work obsessing about why climate change has not earned widespread public support, with such luminaries as Stephen Lewandowsky and Dan Kahan, to mention a few. They wouldn’t be doing it if climate had widespread support, would they?
The climate issue needs a public face. Myron Ebell is a great pick for the EPA. While the apoplexy proceeds apace on the regulatory side, it would be good to be proactive on the climate side, too. Pick Roger Pielke Jr to front your climate policy team (create one, you’re going to need it). Now skeptics might hem and haw a little but Pielke Jr is one of the ‘good guys.’ It would be karmic justice and a triumphant comeback, having been knifed by Obama climate ‘czar’ John Holdren and perennially wrong data czar Nate Silver, for saying no more than the most reasonable and scientifically valid things. He is a veteran, knows the climate players and the issues very well. He and his Hartwell colleagues are stabilists – they have the uncanny ability to make perfectly agreeable statements on climate policy that lead nowhere. Plus, Pielke Jr has the added benefit of driving climate activists completely nuts whenever he says anything. That is exactly what is needed.
The Paris agreement is a dead duck. Obama and the Democrats figured they could screw over sections of the US whose livelihoods were directly connected to coal. They tried to electorally counter-balance it by recruiting ‘Hispanics, Blacks, and women.’ Hispanics, Blacks and women do not care about the climate, did not vote in enough numbers to propel the Democratic candidate to the presidency, and coal communities voted strongly against. Implementing the Paris agreement would mean replicating this clean coal voting experiment throughout the country. Wanna try?
Even if implemented, the Paris agreement is not binding on countries that enter it. Such agreements harm western countries like the UK, UK or Australia more than the developing world, for a variety of reasons. Governance and regulation are of a higher standard and penalties are stiff, and there is a tendency to obey rules, even unenforceable and self-harming ones. People don’t see it this way but one of the innovations of the Paris agreement is its non-binding nature, and it needs to be shot down for this very corrupting influence.
Moreover, there is science on the skeptics’ side. The Paris agreement is scientifically absurd and nonsensical.
Funding and how it is organized
This is a longstanding issue in the climate field. The funding of climate studies – be it in science or the humanities – is a major driver of climate activism and alarmism. Much has been written about the self-fulfilling and self-aggrandizing nature of climate alarmism. Sections of ‘the science,’ and in particular certain climate scientists, are relentless alarmists and have carved out whole careers in ‘scicomm’-ing and climate alarm. Climate humanities are fully sold on alarm and constantly spend their efforts trying to figure out ways of persuading, or pathologizing the public. Vast sums of money are expended on climate models that never provide output commiserate with reality but yet form the basis of policy-making. These models are under IPCC/UNFCCC evolutionary selection pressure and ones with jacked-up sensitivities and lacking natural variability get picked. Warmed-up model output is even used to up-tweak raw observational data.
A dramatic shift toward observational science and a break away from modeling is needed. This can be achieved by restructuring funding. Take the example of Australia, which reorganized and pared down its CSIRO workforce.
Global temperature average measurement has been excessively complicated. The NOAA/NCDC collects global data and produces its own average. But it cannot provide satisfactory justifications for the numerous adjustments that are made in the process. Certain adjustments may be necessary but there is suspicion the rationale behind them is politically motivated and unsound. A lack of openness and transparency has only worsened doubts. Adjustments are propagated retrospectively to data, meaning trends, values, even the whole shape of centuries-long global temperature curve can change overnight. There is no telling what lies ahead in the peer-reviewed publication conveyor belt of adjustment logic, down the road. Additionally, there are multiple agencies producing a global temperature average, creating a sense of independent confirmation but under the hood they rely on the same data. In other words, there is wasteful expenditure. To top it, government officials spread alarm on social media using monthly global average figures that are meaningless in a climatological sense.
To prevent conflicts, as a starting point, temperature data gathering and archival and average estimation functions must be separated. Secondly, duplication can be eliminated between NOAA and GISS. Thirdly, the land and ocean average can be co-analyzed and cross-verified with satellite data to estimate a single temperature index, eliminating a portion of the ad-hoc adjustments, and reducing waste in one go. Two birds with one stone.
Renewable energy porkies and handouts are entirely wasteful. Renewable energy projects are environmentally harmful. But ‘renewable energy’ research is research – it provides for tinkering and good things can come out of even the worst research. As much as the electorate hates hearing the words ‘climate change’, a baseline bare minimum of renewable projects keep guilty consciences sated, and years of climate propaganda has produced some guilt. Withdraw the boondoggles but don’t completely drain this swamp.
How has the climate blog world reacted to Donald Trump winning the US presidential election? Skeptics and regular people are probably walking around, celebrating, waving their mental middle finger at climate alarmists whose plans have been rudely interrupted.
Here’s the Sou meltdown:
My first reaction on hearing of Donald Trump’s probably (sic) victory was an emotional jolt, accompanied by the physical sensation of nausea. …
That’s the picture – a nauseous Sou, staggering for the smelling salts.
The first comment on the thread began:
I cried today …
CRR Kampen wanted to move to a ‘safe space’
I might now adopt ‘despair’ and see about planning for the remainder of my existence in some safe place on the globe if there be any. […]
Bernard J, ever ready to bury people under the weight of his prose, begins:
I’ve been working …to increase resilience both in my own personal sphere and in my local community, at the expense of my previous engagement online …
And on and on it goes, for more than 250 comments from shrinking violets and snowflakes, only many of them are properly geriatric.
The American people have spoken, and they chose Hillary Clinton
Don’t make a choice that you, your children and your children’s children will regret forever.
Apart from the ‘think of the grandchildren’ nonsense, out-of-touch ‘group’ was as tone deaf with Trump as it was during Brexit. Without a doubt its members’ jet-setting around the world and rubbing shoulders with celebrities has only hastened the schism.
Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University recently wrote a longish rant about critics of research who operate out of social media platforms and blogs. This has people like Andrew Gelman and neuroskeptic quite excited (see their respective articles here and here)
Why am I dinging these excellent bloggers, you ask? After all, their response to Fiske who accuses bloggers of ‘methodological terrorism’ and as being ‘destructo-critics’ contains a number of valid points.
Both Gelman and neuroskeptic have seen the work of Stephen Lewandowsky. They had every opportunity to examine his work thoroughly and reach their conclusions. Both chose to stand in support of Lewandowsky.
Gelman has not commented on Lewandowsky’s papers directly but nonchalantly promoted one of his opinion pieces with Dorothy Bishop. The paper was on methods of efficient gate-keeping and preventing methodological terrorists (bloggers) from getting published . neuroskeptic’s attitude toward Lewandowsky’s methods can only be described as a form of aggressive ignorance, as he promoted the now-retracted ‘Recursive Fury’ paper, which retailed labeling the same methodological terrorists as ‘conspiracists’.
In other words, what mattered was who was being disparaged and labeled. When the critics were climate skeptics, they’ were ok. When it appears as though Fiske’s open-ended vague attack might include bloggers like them, they are unhappy.
This simply shows acceptance or serious consideration of criticism of scientific results depends not merely on the validity of the points being made, but on the social context, the packaging and the channels through which it arrives. Gelman and neuroskeptic are no more immune to wild rants, ideological blind-spots and irrational thinking against ‘methodological terrorism’ than Susan Fiske is.
They would do good to stop preaching to her.
A sudden crisis nearly always brings out hidden currents, which may have otherwise never surfaced. In his string of tweets Schmidt appears to blame ‘Brexit’ for the killing. His tweets followed the incident so closely in time there was no reliable information on motive.
The only possibility, then, is Schmidt was influenced by early reports that said the killer shouted “Britain first!” or the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee who wrote a long article squarely laying the blame for the murder at Brexit’s feet.
Schmidt pulls the trick climate activists have been resorting to, for decades:
This is an incredible giveaway, isn’t it? Here we have an activist climate scientist, in the throes of a heated crisis, capitalizing on an event to attribute blame for murder on his political opponents, and going beyond, that if his side is defeated — in a fair election no less — more such incidents would occur.
It is speculation, wrapped in plausible deniability, capped off with a threat. How does he know the incident had anything to do with ‘Leave’?
Rremember, reliable information available on the killer’s motive was next-to-none at the time he wrote this. Yet Gavin Schmidt was quick off the bat.
Why wouldn’t I think he does the same with climate, and weather? ‘While no single weather event can be attributed to anthropogenic global warming, more such disasters would occur in a climate-changed world’ — how many times have we heard this from activists and scientists alike?
It is a reflexive exploitation of a crisis – you ascribe blame on your target, and while you cannot be fully sure it was what caused it, you nevertheless proceed to forecast more of the same, investing the threat with a cloak of probabilism.
Note: I wrote this originally on Medium. Only slightly modified here.
One sells a product that causes many documented, scientifically provable harms but provides pleasure to its users. The other sells a product that causes harm that exists only in the minds of climate activists, but is otherwise essential for modern life, including those of activists.
Nobody buys gas for their car because they are ‘addicted’ to it. Unlike cigarettes, if you give up gasoline and quit cold turkey you will still need to find another source of energy to do the same job. Cigarettes you can quit, it won’t kill you. A substance that serves an essential function of modern life is not an addiction.
The moral template of addiction, abstinence and sin does not apply to fossil fuels.
Climate activists have been thrashing about for decades, fitting their cause into pre-existing societal moral conundrums. Successful moral conundrums seize the imagination of a public, elicit outrage and legislation and create a change in mores. Latching on to one could catapult the cause because there are pre-existing social mechanisms and a thirst for moral action to produce trajectories.
Which is why you see the activists in turn talking about pollution, polar bears, grandchildren, slavery and the third world. Unfortunately, their nonsense doesn’t fit anything. How can one tell? Ask the question: in all the years and years of climate campaigning, has there ever, been a bonafide popular uprising or political movement solely in the name of the climate cause? Everyone’s heard their crap a million times, and no one buys it.
Blair King of A Chemist in Langley made some claims about CO2 in a conversation I got into. Specifically, he said
that 1000 ppm of CO2 can cause people to have complaints:
that an afternoon in 2000 ppm of CO2 would cause crushing headaches:
He was quite assured as he spoke from experience:
I expressed skepticism at the stated effects of CO2 at such low concentrations. Blair ended up writing a post summarizing the human effects of ambient CO2 at different concentrations.
Here’s the passage on low CO2 concentrations from his blog post. Basically, he repeats his claims:
We all know that at atmospheric concentrations it is essentially harmless, but what about concentrations between atmospheric (400 ppm) and the problematic doses (over 10,000 ppm). Well the answer is that it varies. The literature is clear that your body will adapt to those concentrations and will quickly adapt back once the exposure is reversed. As for what happens in the meantime, well there is an entire academic field on “sick building syndrome” that gives a pretty clear indication of what happens. The following references all discuss how elevated carbon dioxide concentrations (Apte et al, 2000, Wargocki et al, 2000, Seppanen, Fisk and Mendall, 1999) effect human health. All point out that a proportion of the human population reacts poorly to daily variations in carbon dioxide concentrations. This is understandable since, as a vasodilator, it would be expected to have particular effects on people prone to migraines or headaches.
What does he say?
- The literature on sick building syndrome says what happens when humans are exposed to CO2
- The listed papers discuss the effects on elevated CO2 on human health
- CO2 is a vasodilator and causes headaches so the above is understandable, i.e, there is a biologic mechanism to underpin the epidemiologic and experimental observations
The problem is, many of these things are wrong.
 Sick building syndrome is a constellation of symptoms and findings occurring in people in indoor environments that is thought to be related to air quality, among other things.
The exact cause of sick building syndrome (SBS) is not known. But ventilation and renewal of indoor air ameliorate the syndrome in many instances. Because the entities present in indoor air thought to cause SBS are numerous, and unknown in specific cases, researchers have used ambient air CO2 concentrations as a proxy for air quality.
Indoor CO2 increases in buildings where people live and work. Ventilation refreshes indoor air volumes, removes any causative factor present and removes CO2 that builds up in the same indoor environment. Which means CO2 becomes an effective proxy for air quality and adequate ventilation and does away with the need to identify and measure the offending substance in each instance.
Blair appears to have confused the role played by CO2 in SBS research to its causative agent.
Look at the abstract of Apte et al 2000, one of the papers cited:
Higher indoor concentrations of air pollutants due, in part, to lower ventilation rates are a potential cause of sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms in office workers. The indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is an approximate surrogate for indoor concentrations of other occupant-generated pollutants and for ventilation rate per occupant …
 You can examine the literature on sick building syndrome. They are the result of work examining different causative agents – bioaerosols, mold, bacteria, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature, humidity, particulate matter, building dust, paper, printer ink, and so forth.
Studies that examine ventilation efficacy, using CO2 as a proxy, cannot be used to infer the health effects of elevated CO2. The studies are observational and the several potential causative factors – as listed above – simultaneously co-vary with CO2. The human effects of elevated CO2 – whatever they might be – are confounded in these studies.
 CO2 has central nervous system vasoactive actions in a linear fashion. Vasodilation-mediated headache is reliably seen starting between 2-5% inhaled CO2 whereas 2000 ppm corresponds to 0.2%, a value 10 times lower. Reports of headaches occurring in concentrations lower than 2% certainly exist but are anecdotal.
In fact, literature on the effects of low CO2 concentrations of the 0.2-2% range (not SBS studies) is sparse. A recent review by NASA (Stanovic et al 2016) examined 76 studies and reported headache to be a common physiologic symptom. But many, if not most of them looked at concentrations much higher than 1000-2000 ppm CO2 – typically in the 3-7.5% range.
What about effects other than headache?
One outlier set of studies that demonstrated dramatic effects for low indoor CO2 on mental performance come from Usha Satish and co-authors.
You can incur brain damage by reading Thinkprogress hype on one of the studies from the group:
The Thinkprogress article makes the same error as Blair but goes well beyond in typical Romm fashion pinning 20 years worth of low ‘productivity, learning, and test scores’ in SBS studies on CO2:
All of this new research is consistent with — and actually helps explain — literally dozens of studies in the past two decades that find low to moderate levels of CO2 have a negative impact on productivity, learning, and test scores. See here for a research note and bibliography of some 20 studies and review articles.
On the other hand if one actually reads the research note Romm links to, it simply reviews the SBS literature with studies examining every known indoor pollutant – from new office furnishings emanating VOCs and old carpets giving off mold.
As noted, no categorical statement/s about effects of CO2 can be made from such studies.
A similar rush to judgment and loose methodological language blaming indoor CO2 is seen in literature examining classroom performance of children in schools. Many are observational in design with indoor CO2 co-varying with other ambient constituents. Nevertheless, the measurement proxy is turned into the offender.
The heights of low low-CO2 junk science hysteria are unsurpassed in a self-published review by Phil Bierwirth of the Australian National University, in whose hands everything from kidney stones, cancers, neurological diseases, viral infections to mental incapacitation to extinction of the human race is brought about by low CO2
If allowed to persist, problems such as kidney calcification could lead to renal
failure. In the extreme case lifespans could become shorter than the time required to reach reproductive age. This would result in extinction of the species
One doesn’t have look too far to decode this CO2-demonizing madness:
The main aim of this paper was to explore the question of toxicity for human breathing at levels of CO2 that could be attained with the continued unabated rise in atmospheric CO2 associated with climate change.
Back in the real world, what the results of the Satish-associated studies mean is not clear as their low CO2 findings are not yet reproducibly observed.
As Stanovic et al note:
On the other hand, several investigations have contradicted these observations entirely, finding no consistent relationships between CO2 exposure and either cognitive or motor functioning, in terms of speed, accuracy, or throughput.
The authors conclude:
While many studies have thus far addressed the impact of CO2 concentration on cognition, the inconsistent and contradictory nature of current findings limits the ability to draw firm conclusions about the impact of elevated CO2 exposure on sleep, cognition, and psychomotor performance.
In conclusion, the effects of low CO2 – in the 1000 ppm range – are mild, inconsistent, and mostly nonexistent in adapted individuals as almost all people working indoors are bound to be.
More importantly, they are not enough to label CO2 as being toxic at such concentrations.
Lastly it shouldn’t require to be pointed out causal inferences cannot be drawn from observational studies when confounders are present, especially when the studies themselves make this clear.
1. Apte MG, Fisk WJ, and Daisey JM. Associations Between Indoor CO 2 Concentrations and Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms in US Office Buildings: An Analysis of the 1994-1996 BASE Study Data. Indoor air 2000.
2. Bierwirth P. Effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on human health via breathing toxicity – A critical issue that remains unapprehended. 2014.
3. Brian JE. Carbon dioxide and the cerebral circulation. Anesthesiology 1998.
4. Burge PS. Sick building syndrome. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 61: 185-190, 2004.
5. Daisey JM, Angell WJ, and Apte MG. Indoor air quality, ventilation and health symptoms in schools: an analysis of existing information. Indoor Air 13: 53-64, 2003.
6. Law J, Watkins S, and Alexander D. In-flight carbon dioxide exposures and related symptoms: association, susceptibility, and operational implications. NASA Technical Paper 2010.
7. Ramalho O, Wyart G, Mandin C, Blondeau P, Cabanes P-A, Leclerc N, Mullot J-U, Boulanger G, and Redaelli M. Association of carbon dioxide with indoor air pollutants and exceedance of health guideline values. Building and Environment 93: 115-124, 2015.
8. Satish U, Mendell MJ, Shekhar K, Hotchi T, Sullivan D, Streufert S, and Fisk WJ. Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance. Environmental health perspectives 120: 1671-1677, 2012.
9. Stankovic A, Alexander D, Oman CM, and Schneiderman J. A Review of Cognitive and Behavioral Effects of Increased Carbon Dioxide Exposure in Humans. NASA Technical Paper 2016.
10. Wargocki P, Wyon DP, Sundell J, and Clausen G. The effects of outdoor air supply rate in an office on perceived air quality, sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms and productivity. Indoor Air 2000.
The skeptics have already lost the climate debate. The thing is a disastrous mess waiting for the right alignment of stars to tumble into the ditch.
The Obama administration’s attempts at pushing legislative (and extra-legislative) climate measures have been relentless. Cap-and-trade failed but was quickly followed by the EPA’s rulemaking efforts on CO2. A lackluster performance at Copenhagen was followed by a masterful bullying act at Paris.
Paris is hands-down a success for the climate alarmists. To those quick to point out the agreement is not legally binding: how did we reach a point where the legality of a monstrous agreement like Paris is the consolation?
‘Paris’ is like the patchwork homunculus of Korbal Broach. A skittering mass of disparate climate body parts cobbled together, it has life breathed into it at the moment. Before long the COP technocracy will attempt to give it teeth. Enforcement, punitive measures, sanctions, and trade wars are coming.
The Obama administration climate agenda has temporarily stalled with the states putting up a fight at the US Supreme Court. But these moves are temporary. Regardless of who wins the next general election, the climate agenda will roll on.
With Clinton the default position is continuation of the status quo. With Trump, there is a good chance he would be tempted by climate activism presented as an opportunity to economically hurt China, India and Mexico. It is not clear the others have any coherent climate-related ideas, or whether they stand a chance of winning.
Kummer cites opinion polls as elements that sway the climate debate one way or the other. While this is certainly true, climate activists have accomplished much damage with little active public support. Climate activism is a top-down elite-driven process that sustains itself. Public support for its actions is just an added bonus or an irritant, depending on how it turns.
Defeating climate activism in the US requires significant restructuring of how climate science is funded and conducted, and the complete winding down of the COP process.
I don’t know how many readers of this blog use Twitter but I certainly do. I have had a fairly long run of using the platform but I believe the fun has come to an end.
Those of you who used the internet from the ‘early days’ would remember or relate to this easily. The web was static pages, email lists, forums, using many search engines, ‘under construction’ icons and pages that looked like this:
Or like this:
The core defining elements however took shape during those days: open interaction and information flow, robust debate, and virtual identities. The political histories of the countries that contributed to the growth of the internet, and the peculiar type of people who would learn to use computers to ‘go online’ gave rise to this culture.
Importantly, the core elements were there before newspapers and agencies, corporations, broadcasters, government agencies, or even blogs, came to the web. Initially the big players tried to merely replicate what they did in the real world, online. News articles would just be pages, for instance, online shopping websites would only allow you to buy stuff. Blogs would just be people’s personal journals.
Soon enough it was evident entities had to do what the internet did, on the internet. It was far more profitable to encapsulate a little piece of the internet inside your product. If you were a company maintaining a ‘presence’ on the web, a static website would be fine. But if you were someone trying to attract users, hold their attention and gain something in the process, you had to play by the rules of the free net.
With the growth of blogs ‘the internet’ moved into these spaces. In a way it can be said the blogs are where it truly still lives. Blogs (more precisely the database architecture behind them) brought the another core defining element: the permalink. User-generated online speech/content had become citable and indexable, like academic papers.
With the growth of social media websites a few things happened. First, a lot of interactivity and debate has moved into these platforms. A lot of the internet has drained into these venues. A second observation that can be made is that social media platforms do not provide anything new in an internet architectural context. Lastly it can be said there are a now substantial number of people who are online, who have only known the net via the prism of social media. In other words they don’t know of an internet apart from and outside of it.
Consider Twitter at this juncture. It is used by millions of people. Yet it offers little new speaking in terms of mechanism: it is a micro-blogging platform and nothing more. The latter point is particularly important.
If a blog user or a news agency prevents you from posting content on their website, there would be nothing you could do – after all the owner controls the venue. But the owner exists inside the larger ecosystem of the internet and there would nothing he could do to prevent you from publishing content elsewhere. Additionally, there is a practical limit on how much censorship one could keep performing at one’s own venue. This is because of the underlying free nature of information flow on the internet. Unlike where brutal governments employing force would absolutely suppress opinion or fact, information suppression cannot be absolute online.
But what happens, or could happen with something like Twitter? First, if much of the internet drained into it there would not be an ecosystem outside, of which Twitter would be a part of.
Second, the individuality and quirkiness of censorship itself, ironically, would disappear. For instance if a climate skeptic visited ATTP’s blog and left a comment critical of him he might delete it. On a microblogging platform like Twitter, the skeptic’s tweet could not be conveniently bumped off by ATTP. The permalinks belong in a single common pool the company controls!
But there would be a hidden downside. The same tweet might become subject to an opaque Orwellian Twitter rule that “scientists cannot be criticized with hatespeak on our platform”. Or more familiarly, a Twitter ‘policy’ might decree that climate skeptics views would not be tolerated on their plaftorm and your tweet would get the boot. Blanket rules made by committees would exert vast but diffuse power.
Now imagine if ATTP, Gavin Schmidt, and Michael Mann were made members of a Twitter ‘Trust and Safety Council’. Picture ATTP translating his ‘comment policy‘ for use by the Twitter on climate skeptics.
The good ol’ days when these stalwarts of climate justice were confined to their own blogs snipping comments would suddenly seem very attractive.
As it happens, social media platforms have not yet swallowed the internet whole. But many millions live in them, and want the rules of the old internet erased or re-written. Unstated rules and arbitrary bans have multiplied on Twitter. Lastly there actually is such a thing as a Twitter Trust and Safety Council that advises the company. Though it doesn’t have climate folk on it like the hypothetical above it has people with an axe to grind on video games. Yesterday a critic of activists who are on this ridiculous abomination of a ‘Council’ was suspended from Twitter.
Twitter has an appealing and intelligent chunk of the internet, of all social media platforms. Of them all it closely recapitulates the conventions of blogging but yet provides for real-time interaction. This unique combination throws up many interesting results: Twitter is unbeatable in topical news and event coverage. It is a great place to set off public mob shaming campaigns, and festivals of moral outrage. Consequently it ends up as a great place to forensically de-construct events and reactions as well, as was performed by Louise Mensch in the Tim Hunt twitter shaming debacle.
I came in contact and made online friends with many people on Twitter and learned many new things because of Twitter. It has some of the good stuff – the surprises and growth that can come with robust emergent interaction.
But delusions of grandeur, arbitrariness, ceding platform control to weird single issue players, mucking about hashtag suppression and ‘shadowbans’ via code (!), and and an itchiness for blanket rule application on what’s essentially a self-balancing, equilibrating process, i.e, on its little slice of the internet, has made Twitter increasingly unattractive and unsavory. An alternative which closely mirrors Twitter but devolves control of content regulation to its users would be a serious competitor.
[edits and updates 2/21/2016]. I archived the earlier version of the post here.