I’m with John Quiggin in the debate about Joel Achenbach’s story on the global warming skeptics: he’s hung them out to dry. Bill Gray looks crazy when he likens Gore to Hitler, and Achenbach even gets a CEI shill to admit to being dishonest:

Horner talks about baselines used in climate trends. Why start in 1860? That was the end of the Little Ice Age. Of course the world has warmed since then. That’s cheating with the baseline. At one point Horner refers to the “cooling” since 1998 — a record-breaking year with a major El Nino event in the Pacific. He admits he is being disingenuous.

“We’re playing the baseline game,” Horner says.

In the Wapo’s discussion on his story Achenbach says:

The overwhelming response to the story has been positive from the people are most concerned about global warming, and from the scientific community, which grasped the central feature of the story: the skeptics as they present their case tend to undermine it.

And Achenbach has a post on his blog rounding up even more discussion.

Comments

  1. #1 John Cross
    June 1, 2006

    I like this quote from Fred Smith of the CEI:

    Human beings, in his view, are not apart from nature but very much of it, and thus whatever human beings do is natural.

    So that means that taxes and regulations are actually natural?

  2. #2 Carl Christensen
    June 1, 2006

    The CEI types are just basically putting a nicer spin on uber-reich-wing Valkyrie Ann Coulter’s infamous quote:

    “The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet–it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping.”

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ann_Coulter

  3. #3 jre
    June 1, 2006

    Hey!

    Quark Soup is back!

  4. #4 Dano
    June 1, 2006

    Human beings, in his view, are not apart from nature but very much of it, and thus whatever human beings do is natural.

    Actually, I agree with this John. Not in the way the mendacicizers intend, but rather that we are a part of the ecosystem, and our actions affect the environment (and therefore eventually come back around to affect us). We are ‘natural’ too and thus not apart from the natural environment.

    The discussion and debate arising from the essay The Death of Environmentalism revolves around this ‘natural’ idea as a framing device to help close the disconnect.

    And I would argue that th’ regalayshun is surely as natural as breathing.

    Best,

    D

  5. #5 SkookumPlanet
    June 1, 2006

    Valkyrie Ann Coulter’s infamous quote is just basically applying the uber-reich-wing’s vision of politics to the natural world.

    “The lower classes are for our use and leadership. Great Leo the Strauss said so. Use any means necessary to control this greatest nation since nations began. That’s our job: distraction, deception, denial, and fear-mongering.”

  6. #6 Eli Rabett
    June 1, 2006

    As Paul Krugman points out a simple one word description is liars.

  7. #7 jre
    June 1, 2006

    Good points, John & Dano.
    This use of “natural” as a normative description seems increasingly popular among the septics — but only as a straw man, never something to be taken seriously. Yesterday, Holman Jenkins used it in an opinion piece remarkably information-lean even by the Wall Street Journal’s standards:

    Here’s a test. What if science showed conclusively that global warming is produced by natural forces, with all the same theorized ill effects for humanity, but that human action could forestall natural change? Or what if man-made warming were real, but offsetting the arrival of a natural ice age? Would Mr. Gore tell us meekly to submit to whatever nature metes out because it’s “natural”?

    To which one yearns to answer “Well, gee, Mr. Jenkins, I can’t count how many cars I’ve wrecked because I just can’t bring myself to turn the wheel when the vehicle naturally wants to go off the road, so by the same principle Al Gore NO, OF COURSE HE WOULDN’T, YOU BLOCKHEAD!

    Not that it would do any good, but it would be satisfying to the spirit.

  8. #8 Joe
    June 1, 2006

    There’s a nice report at Environmental Economics, Richard Lindzen Climate skeptic or Conspiracy theorist?”, which reports Lindzen as saying that you can’t believe Science or Nature on climate science. He says “that the petroleum industry has no vested interest in whether or not we have a policy to limit CO2 emissions and perhaps even more shocking it is the powerful and well-funded environmental movement that dictates policy decisions.”

  9. #9 jre
    June 1, 2006

    Joe -
    Thanks for the link (it’s a great read), but you left out the URI.
    Here it is.

  10. #10 Ken Miles
    June 1, 2006

    I really enjoyed Achenbach’s article. As a bonus it confirmed many of my prejudices about the “skeptics”. I really don’t see how people can describe this article as fawning etc.

  11. #11 Jeff Harvey
    June 2, 2006

    When Smith says that “Human beings, in his view, are not apart from nature but very much of it, and thus whatever human beings do is natural” he is inadvertently making another point: that extintion is also natural. Right now we have abundant empircal evidence that humans are rapidly vanquishing natural systems, and undermining their ability to function effectively via the provisioning of critical services that we, as a species, depend upon.

    Consequently, Smith, in his profound envelope of ignorance, is unintentionally saying that human extinction is also natural. There is no doubt that our time for extinction will come, but Smith is quite content in his plush office that is fully insulated from the natural world to see that this time arrives as soon as possible. He is not saying this in so man words, but it is inferred from his scientific illiteracy. What he believes, like most of the other sceptics, is that there are no limits to the expansion of the human enterprise because Homo sapiens possesses ‘infinite wisdom’ to generate technological fixes for whatever destruction we create as we continue to plunder natural systems of their capital.

    The hero of the techno-optimists was probably the late Julian Simon, who has been followed by the likes of Bjorn Lomborg and of course many others. The thing these people all share is their complete inability to grasp even the most basic tenets of environmental science. The expunge human dependence on nature with the exception of consumptive value, and they somehow believe that humans for the most part are exempt from the laws of nature. When Peter Huber stated in his book “Hard Green” that ‘Humans can survive well in a planet-covering crypt of concrete and computers’ he truly believed this palpable nonsense. Many others, like Lomborg and Smith, apparently do too. These people are abusing science (speaking as a scientist) without probably realizing the consequences of their words.

    Given the immense influence of people like Smith and the monied elites on the corridors of power, and their reticence to address the fact that all indicators of global environmental health are in apparently terminal decline, I have to share the rather grave prognosis for humanity outlined recently by James Lovelock. Humans and nature are clearly on a collision course, as was stated in the “World Scientist’s Warning to Humanity” document of 1992, and I see very little indication that the super powerful and super violent states – by which I mean the overconsumptive plutocracies – are going to make the necessary adjustments to counter the coming storm.

  12. #12 John Cross
    June 2, 2006

    Dano: I – of course – agree with that aspect. I am just surprised that Smith said it although as JRE points out it is just a strawman. But think of the possibilities.

    The scene opens with a shot of cumulus clouds moving across the sky but in time lapse with gentle wind sounds in the background. This fades to a scene of the United Nations or perhaps Washington (when the cherry blossoms are out – heavy focus on the blossoms). Another fade in to well funded hospitals and schools. Another fade to a small girl blowing dandelion seeds (I know where we can get a shot like this if we need to). The seeds drift up to the sky where they slowly turn to wispy dollar signs then fade away. Now the voiceover “Raising taxes – its only natural”.

    Across the bottom we have the text “inspired by the ideals of the CEI”.

    And that is my creative thought for the day.

    John

  13. #13 Jack Lacton
    June 2, 2006

    This really is a remarkable debate.

    In fact, it’s not even a debate. One side makes a claim and the other resorts immediately to ad hominem attacks.

    It’s not even an oil industry issue. There’s an irony that the ‘oil industry’ is mostly non-USA but the US bears the brunt of the enviro attacks (in spite of remarkable advances in the last 30 years).

    If the science was definitive then there’d be no argument. I take that back a little bit – there are still those that deny smoking causes cancer. However, the science that proves smoking is about a million orders of magnitude better than climate ‘science’.

    Our understanding of the physics of how certain things interact is getting better however our understanding of the whole system they interact in is puny.

  14. #14 Tim Curtin
    June 2, 2006

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  15. #15 Eli Rabett
    June 2, 2006

    The problem is that Jack Lacton is about four to five orders of magnitude off on how good the climate science is. He would do well to remember how long it took to find a good animal model for smoking (people are uniquely addicted to nicotine), and how long it took to identify the cellular damage mechanisms associated with smoking. He might then go into a quiet room and contemplate how many people died because they believed the folks peddling the smoke screen.

    Climate change is a different issue because it threatens all of us, and to meet the challenge we must cooperate, but the Pat Michaels of the world are playing Louis XIV and the Jack Lacton’s are cheering. Jack might recognize that many of the key players in global climate change denial miscience are retreads from the Tobacco Wars. Jack might give that a thought.

  16. #16 z
    June 2, 2006

    “Here’s a test. What if science showed conclusively that global warming is produced by natural forces, with all the same theorized ill effects for humanity, but that human action could forestall natural change? Or what if man-made warming were real, but offsetting the arrival of a natural ice age? Would Mr. Gore tell us meekly to submit to whatever nature metes out because it’s “natural”? ”

    ?? Isn’t one of the What-AGW quibbling points nowadays that “we all agree the earth is warming, but the science does not prove that it is manmade”?

  17. #17 z
    June 2, 2006

    ” Now the voiceover “Raising taxes – its only natural”.

    Slight paraphrase of slogan sighted in a political satire comic strip yesterday:
    “ANWR now. Because it’s only Alaska”.

  18. #18 Ian Gould
    June 2, 2006

    Jack Lacton: “This really is a remarkable debate.

    In fact, it’s not even a debate. One side makes a claim and the other resorts immediately to ad hominem attacks.

    It’s not even an oil industry issue. There’s an irony that the ‘oil industry’ is mostly non-USA but the US bears the brunt of the enviro attacks (in spite of remarkable advances in the last 30 years).”

    Jack I recently had to go through a page of supposed rebuttals of the AGH provided by a friend.

    Without exception, I found that every single “researcher” and every single publication cited was funded by Exxon and other oil inudstry sources.

    Frankly, I was stunned.

    You are in one sense correct in saying this isn;t an “oil industry” issue – it’s more an Exxon Mobil/Koch Brothers issue – as demnostrated by the posdtion of BP and Shell, smongst others.

  19. #19 Tim Curtin
    June 2, 2006

    So once again it is fair for Quiggin & co to abuse and defame somebody like Lindzen, while protected from identical language (indeed in his very own words but applied to himself) by our genial host as above in my last post. Truly JQ and TL belong in Berlin of the 1930s.

  20. #20 Tim Lambert
    June 2, 2006

    Tim Curtin: Here’s what it says above the comment box: “Personal atttacks on other commenters will be disemvowelled.” If you don’t like it, take your comments somewhere else.

  21. #21 Tim Curtin
    June 2, 2006

    [Reposting of disemvowelled comment deleted. Tim]

  22. #22 Tim Lambert
    June 2, 2006

    Tim Curtin: You are banned for 24 hours for wilful violation of my comment policy.

  23. #23 z
    June 2, 2006

    ” it’s more an Exxon Mobil/Koch Brothers issue – as demnostrated by the posdtion of BP and Shell, ”

    Indeed yes; BP can now advertise how they have managed theur AGW reductions years ahead of time and within budget and manage to save money off the increased efficiency, etc. If I were a shareholder wondering who will do better when the tap does start running dry, BP or Exxon…. it’s like deciding whether to invest in Toyota or GM. Which is good, since every time the good old commie-fighters trot out the old warhorse about this all being an attack on the economy and we can’t afford it, you can just point towards BP and the other companies who have done similarly.

    The irony is BP’s ability to assume a position as the “good guy” on the basis of this, after being known as one of the nastiest companies in the whole nasty oil biz.

  24. #24 Jack Lacton
    June 2, 2006

    Eli,

    It’s a good point re finding proof for smoking though the grouping of tobacco deniers with global warming skeptics is not fair. The tobacco crowd can go sit in the corner with the Holocaust deniers, for mine.

    I wouldn’t say I was ‘cheering’ for the wrong side for any reason other than the debate is now being balanced up. The statistical mauling that Mann et al are justifiably getting at Climateaudit (and other) sites is amazing. In fact, it’s more than amazing. To have such an amateur use of statistics underpin such an important issue makes my head spin. What’s also really concerning is that the supposedly expert realclimate simply censors posts from the skeptics in spite of very sound scientific analysis. For a science site their quick resort to ad hominem attacks is surprising.

    I wonder how the ‘real’ story will get into a politically one-sided mainstream media. If there’s an anti-AGW stance then people do a Kevin Bacon search on any oil-industry connections. If there are ridiculous claims about Kilimanjaro melting (when the recorded temperature at the peaks has never registered above zero – oops) or that Hurricane Katrina et al are a result of GW then they make headline news.

  25. #25 Ian Gould
    June 2, 2006

    “I wonder how the ‘real’ story will get into a politically one-sided mainstream media. If there’s an anti-AGW stance then people do a Kevin Bacon search on any oil-industry connections.”

    It’s not a five-degrees-of-separation thing Jack.

    Baluinas and Sooon’s paper, for example, was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

  26. #26 Tim Lambert
    June 2, 2006

    Jack, Kilimanjaro is a poster child because it is obvious from pictures that the glacier is disappearing. It’s been there for 11,000 years so it seems very unlikely that it is a natural fluctuation.

  27. #27 frankis
    June 2, 2006

    Jack you say that a certain website operated by scientists has censored posts that contain “sound scientific analysis”. If it’s not you in your scientific capacity who has performed or personally checked the analysis to which you refer – isn’t your opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of the matter, of the guilty party versus the just cause, less a scientific than a political (or something) one? How did you decide where the scientific merit lay?

    On the topic of the post I’m with Lambert and Quiggin in thinking the article by Achenbach is very good, a particularly interesting insight into the workings of the contrarian (Gray, Lindzen et al) or compromised (CEI etc) mind. I enjoyed it thoroughly despite having no doubt that a whole bunch of people out there have read it quickly and poorly and “understood” it as confirming the wisdom of their faith in their free, brave and “skeptical” heros like Gray and the CEI. Certainly you shouldn’t ask anyone to write down to the level of some kind of imagined dumbest or most prejudiced reader.

  28. #28 Marc
    June 2, 2006

    Jack, the behavior over at climateaudit is simply appalling, and it is exactly the sort of thing guaranteed to ensure that no reputable scientists will take these people seriously.

    When you’re dealing with M&M, you’re talking about people who confused degrees and radians and produced utterly spurious results. Their scientific misunderstandings have been repeatedly demonstrated, not least by the host of this site. When people demonstrate that they don’t understand thermodynamics, it is hard to trust their work on temperature reconstructions…or anything else that requires complex modelling.

    The desperate crowing about how they have proven Mann WRONG WRONG WRONG is far more characteristic of cranks that of…
    well, scientists who actually have shown someone else to be wrong. I’ve written papers challenging other peoples results, sometimes at a very basic level. One will be showing up on the LANL preprint server on Monday. I’ve also managed to avoid tossing around accusations of dishonesty, incompetence, and fraud. Compare the tone of realclimate, which shows how praciticing scientists actually discuss things, with the hysterical tone of climateaudit. Really.

  29. #29 llewelly
    June 3, 2006

    The irony is BP’s ability to assume a position as the “good guy” on the basis of this, after being known as one of the nastiest companies in the whole nasty oil biz.

    We can thank Exxon for that irony. The PR flaks at BP must pleased pink to see Exxon continuing to support denialism. They know that as soon as Exxon starts acting with a bit of responsibility, the bar will be raised.

  30. #30 Ian Gould
    June 3, 2006

    Exxon even makes Shell look good.

    Shell being the company that after several years of pained introspection and extensive consultation with professional ethicists finally came to the conclusion that hiring Nigerian government death squads to murder environmental activists was a bad thing.

  31. #31 z
    June 5, 2006

    “Mother Jones has tallied some 40 ExxonMobil-funded organizations that either have sought to undermine mainstream scientific findings on global climate change or have maintained affiliations with a small group of “skeptic” scientists who continue to do so. Beyond think tanks, the count also includes quasi-journalistic outlets like Tech CentralStation.com (a website providing “news, analysis, research, and commentary” that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a FoxNews.com columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups. In total, these organizations received more than $8 million between 2000 and 2003 (the last year for which records are available; all figures below are for that range unless otherwise noted). ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Lee Raymond serves as vice chairman of the board of trustees for the AEI, which received $960,000 in funding from ExxonMobil. The AEI-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, which officially hosted Crichton, received another $55,000. When asked about the event, the center’s executive director, Robert Hahn–who’s a fellow with the AEI–defended it, saying, “Climate science is a field in which reasonable experts can disagree.” (By contrast, on the day of the event, the Brookings Institution posted a scathing critique of Crichton’s book.)
    http://www.motherjones.com/news/featurex/2005/05/exxon_chart.html

    “During the question-and-answer period following his speech, Crichton drew an analogy between believers in global warming and Nazi eugenicists. “Auschwitz exists because of politicized science,” Crichton asserted, to gasps from some in the crowd. There was no acknowledgment that the AEI event was part of an attempt to do just that: politicize science. The audience at hand was certainly full of partisans. Listening attentively was Myron Ebell, a man recently censured by the British House of Commons for “unfounded and insulting criticism of Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientist.” Ebell is the global warming and international policy director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has received a whopping $1,380,000 from ExxonMobil. Sitting in the back of the room was Christopher Horner, the silver-haired counsel to the Cooler Heads Coalition who’s also a CEI senior fellow. Present also was Paul Driessen, a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow ($252,000) and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise ($40,000 in 2003). Saying he’s “heartened that ExxonMobil and a couple of other groups have stood up and said, ‘this is not science,’” Driessen, who is white, has made it his mission to portray Kyoto-style emissions regulations as an attack on people of color–his recent book is entitled Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death (see “Black Gold?”). Driessen has also written about the role that think tanks can play in helping corporations achieve their objectives. Such outlets “can provide research, present credible independent voices on a host of issues, indirectly influence opinion and political leaders, and promote responsible social and economic agendas,” he advised companies in a 2001 essay published in Capital PR News. “They have extensive networks among scholars, academics, scientists, journalists, community leaders and politicians…. You will be amazed at how much they do with so little.”

  32. #32 TokyoTom
    June 8, 2006

    It should be recognized that Fred Smith’s statement that “whatever human beings do is natural” reflects starkly blunder-headed thinking among libertarians that has been corrupted and put to good use by corporate rent-seekers.

    The correct rebuttal is that yes, our actions are natural, since we are a part of the world, but that fortunately we’re smart enough to realize that unfettered self-interest with respect to “unowned” or poorly-managed “public” resources will lead us over a cliff. As Garrett Hardin said in 1968, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.”

    Well, we don’t need to willy-nilly consume all ineffectively owned resources in a global tragedy of the commons – we can recognize these problems and fix them.

    To suggest otherwise can be seen as either (1) an assertion that man is completely on the level of beasts and other life and has no responsibility to solve difficult but foreseeable problems that may be caused by his own actions, (2) a denial that there is any problem, for the deliberate benefit of those taking most advantage of “common” resources, or (3) an inflexibile position that government action to resolve common resource problems is likely to cause more harm than good. The latter is a pure libertarian position, which in the real world results in libertarians providing ideological cover for the cynical and destructive exploitation of common resources by a few, who are oftem able to block effective government action.

    I thus disagree with the pure libertarians, who I urge to recognize that failing to resolve common property problems is in effect to continue to provide subsidies to favored industries, and to whom I point that solutions require, as Hardin noted, to avoid the tragedy of the commons we need “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” We may dislike government or other collective action, but unfortunately it is unavoidable.

    Regards,

    Tom

  33. #33 Flaffer
    June 13, 2006

    I will note that the correct rebuttal to “whatever human beings do is natural” is to point out that it is a fallacy, namely the one pointed out by Aristotly, oh 2000 years ago: the naturalistic fallacy. Saying that something ‘is natural’ (or as usually stated, ‘is’) does not make that something ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘valuable’. It is a non sequitor. See here for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy

  34. #34 z
    June 13, 2006

    “Saying that something ‘is natural’ (or as usually stated, ‘is’) does not make that something ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘valuable’.”

    The classic argument:
    “homosexuality is unnatural”
    “but it’s been observed in all sorts of species”
    “are you saying we should emulate the animals, with no self-control?”

  35. #35 Ian Gould
    June 13, 2006

    Slavery was “natural” up until the 18th century.

    It was found in one form or another in every civilised society and people who proposed ending it were undermining the very foundations of society.

    Anaesthesia was “unnatural” when it was invented and was clearly sinful since suffering was an innate part of God’s plan for humanity.

  36. #36 Eli Rabett
    June 13, 2006

    Sorry that I missed Jack Lacton’s last post. The problem is Jack, that the tobacco denialists ARE the climate denialists. See, for example: http://tinyurl.com/rjgos There is a lot more out there if you can stomach it.

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