The lukewarmer fallacy

From the Idiot Tracker comes this pearl of wisdom:

One of my least favorite lukewarmer fallacies is the concept of "no regrets" policies -- that we should push ahead with policies that can be sold to the right wing as energy independence or job creation or whatever appeals to those in denial of the science. This is an asinine idea. Climate change is real. You don't get to smart policy by agreeing to disagree on critical scientific facts pertaining to the future of human civilization. Here's the truth; aggressive emissions cuts are the true no-regrets strategy. Uncertainty in climate change lies between bad and worse. The benefits range from saving trillions of dollars and millions of lives, on the low side, to averting planetary catastrophe.

Couldn't have said it better myself. I know there's a sizable community out there who disagrees strongly with this position. They argue the only way to make progress on the climate front is to frame the issue in terms that are palatable to the hard right. Over and over again we hear that we just have to package our case better, appeal to our opponents using language they can understand, and then we can turn this mighty ship of state.

To that I respond that we've been trying that for years. Those who have campaigning on the front lines, not just writing op-eds and playing armchair quarterback, know this. It doesn't work. Just look at the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls.

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I see a lot of the lukewarmer fallacy as being very much like someone says 'I think that the next die roll will be a one or a two' - i.e. a reasonable enough proposition - but repeatedly.

Essentially, assuming the best/lowest impact case for every aspect of climate change at the same time, thus:

- Climate sensitivity is declared to be at the low end of the range (~2K/doubling is lucky)
- The impact on sea level is assumed to be minimal (completely stable cryosphere) even at this level.
- It is assumed that agriculture will easily and happily adapt
- It is assumed that fossil fuels will remain cheap.
- It is assumed that weather patterns will remain fairly consistent with today's, just slightly warmer.

It is just about possible to argue the above points, in isolation, without appearing to reality-denying. However, if you start arguing them one after the other, the probablity of all of them being right drops off dramatically.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 18 Jan 2012 #permalink

I think the problem is that most of them don't realize they are really making all those arguments.

The possible range of climate sensitivity for example is usually* discussed in isolation.

*In blog commentary anyway.

By blueshift (not verified) on 19 Jan 2012 #permalink

You are right that nothing is going to convince the anti-science extreme right. I doubt they would listen if God came down from the heaven and personally told us to get working to solve climate change...

But to be blunt, if we solve the climate crisis, we WILL be far less dependent on the oil produced by Saudi Arabia, etc. (Though energy independence is really not possible as I am sure that some component or some raw material will be imported.)

And if we solve the climate crisis, we will have to redesign and replace equipment for many processes. This will have to be done by people who will, I am sure, want to be paid for it.

It is not pandering to the right to say that solving the climate crisis will result in headway against many other problems.

By Childermass (not verified) on 05 Feb 2012 #permalink

A "no regrets strategy" enables engaging people toward action who might revolt when faced with "green". This would include, for example, a very large share of people in the military world. Note that the US military is moving toward greater energy efficiency and renewables not for "green" but for capability and cost reasons. Does Walmart do energy efficiency for climate change reasons or for benefit to the bottom line.

A "no regrets strategy", imho, does not require abandoning science but does create a path toward action that can be built on and accelerated.…