American Culture

Neither climate change deniers nor activists are Nazis or genocidal maniacs

I get seriously annoyed when I read that James Hansen and others are comparing climate disruption deniers and skeptics to Nazis and war criminals – it’s too extreme and it leads to polarization and results like the latest Gallup poll. I also get seriously annoyed when I read that garbage coming from said deniers and skeptics.

Yesterday, Dr. Arthur Robinson, Director of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and the originator of the petition against Al Gore’s global warming hoax which as of now 32,000 scientists have signed, told the 2nd International Conference on Climate Change, that the people like Al Gore who promote global warming alarmism are committing genocide by the withdrawal of technology from the developing world.

[Robinson] noted, “that the billions of people who live at the lowest level of human existence will suffer greatly from the rationing of energy, and this, in turn, will lead to the death of hundreds of millions, or possibly billions.”

Like Klaus, Lindzen pointed to the evil political intentions: “Once it is understood, the silliness of the whole issue becomes evident—though those who are committed to warming alarm as the vehicle for a postmodern coup d’etat will obviously try to obfuscate matters.”

[Lord Christopher] Monckton said that there is no climate crisis, and told the conference that the environmental movement has gone too far. “The environmental movement has to be outlawed, because their policies have murdered 40 million people, mainly children, with the ban on DDT.” He added, “They have caused mass starvation and food riots with their nonsensical drive for bio-fuels. The forces of darkness in the environmental movement want create a new dark age in which humanity is pushed back to the Stone Age and without the right to light a fire.” (source)

I’m not fool enough to say “can’t we all just get along” when it’s abundantly clear that we can’t. This is a conflict between the vast majority who understand the realities of anthropogenic climate disruption and want to do something about it and a minority that doesn’t and that is either misguided, ignorant, or stuck in an ideological rut of dominionist or fundamentalist economic libertarian thought to the point of flat-out lying.

But calling someone irrational, illogical, ignorant, wrong, intentionally blind, or a liar is not in the same category as calling them a war criminal or guilty of genocide. You can even mock or insult someone without making totally unreasonable and emotionally loaded comparisons that make your opponent into your enemy. You’ll not hear me make such comparisons.

It doesn’t help that, in the process, the person who uses such loaded language marginalizes him or herself far more than his/her target.

23 replies »

  1. Ok, i’m no fan of Al Gore…mostly because i think that he does tend to couch the discussion of anthropogenic climate change in quasi-religious terms. To stand upon science and then claim that the “debate is over” does a disservice to the science, imo.

    On the other hand, the opposing side plays the same game when it suggests that debate indicates that the science upon which AGW stands means that it has no validity what-so-ever.

    The deniers appear to be suggesting that humans have no impact on the climate, and that’s just beyond stupid. Everything has an effect on the climate. Remove herbivores from the equation and we’d find that plants would eventually affect the climate to such a degree that they’d end up killing themselves by pumping too much oxygen into the atmosphere.

    For a species that considers itself a monument to wonder based on our ability to reason, it’s awfully hard to find examples of that rationality.

  2. It doesn’t help that, in the process, the person who uses such loaded language marginalizes him or herself far more than his/her target.

    It’s very, very difficult (for me, at least) to keep listening after someone drops the “Nazi” bomb.

    • Anon: Question – is it your contention, then, that there are no people in the world today who are capable of what the Nazis did, even on a smaller scale? Have we culturally outgrown the capacity for such atrocity? If so, how would you evidence such an argument?

      If this is not your contention, then you must instead be suggesting that when we counter a Nazi, it’s best to treat this person with the same level of respect and dignity that we accord those who aren’t capable of committing tremendous horrors.

      Thanks for clearing this up.

  3. My contention (which, although a direct response to and agreement with the quote from Brian, was obviously not clear) is that the seemingly casual or thoughtless use of “Nazi” as a pejorative in the context of public discourse causes me to immediately question the user’s sense of proportion and knowledge of history, adding yet another potential barrier to a productive conversation.

    At that point in a debate about, say, climate change, not only am I processing a different opinion and new information, I feel the need to re-examine my initial assessment of the speaker’s intent, intelligence and judgment. If the comparison is purposeful and serious, does my own general worldview and moral compass allow me to at least understand the speaker’s perspective, even if I can’t agree with it? On the other hand, if the use of words like “Nazi” and “genocide” are facile rhetorical devices for the speaker, is this a person with whom I am willing to do the work of sustaining a rational debate? Will it even be possible? Or was this a fairly isolated incident of heat-of-the-moment, foot-in-mouth syndrome, from which we all suffer at times and which in my playbook deserves a pass now and then?

    You know, like this:

    But calling someone irrational, illogical, ignorant, wrong, intentionally blind, or a liar is not in the same category as calling them a war criminal or guilty of genocide. You can even mock or insult someone without making totally unreasonable and emotionally loaded comparisons that make your opponent into your enemy. You’ll not hear me make such comparisons.

    I know that if this speaker were moved to make that comparison, he would be fully aware of its significance and scope. I don’t know that about everyone else.

    Extrapolating a contention that there is no one in the world today capable of meriting that comparison… hmmm.

  4. Konstantin – I’m wary of any book that attempts to summarize the whole of climate science, regardless of whether it’s in support of in opposition to the current best-available knowledge. Not only will it have to oversimplify in order to fit into a book format, it will also be obsolete by the time it’s published. And books aren’t peer reviewed before being published.

    I haven’t read any climate-focused books. Instead, I’ve read a large number of actual scientific papers (I’ve found that scientists often put PDFs up on their websites or are willing to email you an electronic copy free if you ask politely) from people like Vincent Gray, Carl Mears, John Christy, Gavin Schmidt, Ron Spencer, Peter Thorne, Roger Pielke Sr, Robert Allen, and so on.

    For that matter, I’ve found that I use the book-sized IPCC 2007 report (which was criticized as obsolete before it was even released) mainly for pretty pictures and for the huge number of references on every subject that relates to climate, from atmospheric physics to geological chemistry to paleobotany to marine biology to forestry.

  5. Brian, It’s very astute of you to go directly to the literature. You’re dead on regarding the obsolescence of books by the time they’re published.

    Jeff

  6. If I call someone a Nazi, then by the gods I know what I’m comparing said person to. It’s not because the target is authoritarian or overbearing or a sociopath or violent or charismatic or populist or racist or a bigot or militaristic or nationalistic or a propagandist or fascist or obsessive or…. It’s because I know what the Nazis did, how they accomplished it, what their goals were, why they believed as they did, why regular Germans followed them, and so on. I know the history of the NSDAP well enough to know that 99.9% of the people who throw the word around don’t have a fucking clue what they’re talking about.

    I will not cheapen the impact of such words as “Nazi” and “genocide” and “war criminal” and “crimes against humanity” by misusing them or using them carelessly in order to win points in some screwed up game.

  7. Jeff, the literature is always the best resource. I’ve also started to read more of the literature produced by climate disruption skeptics (but not deniers, and there’s a difference) since it provides a good counter-analysis. It’s always easier to find flaws in someone else’s work than it is to find flaws in your own work, and so if there are legitimate problems in the latest climate science, I suspect that the skeptics would find them pretty quickly.

    Of course, that means I’m now reading entire sequences of papers written in response to each other. It’s a lot to read, but damn, I do get a lot of information fast in the process. It sometimes feels like I’ve opened up my skull and poured climatology etc. directly into my gray matter.

  8. Exactly.

    I thought of a better (shorter) way to say it: if I have to stop listening to you to figure out whether I should be listening to you, one of those processes is not going to be performed efficiently. An emotionally-charged word is almost always going to tip my neurons towards evaluation, and I’m probably going to miss whatever you say next. My brain won’t do both at once.

    Your brain, of course, may vary.

  9. Brian,
    I will say that I admire your willingness to check out the reports from the skeptics. Many people I know refuse to have view anything that’s not an affirmation of their personal beliefs. This phenomena exists on both left and right in equal amounts, or so I have observed. Well, we’re only human after all.

    Jeff

  10. I admit that I used to be that way but I recently had the opportunity to have a private discussion with a reasonably prominent skeptic. I took him up on his offer of the discussion and I’ve been forcing myself to read everything I can get my hands on as a result. Some of the skeptic stuff is illogical or false, but some of it is serious. It’s the serious stuff that I’m taking seriously as well, because even if it’s shown to be incorrect, the authors are at least trying to improve the scientific understanding of climate.

    It doesn’t hurt that, by reading everything myself, I’m also discovering that some errors are easy to make when I run my own data analyses, so I’ll be a better investigator when I do run my own numbers.

  11. Jeff, that’s precisely why I think Brian is an incredibly valuable resource on this subject. I used to double-check his links at tedious length (and to the best of my limited understanding), and I never found him to leave out links to primary sources with which he disagreed. Anyone who puts all his information at his readers’ disposal to analyze for themselves – people talk about transparency, but I don’t think many practice it assiduously, let alone challenge themselves to engage with opponents they could just as easily dismiss.

  12. Brian,
    That’s not entirely true that books on the subject are obsolete by the time they are published. After all to see a trend of rising temperatures, you have to look at the current and historical data going back 100 years.

    I’ve just started to read that book and I don’t have the time to read all the scientists papers ont he subject. So far I found that the book summarizes the the current state of the debate and yes there is a debate no matter what the IPCC and Al Gore say. The IPCC is a political organization and Al Gore is a politician. Their job is to scare people into doing what they want.

    Another very good blog by a climate scientist who well known and respected and is critical of the IPCC and teh hype surrounding global warming is
    http://climatesci.org
    Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr. Research Group News
    That’s written by climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr.
    I think he has some very good arguments.

  13. I’m familiar with Pielke’s work, and while some of his arguments are good, some are not. I’m in the process of reading one of his most recent papers and it’s relying on some data that I’m pretty sure has been shown to be inaccurate. I haven’t compared the publication date, however – there’s a chance that the paper showing the original data to be wrong came out after Pielke’s paper was published, in which case I’ll cut him a little slack. Otherwise, he’s using erroneous data to draw his conclusions, and that’s not OK.

    There’s something called the “bias effect” (IIRC) in psychology that basically says the more challenges a theory faces, the more the proponents of that theory try to bulletproof their arguments, and so there’s a gradual drift toward where the challenges are coming from. In the case of climate disruption, the bias effect would suggest that the proponents of the theory are spending time making sure they’re right and thus the scientific community should be drifting away from what you’re calling “hype.” Yet if you follow the state of the science as I do, you’ll notice that the scientists aren’t doing that. In fact, I’d say it’s biased toward more serious consequences, not less ones, because the actual science is saying things will be worse than previously thought, not better.

    If you don’t want to trust the media, fine. Don’t. But don’t trust ANY of the media, including groups like WorldNetDaily and Newsbusters and Fox any more than ABC, the NYTimes, and MSNBC. If you’re going to read Pielke, read Mann too. If you’re going to read Roy Spencer, read Ken Caldiera too. If you’re going to read the websies WattsUpwiththat and Climate Audit and Icecap, read Real Climate and Climate Progress and SkepticalScience.

    And I’d like to suggest that you read my own Weekly Carboholic feature here at S&R too.

  14. I just discovered this site so I didn’t know you had a weekly feature.

    When you said “I’m familiar with Pielke’s work, … I’m in the process of reading one of his most recent papers and it’s relying on some data that I’m pretty sure has been shown to be inaccurate.” which paper are you referring to?

    My opinion, and I’m certainly not an expert on it or close, is that the climate models are incomplete and can’t accurately reflect current conditions based on the historical data. If climate models are to be trusted the should also be able to accurately account for El Nino and La Nina and I don’t think there is any model that does so. Obviously the reason is those are not well understood but affect the climate greatly. Furthermore, I don’t trust the IPCC any more than I would trust a politician.

    It is clear that we must use another energy source other than fossil fuels even if there was no global warming. The answer is not solar or wind or wave energy although those could be useful in certain niches.

    The answer to our energy needs, and the worlds energy needs, is nuclear. There’s no denying that. have a look at what nuclear should have been if it weren’t for the military industrial complex:
    The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be

    Also look at this blog: Energy from Thorium

    There are people trying get thorium and fourth generation nuclear more attention, among them is widely known scientist Dr James Hansen: Tell Barack Obama the Truth — The Whole Truth

  15. Well, welcome then! You’ll find that I’m definitely someone who finds the science in support of anthropogenic climate disruption pretty darn compelling, but that when there are things I find that don’t make sense or that seem to contradict the science for some reason, I do report that as well. I try hard not to be iconoclastic about this stuff, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

    As for the paper I’m talking about, here’s the link: http://www.climatesci.org/publications/pdf/R-342.pdf

    As a member of a pro-nuclear group, I generally agree that nuclear is part of the plan, but there are significant problems with it. First off, there are precious few 2nd generation plants in existence, no third generation plants at all, so calling for a 4th generation plant is extremely aggressive. Second, there is a limited amount of uranium available, and so the only way to produce more is via breeder reactors and reprocessing plants, ie major proliferation problems. Third, nuclear isn’t presently cost competitive with any other form of electricity generation without massive government subsidies. Fourth, there’s all the waste that needs to be dealt with somehow, and while I have my preferred method (and it’s not Yucca Mountain), there’s insufficient agreement among the various experts and concerned parties about how to handle it, and I think that’s a big problem.

    If nuclear can be made cost effective without subsidies, I think it’ll be fine over the long run. But right now, solar and wind are both far cheaper per kWh than unsubsidized nuclear is, and they’re distributed and so may not require the kind of massive transmission lines that nuclear does.

  16. The problems you stated about nuclear is why you should take a look at that video presentation at Google University of Dr. Joe Bonometti “The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be”What fusion wanted to be”

    Thorium nuclear energy isn’t new. it’s been devolped and tested for for 50 years. Problem was the MIC wanted plutonium for their weapons so we got what we have today conventional nuclear with it’s problems of waste and inefficiency. Contrary to what environmentalist say there is no proliferation problem with building nuclear reactors in the United States. Waste with LFTRs is extremely small. LFTRs breed uranium necessary and there is enough thorium in the earth to keep them operating for at least a million years.

    Nuclear is much more cost effective than solar and wind and more reliable. Don’t know why nuclear would require massive transmission lines since the transmission lines are already there. Solar and wind will require new transmission lines since the proposed locations are in deserts and other remote places.

    Solar and wind is subsidized isn’t it?

    See this for a cost analysis: How much would a reliable wind system cost?

  17. Solar and wind are subsidized, but arguably not as much as nuclear. And in many respects, fossil fuels are the most highly subsidized electricity sources of all. I’d personally love to see carbon priced somehow and all subsidies removed and see how things shake out.

    Any new power plant that’s not built at a pre-existing power plant needs transmission lines, however, so nuclear, coal, natural gas, and centralized renewable all need new transmission lines. Only decentralized renewable (primarily solar installs on existing buildings, but wind could qualify in certain parts of the country) wouldn’t need new power lines.

    Of course, we’ll probably need a lot more lines regardless, just to keep up with growth. Going to HVDC lines would help a lot, however, especially if they were run on existing towers and in existing easements.

    Proliferation is an issue beyond the U.S., given concerns about Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, India, etc. And just because there aren’t proliferation problems within the U.S. due to nuclear security, that doesn’t mean that proliferation isn’t an issue beyond the U.S. And if we’re using uranium-based reactors (I’ve not heard of thorium reactors, so I’ll need to do some research before I can talk intelligently to them), setting up breeder reactors and reprocessing plants scattered around the world is still a serious proliferation concern.

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