William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Climate inactivism

Quick Quiz: what do you call an exceptionally nervous busybody who perpetually overestimates risk and on whose lips are forever the phrase, “Something must be done!”

Answer: That person is an activist—activism is a manner of life which nowadays can even be proclaimed a profession.

What, then, do we call somebody who rationally attempts to quantify risk and who soberly (on most days of the week) weighs his options and sometimes proposes that the best course of action is no action at all?

That person is an inactivist.

Isn’t that a great name? I love it! But I didn’t think of it. Frank Bi, who runs a site called The Journal of Inactivism, did.

Old Frank’s intent is that the label be taken ironically. To him, an inactivist is to be despised. Let me tell you something about irony, Frank. There’s an art to it that few possess; its use requires a rare talent. I sometimes flatter myself that I can successfully wield this heavy sword, but I fail nearly every time, as regular readers of this blog can attest.

And so have you failed, Frank, but do not despair. We can rescue your neologism and put it to good use. It can lead a second life of good service.

Thus, I counsel that we adopt the moniker “climate inactivist” at once. Just look what it has going for it.

“Climate skeptic”, a term many favor, is apt to be misleading. I, for example, am not skeptical that there is a climate. Inactivist, however, neatly captures and succinctly describes the attitude of many of us.

We, who do not deny that mankind influences climate, even sometimes harmfully, but who reckon that our uncertainty in the mechanisms of the hideously complex global climate system and the imprecision its forecasts, coupled with the glut of extravagant and ridiculous claims of evils that await us, are not strong enough evidence to yet warrant government-imposed mandatory taxes and regulation. We, who do not deny that that day might come, and who do not discourage voluntary and personal actions. We propose to take no action until our certainty is much stronger.

We propose to be inactive—we are inactivists.

This proposal will be voted upon at the next secret meeting.

Incidentally, to take us on a tangent to an unexpected dimension, Scott Kurtz presents the evil Statistician Magician! (I don’t have a cape.)

39 Comments

  1. Frank is far too bad tempered, angry and lacking in subtlety to produce effective irony. In my experience, you need to be low key and polite to wield the sword of irony to good effect. For example, Charles McCord on the Imus show can be ironic, but there are few others on that show or any other talk show who can do it. For most it comes off as sarcasm, which is, ironically, Frank’s forte!

    As for climate inactivist – I would accept almost anything rather than the vile, insulting and perjorative “denier”.

  2. I second the motion!

  3. Nice tag. Yes, he clearly misses the shot and hits himself in the foot. I don’t consider myself an “inactivist”, though. My line of reasoning is more akin of Lomborg, and I don’t think he sees himself as a climate inactivist.

  4. Inactivists of the world DISUNITE!!!!

    Bernie, I am proud of being a DENIER. Embrace their pejorative terms and inactivate them!!

  5. I find his article in wikiality about Global Warming kinda funny though. Not brilliant, but funny nevertheless…

  6. KuhnKat:
    I am for any labels that invites dialogue and discussion rather than polarizing possible discussants which is why I have grown comfortable with the skeptics label.

  7. Briggs:
    A person cannot be considered ironic. A situationor statement may be described as ironic. A person can be sarcasticor make statements of irony, maybe this is where the confusion comes in.
    The two terms often deal with opposites but this is where the similarity ends.
    “Climate inactivism” is not irony.
    Gore being mistaken for an inactivist; that would be ironic.

    “Climate sceptic” I agree, grates, as the label makes no sense. A proponent of AGW would find it odd to be labelled a “sun sceptic” or an “ocean sceptic”.
    However for an environmentalist to be labelled “a nature sceptic” would be ironic.

  8. My idea of irony is parking a HumVee on an Environmentalist. Or is that too heavy-handed?
    .

  9. In fact, persons can indeed by ironic. Persons can be ironic in many ways. Joy is ironic in the sense that she believes herself to be a living dictionary. Since Joy is presumably a human being, and since humans are not dictionaries, Joy has become ironic by virtue of her very beliefs!

  10. I, for example, am not skeptical that there is a climate.
    Good thing I wasn’t sipping coffee or it would be all over my screen! 🙂

    I rarely read Frank’s blog. I clicked over. He sure seems obsessed with the Littlemore-Monckton debate!

  11. Briggs

    August 27, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Joy, How about “derisively”?

    Lucia, Good you see you back!

  12. Oregonguy:
    Nope,an environmentalist being knocked down by a hybrid car, that’s irony.
    Briggs:
    How about derisively?

  13. Matt:
    I seemed to be missing a post where with great charm and wit I suggested to Joy that, apart from usage, there is no semantic difference between describing someone as sarcastic and describing them as ironic. Both refer to types of utterances and it is understood as “one who makes sarcastic statements” or “one who makes ironic statements”. On the other hand Joyce raised an additional point in that someone’s “being” might itself be ironic or, in Frank’s case, sarcastic.

    Recursively, Joyce were you being ironic or sarcastic? Methinks the latter!!:)

  14. Matt:
    I seemed to be missing a post where with great charm and wit I suggested to Joy that, apart from usage, there is no semantic difference between describing someone as sarcastic and describing them as ironic. Both refer to types of utterances and it is understood as “one who makes sarcastic statements” or “one who makes ironic statements”. On the other hand Joyce raised an additional point in that someone’s “being” might itself be ironic or, in Frank’s case, sarcastic.

    Recursively, Joyce were you being ironic or sarcastic? Methinks the latter!!:)

  15. I think the usual word for an inactivist is apathetic, but with a slight twist. The apathetic person is inactive inactive, where as the inactivist is active inactive.

  16. Bernie:
    “Apart from usage”? “there is no semantic difference.…” that is irony.
    But only because the subject is “irony” if the subject were any other given set of words then that line would be a simple contradiction.
    Whilst Internet definitions are slowly creeping in that include sarcasm as a “form” of irony, the two are very different. There are some who like to include understatement, satire, black humour and dry whit under the umbrella of irony, as though irony were only humour anyway. “Romeo and Juliet” ends in tragic irony. The characters are not themselves ironic.

    “Joyce’s” statement, although satirical, is neither sarcastic nor ironic. If I were a dictionary with typing
    skills, there would be irony in the assumption that I were human. It would not render me (dictionary with typing skills) ironic. One could argue that anyone arguing about the meaning of irony without the understanding of its meaning is ironic. Joy thinks the joke’s on Joyce. Joyce thinks the joke’s on Joy.

    There is irony in my assumption that “Joyce” is a man in a cunning disguise if I am wrong. 😉

    Back on topic:

    “Climate inactivist” seeks parity with “climate activist”. (sounds like a lonely hearts ad)

  17. Inactivists UNTIE!!!!
    AGW activistism burns me up
    NGW inactivistism’s chillin

  18. Not being a living dictionary, but having heard people described as ironic, I consulted an online dictionary.

    Dictonary.com says this:

    American Heritage Dictionary – Cite This Source – Share This
    i·ron·ic Audio Help (Ä«-rŏn’Ä­k) Pronunciation Key
    adj.

    1. Characterized by or constituting irony.
    2. Given to the use of irony. See Synonyms at sarcastic.
    3. Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended: madness, an ironic fate for such a clear thinker.

    It seems likely that those “given to the use of irony” would likely be sentient belings like people, rather than, objects like chairs of bricks. This might suggest that one could say “Jane is ironic”, meaning “Jane is given to the use of irony.”

    The interesting thing about English is words can often be used in several different ways, and their precise meaning does depend on context. I understand this is true in other languages as well.

  19. The only problem with ‘inactivist’ is that there is an apathetic ring to it, as if the person couldn’t care less or couldn’t be bothered. I believe that most skeptics or deniers, however, are very concerned about the ill-advised and possibly dangerous ideas put forth by the activisits to “combat” global warming. In keeping with the militaristic theme, I would say that I would prefer to be known as a climate ‘pacifist’. I do not wish to declare war on the climate, where the stakes on fighting an unseen ‘enemy’ are far higher than those of the porous, never-ending wars on drugs and terror, for example.

  20. Roland:
    Your first proposition holds because in Frank’s world catastrophic AGW “is” occurring and anybody who does not recognize it and actively combat it is making matters worse. In Frank’s world, skeptics play Nero – we not only fiddle while Rome burns, we also started the fires! We are obstructionists.

    Joy:
    First, you are correct – no irony, sarcasm or satire intended. I should have said “no logical difference” since semantics is primarily about usage and intent.

    As to “irony” I checked it out at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/irony — the varied and subtle variations in meanings among related terms here suggest that a usage panel would be split on the topic of whether “Bernie is ironic” and “Joy is sarcastic” are correct usage.

    I believe Lucia made the same point that I was trying to make, but more lucidly.

    If I was arguing about the meaning of words and someone called me a dictionary – I certainly would take that as a piece of sarcasm – having George W. Bush host a spelling bee would be satirical!

    I am for calling this debate a draw and moving on to active inactivism, but thanks for the discussion and increasing my wordpower. 🙂

  21. Lucia:
    Nope, Jane cannot be ironic she can merely make ironic statements or experience ironic situations. Jane might be considered herself ironic to an onlooker if she inadvertently strolled into a convention of Tarzans who had just given up on finding a Jane. That would, indeed make her ironic! You have to construct the most ridiculous situations to make a person ironic.

    Again, sarcasm is not irony the words are hardly similar. You have to look very hard to find a similarity. The fact that there are often unexpected opposites involved is where the similarity starts and finishes.
    A simile is not a similar word but a figure of speech. “as white as snow” etc is a simile. Sarcasm often deals in similes: “as easy as finding a needle in a haystack”is sarcasm. Irony would be finding the needle in the first handful of hay.
    “as easy as falling off a log” is not sarcasm but failing to fall off one is irony it is not sarcasm. It might become satire if the poor person failing to fall off was the subject of ridicule for some other reason, i.e. the faller offer was known as or considered a failure prior to the log scenario. Neither are they ironic even if they failed to fall off on purpose! It would be funny to see them try though. 

    In saying that one looked up the definitions on the internet as a human there is mild sarcasm as the obvious is stated as surprising. This is mildly sarcastic, but Clearly satirical and without irony.

    “Romeo and Juliet” does not end sarcastically or satirically.
    The words are not interchangeable.
    They may worm their way into the dictionary with common misuse. Therein lies the irony. Just as “wicked” now means “fantastic” or “excellent”, again, that’s irony.
    Someone saying, “that’s really wicked” is in fact being sarcastic but using an ironic word because it’s original meaning was synonymous with “bad”.

    Irony is not elusive or clever.

  22. Frank need an Hysteriasectomy.

  23. Bernie:
    Happy to move on but no draw. 

    “Having George bush holding a spelling soiree” is not satirical.
    “George bush is holding a spelling soiree is satirical or is satire.
    So you see, neither George nor the spelling soiree is the satire but the situation is satire or satirical. Having him hold one is not satirical either. It’s representation verbal, written or cognitive is satirical.
    A person can, however be satirical if they, like you make such a statement or have the idea.
    A person, however, cannot be ironic.

  24. I’m all in favor of the somewhat derogatory ‘inactivist’ be replaced by the term ‘holdyourhorsesist’.

    Think it will fly?

  25. Joy:
    Uncle!!

  26. After reading some of the recent posts and comments, I am wondering what it really means to be a skeptic.

    Aren’t climate change skeptics just “dormant” for the time being? Are they “open-minded”?

    SOME of us may claim to be a skeptic; the truth is most people have chosen sides regarding the GW issue based on their beliefs. Ask ourselves whether or not we understand what the scientists have been doing.

    When a skeptic consistently mocks GW, I cannot help but conclude that, as the Chinese say, the skeptic is trying to sell dog meat by hanging a lamb’s head on the stand. Why not just say it out loud that GW is bull sh*t, instead of claiming to be a skeptic?

    It’s not illegal to be ironic or sarcastic or stupid, but there might be a penalty to future generations (maybe I have been watching a little too much of the Democrat Convention).

  27. Bernie:
    Trousers!

  28. Joy:
    I am not sure what you mean?
    http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/t.htm
    I was simply saying “I give up, you win!”

  29. Briggs

    August 28, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    JH,

    Dog’s meat with a lamb’s head? Sounds a tasty dish.

  30. Bernie, ooooh my, trousers?!

    Briggs, I knew it! This is how you operate – forming a judgment without direct experience. Har Har

  31. Joy–
    The American Heritage Dictionary (online) suggests your interpretation is incorrect. My 1967 copy of Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary includes “given to irony” as a possible definition. This suggest that those given to irony, (who are likely homo sapiens rather than amoebas) can be called “ironic”.

    If you feel these two dictionaries have published incorrect definitions, contact them and explain your theory. Maybe you can persuade them to modify their entries so the world will learn to adopt the one true “This is what Joy says it means” definition.

    In the meantime, if the definition of the word is to be based on a claim to authority, I will rely on the dictionary.

    Cheers!

  32. Uncle Bernie:

    Sorry, I didn’t know what you meant either. “Uncle” looked like a random word so I was responding in kind to illustrate my confusion. Trousers sprang to mind:

    JHons:
    “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” . The English are joking, the Chinese mean it for real! The trick is to work out the difference.
    How can you be so sure that other sceptics are not familiar with the scientific merits of AGW? To be considered a “climate sceptic” is a label not a badge of office. We’re not in the Brownies!
    Mr Briggs was offering a humorous alternative. As for open closed or slightly ajar, ones mind is ones own business.

  33. Lucia:
    Sarcasm is believed by some to be a form of irony and the authorities to which you choose to refer are no doubt intending this narrow meaning. If sarcasm and irony were one and the same then one would have to concede that an individual could be ironic. Although my world like Wayne’s is unique, my understanding and experience of irony is not.
    When Cordelia says “nothing” when asked to tell her father how much she loves him in “King Lear” she is not being ironic, but she experiences irony and the situation along with the play may be described as ironic. She is not being sarcastic either despite her contrary words. She says “nothing” and refuses to wax lyrical about her love for her father. This act of self-consciousness is irony for she actually recognises the empty prose of her two sisters and chooses modesty.
    So irony can show itself in many ways but the experience is a human one only because humans are said to have a sense of self unlike animals (apparently). Irony is everywhere if you care to look for it but most prefer to look for it in dictionaries, on the web or in their favourite sitcom. Whatever floats your boat and if you want to be ironic I won’t stand in your way.

  34. SOME of us may claim to be a skeptic; the truth is most people have chosen sides regarding the GW issue based on their beliefs

    I have problems with this sentence, because it is common human behavior to pick sides and defend it with stone aged irrationality, as if the truth belongs somehow either to Chelsea FC or to Man. U (or to american readers, LA Lakers or Chicago Bulls, you get the point). I won’t dwelve in the psychological (evolutional?) reasons why this is so, but what is relevant from this lesson is that we should always strive to be with reason, and not with sides, we should always strive to leave behind the reptilian part of our brain.

    With this in mind, to be a “skeptic” is simply to believe that the scientific method relies upon not taking any arguments from authorities, and making our own (analyzed) judgement upon things (think for oneself, don’t be a sheep). This includes not taking the Texas Sharpshooter team’s rationales seriously given their track record, while also not giving much attention to Al Gore’s lunatic plan, but it will also shield us from taking seriously many so-called “skeptic” papers that are out there, that are simply junk.

    Truth is always in the middle, and failure to recognize this is the most common fallacy of humankind. The fallacy of the excluded middle.

  35. Luis:
    Then there’s the fallacy of the truth is always somewhere in the middle. “somewhere in the middle” is a very broad area; at least as broad as the spread of model outcomes.

    I appreciate your comment is aiming to illustrate independent and moderate thinking. But I know many with forked tongues that would happily support Chelsea and Man U if there were money in it. Sometimes sticking to the middle ground can be a way of claiming victory whatever the outcome. In chess, there is no middle ground. In short, the middle is not always a moral or safe place just as choosing an extreme by default is not.
    Furthermore we don’t always get to know the truth with all it’s subtlety as a post mortem. We sometimes have to settle for a black or white outcome summary.
    And some of us love to argue. Without the sides there is no issue for if we all agreed there would be no argument.
    But I don’t know any reptiles that can play football! That means I have something in common with the varmints.

  36. Luis:
    One might be predisposed to one side or another, but still be open to persuasion – hence skepticism or agnosticism.

  37. Luis, Your comments remind me of the Indiana Pi Bill. Enjoy it.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill

    Joy, I cannot be sure as to how one forms opinions about anything. I made the comments because most Americans believe in GW. I know… overall we Americans are well-informed and scientifically-inclined.

  38. “Climate inactivist”? I like that. It’s simple and doesn’t need any explanation.

    It reminds me of some old words of wisdom from I-can’t-remember-where about “summoning up the courage to do nothing”.

    Regarding the sarcasm/irony debate, I’d call them two completely different words. Without getting into the actual definitions, I’d point out that sarcasm is most often used as a weapon, while irony is not.

    Regarding what to call we skeptics/realists/deniers/inactivists, over the weekend I posted on my blog that I was proclaiming myself as an “infidel”.

    Definintion: Infidel (literally “one without faith”) is an English word meaning “one who doubts or rejects central tenets of a religion or has no religious beliefs”

    I think you can see where I’m going with this. My reasoning is that since it has been pointed out literally hundreds of times (starting with Crichton) that environmentalism (and anthropogenic global warming alarmism) has all the tenets of being considered a religion, and since I reject the central tenets of environmentalism, I must be an “infidel”.

    Here’s a link to the post:

    http://gorelied.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-proudly-proclaim-myself-infidel-to.html

    Comments?

  39. Klockarman,

    “The thing to do is to have the courage to do nothing” was said by Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. A man who was there when this issue first began. Qualified to speak about the history, the politics, the religion, and the mathS.

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