A common trope among academic philosophers, academic sociologists and the like—people without training in physics, that is—is to compare skepticism of the most shocking climate prognostications with belief in, and sympathy for, slavery.
Yes; if you express concern that, for instance, our certainty in high-level cloud feedback climate model parameterizations is too high, and that models would produce better, more accurate forecasts were they to take parameterization uncertainty into account, if you doubt whether (say) the number of ambulance trips in Australia1 really will skyrocket if the global average temperature increases by a tenth of a degree, these academics say that you probably would like to own slaves.
Several years ago, University of Amsterdam academic philosopher Marc Davidson penned “Parallels in reactionary argumentation in the US congressional debates on the abolition of slavery and the Kyoto Protocol.” Davidson said that Republicans “tend to rationalise fossil fuel use despite climate risks to future generations just as Southern congressmen rationalised slavery despite ideals of equality.”
Andrew Hoffman Holder of the Holcim chair at the University of Michigan has regular fun dropping allusions to slavery, carbon dioxide and abolition in his voluminous works.
And now comes University of Oregon’s Kari Norgaard, who wants to treat people not on board with her conception of climate chaos. In a press release of her paper at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference, it was announced
Resistance at individual and societal levels must be recognized and treated before real action can be taken to effectively address threats facing the planet from human-caused contributions to climate change…
“Climate change poses a massive threat to our present social, economic and political order. From a sociological perspective, resistance to change is to be expected,” she said. “People are individually and collectively habituated to the ways we act and think. This habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level — how we think the world works and how we think it should work.”
She went on to say that there is reluctance to disruptive and immediate action and that “‘This kind of cultural resistance to very significant social threat is something that we would expect in any society facing a massive threat,’ she said. The discussion, she said, is comparable to what happened with challenges to racism or slavery in the U.S. South.”
What about her lack of understanding of climatology, physics, statistics, etc. and thus her failure to comprehend the arguments skeptics offer? Cue the crickets. Actually, according to The Register, cue Issac Asmiov, for Norgaard would like to invent for real his fictional Psychohistory a science which enables one “to predict” and to “alter the behaviour of large populations*” [emphasis mine].
Lewis Page, the author of that story, saw fit to point that asterisk to the remark, “*Admittedly Psychohistory only worked on huge galactic civilisations, and then only if the people being manipulated for their own good were unaware that the science of Psychohistory existed – neither of which are the case here.” True, brother, true.
The amusing thing about all this is that each academic offering the slavery-skepticism argument is that each creates some version of the Sky Is Falling which is worse than that which is offered by most climatologists. That is, they seem to accept that all is worst than we had feared because doing so is consonant with their desires or world views.
For example, on her web page Norgaard lists among her specialties “environmental justice”, “gender and race and environment”, “climate change denial.” She has written such works as “The Social Organization of Climate Denial: Emotions, Culture and Political Economy”, and “Climate Denial and the Construction of Innocence: Reproducing Transnational Privilege in the Face of Climate Change.”
Now if the skeptics are right—accept this for the sake of argument—that the outlook for our future climate and environment is if not rosy then at least unproblematic, then Norgaard has lost her living. She would have to find something else with which to occupy her time. So might—I say might—it be true that she (and similar academics) tends to exaggerate her level of belief in catastrophic climate scenarios? Confirmation bias is always for thee and not for me.
If skeptics are wrong, then it would best if she (and they) offered argument to show why these skeptics are wrong and not just label skeptics “deniers.” For doing that is not only historically offensive, it is a dodge, a failure to play by the rules of ordinary scientific discourse.
Update Via Christopher Monckton via Marc Morano, we learn that “The words ‘and treated’ have now gone from the University’s press statement”. Curious, no? Monkcton wrote Norgaard (as did I) and received no response (neither did I). Part of what he said was this:
Thirdly, the IPCC’s very high climate sensitivity estimates depend upon the assumption that temperature feedbacks that cannot be either measured or distinguished from direct forcings will triple those forcings, whereas the remarkable homeostasis of temperatures over at least the last 64 million years suggests either that feedbacks are net-negative or that the feedback-amplification equation (taken from electronic circuitry) is inapplicable to the climate, in which event equilibrium warming at CO2 doubling will be 1 Celsius degree, which is harmless and beneficial, and 21st-century warming from this cause will be little more than half the equilibrium warming…
I am uneasy that you should have recommended what the University of Oregon’s press notice is said to describe as “treatment” for those with whom you disagree. In Europe, within living memory, there were two totalitarian regimes that subjected legitimate scientific dissenters to “treatment”. You will forgive me for saying that humanity should surely not sink to those cruel and fatal depths of government-mandated unreason ever again.
1See this list for all that is said to go wrong when global warming strikes.