Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

Climate Literacy Primer Follow-up

My post about a climate literacy brochure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drew a lengthy response from Tom, which he posted on his Facebook account. He also provided a link in the comments section of my post (to view his response, you need a Facebook account, but do not need to have him on your friends list). The response only briefly addresses my post, but addresses some of Tom’s concerns about climate change. I felt it warranted a follow-up for a number of reasons, but I will spare my readers a point-by-point analysis, since most of the science-related points that Tom makes are easily addressed with a bit of modest research.

(Note that, since Tom’s Facebook profile is public, I felt it not inappropriate to post excerpts from his response for the purposes of this follow-up. Please read his entire response to get the full context and meaning of the included excerpts. This follow-up post was made here because I generally keep my Facebook account free from political and religious material.)

Tom questions my motivating principles because my “About” page says that this blog was created as a “way to take action against the flood of religious fundamentalism that has been slowly taking control of the United States of America.” I’m not sure how that would invalidate science, but further in the about page, the stated method of taking action is “by promoting rational thought and honest, intellectual questioning.” Promoting science, which I do here on a regular basis, is an effective way of promoting rational thought.

Tom breaks down the climate issue as follows:

Unfortunately, the debate over anthropological global warming (AGW) is no longer a purely scientific endeavor. It cannot be, since the potential consequences are global and political. One side argues that if we do nothing, we are doomed. They want governments to take action through policy and regulation. The other side argues that to take action is a veiled attempt to further the reach of government power into private enterprise and personal freedom, which will stifle economic growth, creativity and human dignity.

I would further his first statement and say that the “debate” over climate change (for so long as there has actually been debate) has never been purely scientific. The science itself has been and remains scientific (if you will pardon the redundancy), but the debate started because of politics. There is very little scientific disagreement over the conclusions of climate change science, despite the claims of deniers. Tom brings up the Global Warming Petition Project (also known as the Oregon Petition) and the Heidelberg Appeal as evidence of scientific disagreement, but used for that purpose, both documents are questionable at best.

The last sentence in the above quoted paragraph, summarizing Tom’s position, is the one I find most telling. It has the very strong appearance of promoting a political conspiracy theory. Indeed, much of Tom’s response is an admission that he looks at climate change science, not through an objective, scientific lens, but through a political one. I don’t think that can be stated strongly enough.

Tom is rejecting scientific facts because of his political ideology.

Here’s an excerpt from his post explaining why he is motivated to challenge the science behind Anthropological Global Warming (please read the whole post for context, though this excerpt stands on its own fairly well).

The conclusions of Biffa, Mann, et al, the CRU are championed by the IPCC which is an arm of the United Nations. The UN has clearly revealed its stripes as a bureaucracy which advocates and actively works for a global government. An unelected body, their veiled objective is redistribution of wealth and the demise of the United States as a leader in business, finance and innovation – all the while suckling off the teat of tax-payers. The technocrats behind AGW find their only solution in more government, more regulation, more taxation, taking away decision-making from business and private citizens.

If that doesn’t sound like conspiracy theory propaganda, I don’t know what does, but more importantly, it shows that the motivation for attempting to discredit climate change science does not come from finding objective flaws in the related science. It comes from political ideology. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

I find it very similar to “debates” about evolution. Since intelligent design creationists cannot accept evolution because of their biblical predispositions, they will come up with all kinds of arguments against evolution, none of which hold water. Not only that, but the arguments get recycled ad nauseum. See the Discovery Institute website or Answers in Genesis for plenty of examples.

It seems that climate change deniers have adopted the same strategy. Since they don’t want to accept the scientific research due to their ideological predispositions, they manufacture objections… manufacture controversies… manufacture scientific “flaws” in ongoing research… and accuse climate scientists of all kinds of shenanigans.

Tom mentions the standard canards such as Mann’s “hockey stick,” the medieval warming period, urban temperature stations, the CRU emails, sediment cores, and my favorite, Antarctic sea ice. All of these objections have either been shown irrelevant, understood and accounted for, and/or actually in support of climate change science. Most of the objections have been addressed long ago, but climate change deniers repeatedly trot them out to advance what seems to be a purely political agenda.

Tom continues with the political argument.

And those environmentalists who align themselves with draconian measures to stop so-called AGW, and handing over decisions to the UN – they show their illegitimacy when they reject nuclear power as a solution to reducing industrial and residential CO2 output. “Clean energy” – windmills, solar, geothermal – does not have near the efficiency or output to replace carbon-based energy sources. Clearly one of the objectives of the fanatical environmentalists is to return our standard of living to the pre-industrial era.

I’ve already said that none of the political issues invalidate the facts, but I think here, Tom is addressing a hypocrisy (with a dose of conspiracy thrown in) that he sees in those who accept the science. I haven’t heard others objecting to nuclear power, so I can’t comment on that other than to say that I have no problem with it. It’s clean, efficient, and provides a stable power base for our electrical grid all across the country. I do, however, find it somewhat amusing that he concludes that the objective of “fanatical environmentalists is to return our standard of living to the pre-industrial era.” …as if that’s the only alternative to inaction.

In his conclusion, Tom sets up some ecologically-friendly straw men to knock down, saying that deniers are painted as “indiscriminate environmental rapists” and that I claim that deniers are “religious fundamentalists hell-bent on extracting wealth from the environment.” I have no idea how he inferred that from my post, since the only mention of religion at all was in the following paragraph (and since I don’t believe it to be the case, anyway):

The fruits of science are all around us, yet the state of science literacy in our country is horrifyingly low. Not only do we have people who don’t understand science or how it works, but we have the much more harmful group of people who think they understand how science works and who think they have an understanding of scientific issues, but are hopelessly lost in an ideological quagmire created by politics, religion, or other insidious cultural influences.

One of my contentions about climate change deniers is that (I have found) most of them are either politically right-wing and/or very religious (not, as claimed, “religious fundamentalists hell-bent on extracting wealth from the environment”). Tom epitomizes this in his response by not only admitting that his rejection of climate science is based on political ideology, but by quoting bible passages in his conclusion in order to knock down the aforementioned straw men.

Tom’s concluding sentence:

I find the irony that the subject piece which has stirred my rebuttal is so entirely tone-deaf to its own strains of fundamentalism as it tries to teach us lesser vassals how we must think, and render homage to our more educated peers.

If my attempts to promote a scientific, reality-based, rational way of thinking are considered fundamentalist, so be it. Teaching people how to think (as opposed to what to think) is something this country could use. However, a blind appeal to authority is never warranted and I have not (nor have I ever) suggested that it should be.

If people choose which facts to believe based upon political ideology or religious dogma, they are abdicating an intellectual responsibility… and this country, this world, is weakened as a result.

I think a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan would be a fitting conclusion.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Leave a Reply