17 October 2007

Nuttiness on the Left

I often enjoy reading Alexander Cockburn's columns in The Nation if only because he often is willing to say things others are not. He seem to have gone off the deep end however in his denial of the human contributions to climate change. This occured most recently past weekend in the context of a diatribe against Al Gore and his Nobel Prize.* I am no fan of Gore. In fact, I conisder him a pretty repugnant moralizer [1] [2]. And Cockburn recounts a set of dubious Clinton-era policies that Gore was in to up to his elbows. I do not know enough about these to judge one way of the other. But I have no reason to doubt Cockburn on that score. Indeed, he is not the only one to criticize Gore's militaristic record [1] - especially while Vice Presisdent under Clinton. Here, though, is Alex on climate change and Gore's campaign in criticizing it:

"The notorious "man-made" greenhouse gasses comprise
about .26 per cent of the total greenhouse gas component
of the earth's atmosphere and the influence of this
component remains entirely unproven, as I have pointed
out on this site many times ... Gore's contribution to the
debate has been an appalling mishmash of cooked statistics,
demagoguery about "scientific consensus" and New Age
hocus pocus about spiritual renewal. Anyone who has
studied the antics of his co-winner of the peace prize,
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will know
that the IPCC's prime role every three years has been to
ignore the work-some of it respectable scientific research-
of its expert panels and issue entirely mendacious and to
issue alarmist press releases designed to win
headlines in the New York Times.

Of course Al Gore has been a shil for nuclear power
ever since he came of age as a political harlot for the
Oakridge nuclear laboratory in his home state of Tennessee.
The practical beneficiary of the baseless hysteria over
"anthropogenic global warming" is the nuclear power industry.
This very fall, ... this industry is reaping the fruits of Al
Gore's campaigning. Congress has finally knocked aside
the regulatory licensing processes that have somewhat
protected the public across recent decades. The starting
gun has sounded, and just about the moment Gore and his
co-conspirators at the IPCC collect their prizes, the
bulldozers will be breaking ground for the new nuclear
lants soon to spring like Amanita phalloides--just as
deadly--across the American landscape."

Gore may well be a shil for Nukes. Has he, in fact, been pushing that particular way around carbon-fuel burning power sources? I don't know that either. But if Gore is pushing dubious remedies why not just criticize those remedies? Why go so far as to deny climate change and the, yes, "scientific consensus" regarding the human contribution to it? It could be that Gore is using scientific research to argue for untenable policies. I would not be surprised. But any such linkage is wholly contingent.

My friend Susan insists that if I criticize nuttiness on the right (e.g., the loathsome Ann Coulter) I need to be even-handed and criticize nuttiness on the left. Cockburn's position here is nutty.
__________

* You can find earlier installments of this nuttiness in The Nation here and here and here and here. Who is Cockburn's co-author Jeffrey St. Clair is shilling for when he sides with the "greenhousers"?

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is this even handed?! You're essentially calling a leftist a nut because on the issue of global warming he takes a position that is associated with the right. That's like a conservative saying he's even handed by calling a fellow conservative a nut for taking a leftist's position on a said issue. I can't believe you tried to pass this off as "balance." You're worse than FOX NEWS!

17 October, 2007 12:55  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon, I mentioned only the substance of Cockburn's position not its left or right wing provenance.

The point here is that there is a reliable scientific consensus on this matter (see the Science article to which I link). That right wingers are climate change deniers is neither here nor there. Cockburn is simply wrong on this matter. That is my point. Do you disagree? If so, explain why.

I find the notion of "balance" to be largely a rationale for purveying bullshit. Here and on many issues, there are not two reputable sides. Indeed, among the major problems with press reports - even in the putatively "liberal" mainstream media - on this issue is that they insist on offering climate change deniers equal time in the name of "balance." The same holds of other issues.

The sky is blue. Just because some nuts say it is chartreuse hardly means we need to "balance" discussion by paying attention to them.

17 October, 2007 13:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem I have with this entire global warming debate is that 99.999% of the people who argue so passionately for either side have no scientific background or training and thus have no idea of what they're talking about. The leftists' argument that global warming is in fact a man-made threat is essentially just regurgitating the idea that "there's a consensus." If that's not intellectual bankruptcy, I don't know what is. Would you accept such an argument in a student's thesis paper?..."In conclusion, free-markets offer the best economic benefits to society because most economists say so." Of course not.

Why do people really take the positions they do? Clearly because of the policy ramifications. Supporting the "consensus" that global warming is a threat poses policy ramifications that are conveniently in line with a left wing agenda, i.e., regulating big business, and reducing dependency on the Middle East thereby affecting foreign policy. On the other hand right wingers support the notion that global warming is still open to debate because they fear the market regulations that would result if the other side triumphed. Imagine if we reversed the policy ramifications for each position. Every right winger would be arguing that global warming is coming to get us, while every leftist would be writing op-eds about how big oil is using scare tactics to sell us on global warming and that we need more evidence.

There is no real consensus, Jim. There are plenty of credible scientists all over the world, in the most elite institutions, who argue that the hysteria over global warming is just panic and bad science. There was an article in the NYT that came out after the Al Gore documentary quoting top scientists who claim that Gore has misrepresented their data. You are not a trained climatologist and thus there is no substance in your claim that there is "reliable scientific consensus." You're taking a position on an issue you know little about because it fits your ideology, and that's fine but at least admit that's what you're doing. I remember some 15 or so years back there was a lot of hysteria and doom's day talk regarding the ozone layer. Today no one even mentions it. What happened to the consensus there?

PS. Everything that I've said above applies to right wingers as well. They too have no legitimate understanding of their position. It's a matter of ideology and interests.

17 October, 2007 20:56  
Anonymous trane said...

Anonymous:

Leaving aside the question of what there is consensus about, I am curious about this statement:

"Supporting the "consensus" that global warming is a threat poses policy ramifications that are conveniently in line with a left wing agenda, i.e., regulating big business, and reducing dependency on the Middle East thereby affecting foreign policy."

The point you make is also often heard (and on either side of the spectrum, you also note a standard 'right wing agenda'.

But there is little argument behind it. If we just stick to the lefty version: If we do not, in fact, have global warming, don't you think there might still be quite many arguments for some form of state intervention for lefties... it's not like there are no problems of inequalities as regards income, access to public goods, exposure to public bads, access to information, and sources of influence.

Another way of saying this: If you were a cool and detached adviser to lefties of the day, would you say "Okay, guys, here's what we do. We cheat people into thinking there's a problem with global warming, which will then have the positive side-effect of opening up for regulation of markets and so on, regardless of what that regulation is about"

That does not sound like a credible strategy to me.

18 October, 2007 04:26  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon,

I m not a climate scientists. But I can read. Here is the punch line forthe Science article I linked to:

"The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

The scientific consensus might, of course, be wrong. If the history of science teaches anything, it is humility, and no one can be faulted for failing to act on what is not known."

The papers the author reviewed are a random sample of work appearing in peer-reviewd journals over the course of a decade. Who am I to believe, this author or you? I appreciate your assuranace that 'there is no real consensus.' But you appear to be wrong.

Now, as to what we might do about all this there will be left and right wing agendas. However, denying it for left or right wing reasons is nuts. That is just what Cockburn is doing. Sorry.

As for being wrong, scientists can acknowledge the possibility. In fact their practices are set up to maximize the chances of being proven so. And the author of this essay acknowledges that a consensus might be wrong. The issue is where you want to place your bets in an uncertain world.

18 October, 2007 08:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim and Trane, let me try to make my point again. I don't believe that people on the right or left are consciously deceiving the public by denying or supporting the "consensus." My point is that most of the politicians, businesses, and academics who are involved in this debate do not have the proper training or scientific background to honestly gauge whether their position is credible or not. Inevitably and understandably, then, the primary factor which sways people one way or the other is the policy ramifications that would manifest from either position. It is not a coincidence that most people to the left support the idea of man-made global warming while most right wingers take the opposing position. If the scientific evidence was truly user-friendly and irrefutable, there wouldn't be a debate but the fact is it's highly problematic. It's difficult, if not impossible, for the laymen to understand the evidence that supports the so-called "consensus" and, contrary to the scientific article that you've posted, Jim, if you do just a little bit of research, you will find that there are thousands of credible scientists all over the world who insist that the evidence is inconclusive and the science is bad. What's more, many of the signatories in support of the IPCC's conclusions are people who are NOT qualified to speak in any authority on the subject of global warming. Jim, you also seem to suggest that anyone who denies the dooms day talk of global warming is a loony or a hack but at least 72 nobel prize winners identify the IPCC's research as psuedo-scientific and full of non-relevant data. Are they loonies or hacks?

BTW, just to make it clear, I take no position on global warming. I am humble enough to say I don't understand the science behind it. Why don't we just allow the relevant scientific community, i.e., meteorologists and climatologists, continue to do their work instead of getting caught up in crazed ideological wars? The IPCC has become the document the left waves in anyone's face the second they suggest more evidence is needed, but I don't think it's rational to support a document on climate that is signed by biologists, chemists, medical researchers, and all sorts of non relevant scientists, and whose science is highly criticized within the scientific community. On the other side I will also reject any proclamations devoid of substance made by right wing think tanks like AEI, for example, who vigorously deny the potential reality of global warming when they clearly do so only to avoid the policy ramifications that would result if the U.S. government takes the opposing stance.

19 October, 2007 09:12  
Anonymous trane said...

Anonymous:

I guess you have a point, and a balanced one too.

First, as you point out,it is very difficult even for scientists within the relevant fields to judge on climate changes. And of course it is much more difficult for lay people (like me).

Second, if your point is that the relative 'cost' of accepting global warming is different from right to left, you may have a point there as well. In your first comment you seemed to be thinking that "global warming is right up the alley of the lefties", which I disputed. But if you phrase it a bit differently, as you do in your second comment i will accept your point.

That said I do think there are some coordinates by which we lay people can navigate in the scientific debate.

First, the staunchest opponents of the IPCC (at least the most verbal of them) have, AS FAR AS I CAN SEE not had their work published in peer reviewed journals. I have tried to read through some more academic right wing blogs on the matter on the assumption that if there was a great many sound and solid arguments against the IPCC they would be found there. Now, I may have selected them badly, but by far the most of what I found amounted to smearing and hearsay.

Of course, this in itself is not an argument for the IPCC being right, and I should definitely check up more scientific sources, What that amounts to for me is to follow the link that Jim notes, to read some scientific work for lay people, and to ask my friend the geo-physicist to explain some of this climate stuff to me. I have heard some scientists strssing that we really know very little (for instance about the speed at which the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melt, and the dynamics involved). But as I hear it, they stress that our lack of knowledge goes both ways. It might not be all bad, and it might be a lot worse than the IPCC scenario.

OK, getting back to your point about relative costs, I will say again that though the potential costs of accepting global warming may be smaller for lefties, they are still very high. I think that if there were no global warming, it would not be easy, but a lot easiER, to pursue an agenda of alleviating various inequalities of income, consumption and so on.

I would appreciate it if you could send a link or a reference to some of the material you refer to. I know it may be difficult and time-consuming, but I would if it is not too difficult for you I would appreciate it.

For my part, I found the following to be a balanced and readable account for the lay person

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8014.html

Best regards,
trane

20 October, 2007 07:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trane, thanks for considering my pov. Here are a few quick sources to get you started:

https://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg15n2j.html
http://eaps.mit.edu/faculty/lindzen/OpEds/LindzenWSJ.pdf
http://cires.colorado.edu/science/groups/pielke/
http://climatesci.colorado.edu/

Also, loads of information on the debate can be found on the wiki page for "global warming controversy."

When I have some time I'll compile a comprehensive list, even just for myself.

Best wishes

20 October, 2007 10:07  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon,

I have traced back the electron trail on a couple of the URLs you offer. The results, I am afraid, are not auspcious. I will put aside the URL to the Cato Institute which is an ideologically driven think tank. I have nothing against libertarians, but Cato is by its own admission very partisan.

It turns out that the Lindzen op-ed is interesting. First, it appears on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal which is well know for it extreme right-ward leanings. (As opposed to the news operation at WSJ which is generally well admired.)

Second, even if we put that aside, this is not a peer reviewed forum. SO it is difficult to take the op-ed as holding any weight re: an essay in Science. This made me wonder why it did not appear in a les suspect venue.

Third, Lindzen talks not so much about the "consensus" issue but about the likely effects of global warming should it exist. Interestingly, he thinks none of the allged effects is really worth worrying about.Fair enough. Even if there is a consensus about some thing X, it may be that nothing follows, or that reasonable people can disagree about what follows. And, of course, the same goes for what we might do about what follows.

Fourth, Linidzen eventurally does invoke one piece of "research" that seems to directly contradict the Science article I linked to. That was disturbing, especially when I went to the author's (Pieser) web page and learned that his correction of the original paper was turned down by the editors at Science. It started to sound like a conspiracy. When I searched a bit more and found that, in fact, Pieser's repllicaiton of the inital paper was flawed. He used different search criteria, modified the initial categories, and so forth. In short, he never really replicated the initial study. Ooooppps! Eventually, I also located an email exchange in which he essentially admits that his replication does not contradict the original paper. Peiser, of course, never acknowledges that on his own web page (for reasons I can only speculate about). IN fact, to my mind, he has no business leaving ghe exchange with the editros at Science up on the net. If his retraction is sincere, he ought to take it down or at least make his actual current views clear. He has done neither. (PS: The only piece of unambiguous evidence Peiser adduces against the consensus view reported in the Science paper is a non-peer-reviewed essay by Petroleum Geologists who are paid by, guess who?.)

So, Lindzen writes an op-ed for the WSJ citing research that never made it into a peer reviewed journal and that whose author acknoweledges is flawed. This is not terriibly persuasive to me. Sorry.

As a final note, none of this requires me or you to be a scientist of any sort. ALl we need to do is read and think.

20 October, 2007 16:32  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: Anon, despite our disagreements I want to thank you for enagaing and for being civil. I really do appreciate it. Jim

20 October, 2007 16:35  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS2: trane, that goes for you too! JJ

20 October, 2007 16:35  
Anonymous trane said...

Anonymous:

Thanks for taking the time to post your references. I have bookmarked them, and will read them.

I have read the Wikipedia article on the "Global Warming Controversy". This article mentions a petition including 72 nobelists - the Heidelberg Appeal of 1992. Here is what the article says:

"The "Heidelberg Appeal" (also from 1992), signed by over 4000 scientists including 72 Nobel Prize winners.[35] This appeal makes no mention of climate change or any other specific environmental issue, but is essentially a plea for policy based on "scientific criteria and not on irrational preconceptions". "

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_controversy

This seems to contradict at least part of the material you cite, but there may still be the lack of consensus you claim, and I will try to look more into it.

Best regards,
trane

23 October, 2007 11:18  

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