A Philosopher's Blog

Talking Points & Climate Change

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic, Science by Michael LaBossiere on May 14, 2014
English: Animated global map of monthly long t...

English: Animated global map of monthly long term mean surface air temperature (Mollweide projection). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While science and philosophy are supposed to be about determining the nature of reality, politics is often aimed at creating perceptions that are alleged to be reality. This is why it is generally wiser to accept claims supported by science and reason over claims “supported” by ideology and interest.


The matter of climate change is a matter of both science (since the climate is an objective feature of reality) and politics (since perception of reality can be shaped by rhetoric and ideology). Ideally, the facts of climate change would be left to science and sorting out how to address it via policy would fall, in part, to the politicians. Unfortunately, politicians and other non-scientists have taken it on themselves to make claims about the science, usually in the form of unsupported talking points.


On the conservative side, there has been a general shifting in the talking points. Originally, there was one main talking point: there is no climate change and the scientists are wrong. This point was often supported by alleging that the scientists were motivated by ideology to lie about the climate. In contrast, those whose profits could be impacted if climate change was real were taken as objective sources.


In the face of mounting evidence and shifting public opinion, this talking point became the claim that while climate change is occurring, it is not caused by humans. This then shifted to the claim that climate change is caused by humans, but there is nothing we can (or should) do now.


In response to the latest study, certain Republicans have embraced three talking points. These points do seem to concede that climate change is occurring and that humans are responsible. These points do have a foundation that can be regarded as rational and each will be considered in turn.


One talking point is that the scientists are exaggerating the impact of climate change and that it will not be as bad as they claim. This does rest on a reasonable concern about any prediction: how accurate is the prediction? In the case of a scientific prediction based on data and models, the reasonable inquiry would focus on the accuracy of the data and how well the models serve as models of the actual world. To use an analogy, the reliability of predictions about the impact of a crash on a vehicle based on a computer model would hinge on the accuracy of the data and the model and both could be reasonable points of inquiry.


Since the climate scientists have the data and models used to make the predications, to properly dispute the predictions would require showing problems with either the data or the models (or both). Simply saying they are wrong would not suffice—what is needed is clear evidence that the data or models (or both) are defective in ways that would show the predictions are excessive in terms of the predicted impact.


One indirect way to do this would be to find clear evidence that the scientists are intentionally exaggerating. However, if the scientists are exaggerating, then this would be provable by examining the data and plugging it into an accurate model. That is, the scientific method should be able to be employed to show the scientists are wrong.


In some cases people attempt to argue that the scientists are exaggerating because of some nefarious motivation—a liberal agenda, a hatred of oil companies, a desire for fame or some other wickedness. However, even if it could be shown that the scientists have a nefarious motivation, it does not follow that the predictions are wrong. After all, to dismiss a claim because of an alleged defect in the person making the claim is a fallacy. Being suspicious because of a possible nefarious motive can be reasonable, though. So, for example, the fact that the fossil fuel companies have a great deal at stake here does not prove that their claims about climate change are wrong. But the fact that they have considerable incentive to deny certain claims does provide grounds for suspicion regarding their objectivity (and hence credibility).  Naturally, if one is willing to suspect that there is a global conspiracy of scientists, then one should surely be willing to consider that fossil fuel companies and their fellows might be influenced by their financial interests.


One could, of course, hold that the scientists are exaggerating for noble reasons—that is, they are claiming it is worse than it will be in order to get people to take action. To use an analogy, parents sometimes exaggerate the possible harms of something to try to persuade their children not to try it. While this is nicer than ascribing nefarious motives to scientists, it is still not evidence against their claims. Also, even if the scientists are exaggerating, there is still the question about how bad things really would be—they might still be quite bad.


Naturally, if an objective and properly conducted study can be presented that shows the predictions are in error, then that is the study that I would accept. However, I am still waiting for such a study.


The second talking point is that the laws being proposed will not solve the problems. Interestingly, this certainly seems to concede that climate change will cause problems. This point does have a reasonable foundation in that it would be unreasonable to pass laws aimed at climate change that are ineffective in addressing the problems.


While crafting the laws is a matter of politics, sorting out whether such proposals would be effective does seem to fall in the domain of science. For example, if a law proposes to cut carbon emissions, there is a legitimate question as to whether or not that would have a meaningful impact on the problem of climate change. Showing this would require having data, models and so on—merely saying that the laws will not work is obviously not enough.


Now, if the laws will not work, then the people who confidently make that claim should be equally confident in providing evidence for their claim. It seems reasonable to expect that such evidence be provided and that it be suitable in nature (that is, based in properly gathered data, examined by impartial scientists and so on).


The third talking point is that the proposals to address climate change will wreck the American economy. As with the other points, this does have a rational basis—after all, it is sensible to consider the impact on the economy.


One way to approach this is on utilitarian grounds: that we can accept X environmental harms (such as coastal flooding) in return for Y (jobs and profits generated by fossil fuels). Assuming that one is a utilitarian of the proper sort and that one accepts this value calculation, then one can accept that enduring such harms could be worth the advantages. However, it is well worth noting that as usual, the costs will seem to fall heavily on those who are not profiting. For example, the flooding of Miami and New York will not have a huge impact on fossil fuel company profits (although they will lose some customers).


Making the decisions about this should involve openly considering the nature of the costs and benefits as well as who will be hurt and who will benefit. Vague claims about damaging the economy do not allow us to make a proper moral and practical assessment of whether the approach will be correct or not. It might turn out that staying the course is the better option—but this needs to be determined with an open and honest assessment. However, there is a long history of this not occurring—so I am not optimistic about this occurring.


It is also worth considering that addressing climate change could be good for the economy. After all, preparing coastal towns and cities for the (allegedly) rising waters could be a huge and profitable industry creating many jobs. Developing alternative energy sources could also be profitable as could developing new crops able to handle the new conditions. There could be a whole new economy created, perhaps one that might rival more traditional economic sectors and newer ones, such as the internet economy. If companies with well-funded armies of lobbyists got into the climate change countering business, I suspect that a different tune would be playing.


To close, the three talking points do raise questions that need to be answered:


  • Is climate change going to be as bad as it is claimed?
  • What laws (if any) could effectively and properly address climate change?
  • What would be the cost of addressing climate change and who would bear the cost?



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20 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on May 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Robert Samuelson: We have no Solution to Climate Change

    Right or wrong, the public already believes in global warming. A 2013 Pew poll found that 67 percent of Americans see “solid evidence” that the earth is warming. Though that’s down from 77 percent in 2006, the margin is still large. Democrats are stronger believers than Republicans but mainly because tea party support is low.

    It’s useful for environmental groups to have global warming “deniers” (and, of course, behind them the sinister oil companies) as foils. The subliminal message is that once the views of these Neanderthals are swept away, we can adopt sensible policies to “do something” about global warming.

    The reality is otherwise. The central truth for public policy is: We have no solution.

    From 2010 to 2040, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects global emissions will increase almost 50 percent. About 80 percent of global energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), which are also the major sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. At present, we have no practical replacement for this energy. No sane government will sacrifice its economy today — by dramatically curtailing fossil fuel use — for the uncertain benefits of less global warming sometime in the foggy future. (The focus of the U.S. global warming report on the present seems aimed at bridging this gap.)

    Worse, almost all the projected increases in global emissions come from poorer countries, half from China alone. By contrast, U.S. emissions (and those of most rich nations) are projected to stay stable over the three decades. Economic growth is slowing; energy efficiency is increasing; and, in Japan and some European countries, populations are declining. Because poor countries understandably won’t abandon their efforts to relieve poverty, any further U.S. emissions cuts would probably be offset by gains in China and elsewhere. This dims their political and environmental appeal.

    The only real hope of disarming these conflicts is new technology. As yet, no magical fix has emerged. Though increasing, solar and wind power still represent a tiny share of global energy. “Carbon capture and storage” — pumping CO2 emissions from power plants underground — has been discussed for years. So far, it’s not commercially viable.

    Amid the rhetoric, there’s enormous uncertainty about how much warming will occur, what changes (for good or ill) it will bring, and how easily (or not) we can adapt. My own oft-stated preference is for policies that might dampen global warming but would also address other problems. The most obvious idea is a carbon tax to help finance government and stimulate energy-saving technologies and new forms of non-carbon energy. If these technologies went global, the gap between rich and poor countries would narrow.

    I do not claim this would be popular or that the desired technologies would materialize. But it’s our best bet and would have the added virtue of being honest.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Well, we have no solution that will be implemented-at least not yet. Even if climate change is as bad as claimed, we’ll survive-albeit under different conditions. Coastal cities will need to be fortified, modified or abandoned. Agricultural areas will need to be shifted and so on. This could be tremendously expensive-but the true cost will mainly fall upon those whose influence is weak. Plus, it will create a lot of jobs.

  2. apollonian said, on May 14, 2014 at 9:48 am

    “Climate-Change”: Proven Lies, Pure And Simple

    Mike: once again, and as always, problem w. this essay of urs, on “climate-change,” is QUESTION-BEGGING. What’s “climate-change,” anyway?–climate is always changing, isn’t it? Ho ho ho ho ho. So there’s problem of basic definitions–which u cannot overcome.

    And what we do KNOW is the people pushing this “climate-change,” formerly called “global warming,” like Al Gore, are A BUNCH OF LYING POWER-GRABBERS AND MONOPOLISTS–criminals who should be in jail if not dead (as they’re traitors using “climate-change” lies to overthrow Constitution, law, and rights of the people)–it’s not mere matter of “profits”–though that also is legitimate concern, including the livelihoods of all people.

    So u see, we all know ALREADY is it’s all a bunch of LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES–this, for the purpose of dictatorship and AGENDA-21 genocide. See http://www.weatheraction.com/

    And so we find u’re in position of DESPERATELY defending these liars, criminals, and traitors by continuing to pretend there MIGHT, conceivably, be some justification for their lies–u now calling them “noble lies,” which includes ur own “noble” efforts to defend them, ho ho ho ho ho.

    Mike, don’t u think it’s notable that u urself know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING whatsoever about any idiotic “climate-change,” and that u’re not capable of pt-ing to ANY evidence whatsoever?–NONE, zilch, nada. The ONLY thing u have is appeal-to-authority fallacy, and u can’t even face-up to this simple fact, u supposedly a teacher, no less, of logic and logical fallacies.

    Of course, there’s another word to be used, regarding ur being fooled, and it has to do w. someone who’s absurdly credulous. Further, u allow urself to be taken-in by KNOWN liars and frauds. Surely u’re not an outright criminal liar and fraud urself–BUT how is it u, a Ph.d, fail to observe the simple fallacies u defend?

    And all this idiocy and stupidity is justified for u–why?–how?–because, as u put it, it MIGHT be true, ho ho ho ho ho ho ho

    Mike, all ur activity and so-called “arguments” for this moronic “climate-change” balderdash is precisely how one should NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT be thinking and arguing. In fact, it’s grounds for u having ur Ph.d revoked. U should be ashamed of urself.

    After all, u should be at forefront of warning the people and students against these frauds and criminals–BUT, it’s not politically-correct, is it?–and u’d be miserably persecuted if u were to do this, wouldn’t u? And here we find the most horrific truth–u’re gross, abject SLAVE of the political-correct party-line, aren’t u?–and u find urself incapable of admitting to this horrific truth.

  3. WTP said, on May 14, 2014 at 9:59 am

    What would be the cost of addressing climate change and who would bear the cost?

    No. You are completely politicizing the question. Which is, for the umpteenth time, a tell on you sophistry. Who bears the cost is irrelevant to addressing the problem. The proper question is:

    What are the costs of addressing climate change and are those costs more or less than the realistic impact of climate change? And this is only relevant in the context of Is climate change going to be as bad as it is claimed?

  4. T. J. Babson said, on May 14, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Mike, what about the talking points on the liberal side?

    For example, what about: “the entire North Polar ice cap will be gone in five years” as Al Gore told us in 2007?

    • WTP said, on May 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Or consider the general dishonesty of the numbers they publish when seeking out proof of an overwhelming “consensus”:

      Either through idiocy, ignorance, or both, global warming alarmists and the liberal media have been reporting that the Cook study shows a 97 percent consensus that humans are causing a global warming crisis. However, that was clearly not the question surveyed.

      Investigative journalists at Popular Technology looked into precisely which papers were classified within Cook’s asserted 97 percent. The investigative journalists found Cook and his colleagues strikingly classified papers by such prominent, vigorous skeptics as Willie Soon, Craig Idso, Nicola Scafetta, Nir Shaviv, Nils-Axel Morner and Alan Carlin as supporting the 97-percent consensus.

      Cook and his colleagues, for example, classified a peer-reviewed paper by scientist Craig Idso as explicitly supporting the ‘consensus’ position on global warming “without minimizing” the asserted severity of global warming. When Popular Technology asked Idso whether this was an accurate characterization of his paper, Idso responded, “That is not an accurate representation of my paper. The papers examined how the rise in atmospheric CO2 could be inducing a phase advance in the spring portion of the atmosphere’s seasonal CO2 cycle. Other literature had previously claimed a measured advance was due to rising temperatures, but we showed that it was quite likely the rise in atmospheric CO2 itself was responsible for the lion’s share of the change. It would be incorrect to claim that our paper was an endorsement of CO2-induced global warming.”


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      That claim turned out to be wrong.

      I think the liberal talking points tend to be these:
      1. Climate change is real and it will be bad.
      2. Laws can address climate change.
      3. Climate change can be addressed without wrecking the economy.
      4. Polar bears are cute. Save them. Why won’t you save them?

      • WTP said, on May 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm

        Polar bears are cute. Save them. Why won’t you save them?

        Ask Timothy Treadwell. Grizzly/Polar, essentially the same bear different coat and ecosystem. And Polar bears have black skin.

  5. apollonian said, on May 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

    This blog is another huge beat-down on Mike–just like his blog on Cliven Bundy and the Jew, Sterling, real name, Donald Tokowitz, supposed politically-incorrect “racists,” ho ho ho.

    Gotta give Mike credit for laying himself open for such beat-down.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    You’d be surprised how much ideology and interest passes for science and reason.

    So the politically correct term is no longer “global warming” but “climate change”?

    If anything, we’re headed toward another Ice Age. As scientists during the 1970’s said we were.

    Global Warming: A Chilling Perspective – http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/ice_ages.html

    New Ice Age Coming? – http://youtu.be/wzpC-d65sC4

    • apollonian said, on May 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Mike is either masochist or joking, ho ho ho ho

  7. T. J. Babson said, on May 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Turns out I am a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Look what came in today’s email. WTP, comments?

    Dear Colleague:

    Based on the evidence, about 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a large fraction of this country’s population and policymakers can’t seem to accept the fact that the climate is changing. It’s time to shift the debate from whether human-caused climate change is happening to what we can do about it.

    We need to make it clear that scientists believe that doing nothing now is extremely dangerous and could result in abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on future generations. And we need your help.

    As you may know, AAAS recently launched a new initiative to expand the dialogue on the risks associated with climate change. At the heart of the initiative is the “What We Know” report, an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.

    But to have the greatest impact, we must do more than issue a report. We must continue to get the word out about the urgency of this issue. Will you join us?

    As members of the science community, we need to change the conversation from whether the earth is warming to just how we are going to work together to alter the course our planet is on. We have to reach out to the American people, to policymakers, and even to other countries about what science is showing about the dangers of climate change and the severe outcomes that could occur through inaction or continued resistance to change.

    We must prepare for the future. And, as the world’s largest multi-disciplinary science association, AAAS is uniquely positioned to mobilize the science community to lead this charge. Your gift will help us play a pivotal role in shifting the debate.

    This will be an ongoing, intensive effort in the weeks, months, and even years ahead. I hope you will lend your support and make a gift today.

    Alan I. Leshner Signature
    Alan I. Leshner
    Chief Executive Officer and
    Executive Publisher, Science

    • WTP said, on May 14, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      97%. What a surprise. Not quite as good as the numbers that Kim Jong-un gets, however. I’d be looking for an organization with more diversity of thought if I were you. Somewhere this side of Putin, perhaps.

      Amazing how they’ve walked back the rhetoric from “global warming” to “climate change” without batting an eye and never being held accountable by media or academia. Again I refer you to Orwell on language. But given how Orwell has been reimagined by certain MSNBC personalities, what’s the use?

      And furthermore, we need Magus back in this space.

      • TJB said, on May 14, 2014 at 11:11 pm

        Mike needs to draw a line in the sand.

        • WTP said, on May 15, 2014 at 9:02 am

          As was noted on the Neil DeGrasse Tyson post, philosophers are good at talking about things. About how important some things are. About what is right and what is wrong. The latter based mostly on waiting to see the results of someone else’s efforts and then passing judgement as if they knew all along what the right thing to do was. But when it comes to putting action to their words, they freeze up. When you think about it, this is the very thing that makes them philosophers. What they fail to understand is that all of us (well, most of us anyway) who build things, sell things, make things, provide services, run banks, install sewer lines, etc. practice one form of philosophy or another. We think about how the job should be done and then we do it. What makes the rest of the world different from philosophers is that the philosophers stop at the thinking part. They think their job is all done then and the details are for the little people.

          Thus Mike and the like can pride themselves on their ideas and thinkology and ethics and such. But when it comes time to take some action…well, they can just think up a whole bunch of reasons not to take any action. Even drawing a line is too much to ask.

          • WTP said, on May 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

            And just to be “clear”…They will talk about the line, they will say (in the abstract) that lines should exist and that such probably shouldn’t be crossed except possibly by some people at some time. They will point out that certain bad things happened because someone failed at drawing the line, let the wrong people abuse the line, or perhaps that the line was not properly implemented. It was either too curvy or too straight. But by Zeus there should have been one, as can plainly be seen at this juncture.

  8. Glen Wallace said, on May 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I tend to think that in the climate change issue and a host of other controversial topics involving science, it is the scientists attempting to support the dominant paradigm that don’t know enough about the philosophy of science and epistemology to make the claims that they do. It seems that, at least given what is presented to the public to support believing in climate change, a laundry list of critical thinking errors are often committed:

    1. A heavy reliance on confirmations. Climate change scientists should know that confirmations are a poor way to support a theory, but it seems like that is mostly what I hear on the news about whether it be temperature changes or severe weather occurrences that are presented as evidence that climate change is already happening. What the scientists are supposed to be doing is looking for evidence that climate change is not happening such as thickening of polar ice sheets (I have read claims to that effect that while in some sections of Antarctica the ice is thinning, in other sections it is thickening) or that global temperatures are cooling (Here in our parts of North America things have been rather coolish to the point where I’m starting to wonder if we are entering another ice age) There has been no clear point at which the scientific community has stated would constitute the climate change theory falsified or refuted. It seems like it would require decades of climate recording starting now before any declaration of either the theory has been refuted or well corroborated. But still we are presented with a theory about the climate that is classified as being so well corroborated that anyone that does not accept it is considered in denial. That in itself implies another critical thinking error of confusing empirical facts where the term ‘denial’ would be appropriate for anyone not accepting with a theory, especially one as complicated as global warming, or I mean climate change — a terminology change which implies even more complication, where calling someone in a denier is completely inappropriate.

    2. A heavy reliance on the argument from authority. I keep hearing and reading how such a high percentage of scientists support the climate change theory, there all us non scientist lay people should stop even discussing whether it exists or not and start taking measures to try and stop it. Whether he intended to or not, Thomas Kuhn, in his book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ demonstrated the powerful influence of politics within the scientific community as having a big impact on the directions of the publicly stated beliefs of members of that community. Some members of that community may have beliefs that vary significantly from the mob mentality of the scientific community, but they dare not even whisper those beliefs at the risk of jeopardizing their academic careers that they have invested so much of their lives in building. Right now, the climate change theory is the dominant paradigm within the climate science community — I’m not in ‘denial’ about that. These scientists know they better buck up and be good little soldiers by not questioning the powers that be within and without of their scientific community that determine who has a career in their chosen career and who is out on the streets to fend for themselves.

    3. Ad hominem attacks on the ‘deniers.’ All those deniers are painted as having false beliefs because of a variety of reasons: they are right wing nut jobs, they must be getting paid by the oil industry, they are trolls. I think there is no better supporter of a position or politician than the most radical of opponents to that position or politician. While it would be a euphemism for me to state that I am not a big fan of either the Koch brothers or Dick Cheney, if they stated they doubted climate change, that would not sway me in the slightest in assessing the veracity of the theory — but I think that it heavily sways the thinking of the public in turning them more towards believing climate change is true because those they dislike the most believe it is false. Many if not most members of the general public easily confuse psychological power with epistemological power.

    Even if climate change is accepted as true, the public policy response is often not very rational. There seems to be an assumption that a given reduction in carbon output on US soil will result in a reduction in global carbon output equal to the reduction in the US. For instance, if one coal fired power plant is prevented from being built in the US, it is assumed that we have saved the atmosphere from all the carbon that would have been put their had the plant been built. What isn’t considered is that the net reduction in energy production, the supply, will be reduced in the US while demand remains the same will result in rising the cost of energy. The higher cost of energy may incentivise the offshoring of energy intensive manufacturing plants in the US to such places as China where they are keeping the cost of energy low by building coal fired power plants in a very prolific manner. That offshoring results in a triple whammy for the earth insofar as the Chinese plants likely don’t have the environmental regulations like they do here in the US and may end up just dumping a lot of their toxic waste out the back door of the factories there, only to seep into the soil. The power plants in China, in addition to producing all the same carbon as in the US, likely don’t have the same scrubbers as US coal electric plants are required to have that filter out a lot of the pollutants from being spewed into the air. And finally, when it comes time to ship the products back to the US to fill up retail shelves and online orders, something is done that never would have been necessary had the production stayed in the US — the products are piled into huge ocean freighters that are powered by enormous diesel engines equivalent to 14 locomotive engines all running at once, that spew out exhaust filled with not only carbon but a host of other pollutants as the freighters slowly lumbar along back to US ports.

    • WTP said, on May 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      There has been no clear point at which the scientific community has stated would constitute the climate change theory falsified or refuted. It seems like it would require decades of climate recording starting now before any declaration of either the theory has been refuted or well corroborated. But still we are presented with a theory about the climate that is classified as being so well corroborated that anyone that does not accept it is considered in denial.

      Exactly. There is no explicit falsifiable position offered. And given that the models, the closest thing to a falsifiable prediction, have been shown to be very unreliable the position is even more suspect. Compounding that with the paranoia in some quarters of AGW suppressing new information that might improve the models, the situation for the AGW camp in this regard is not likely to change.

      As to your observation in regard to what could happen if you shut down one US coal plant, the journalists and weaker scientists never seem to think that far ahead. Subconsciously they are afraid to take things that far. It’s like they’ve already reached/made their point and thus see no need to consider the un intended consequences that go with such broad economic decisions.

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