A Philosopher's Blog

Don’t Say the C Words

Posted in Business, Environment, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on September 21, 2016

While weather disasters have always plagued humanity, there has been a clear recent uptick in such events. Naturally, the greater scope of these disasters is due partially to the human population being larger than ever and occupying more land—especially in areas prone to such events. That said, events such as the floods in Louisiana and the steady inundation of the sea in many places (such as Miami) are indications of a real change.

Nearly every climate scientist accepts that climate change is occurring and that human activity has had an influence. Given the historic record, it would be irrational to deny that the climate changes and few claim that it does not. The battle, then, is over the cause of climate change. Unfortunately for addressing the impact of climate change, it was brilliantly changed from a scientific issue into a political one. Making it into a partisan issue had the usual impact on group psychology: it became a matter of political identity, with people developing a profound emotional commitment to climate change denial. When denying climate change became a matter of group identity, it became almost impossible for reason to change minds—in the face of overwhelming evidence, people merely double down, deny the evidence, and craft narratives about how scientists are biased and environmentalists hate corporations and jobs.

To be fair, some of those who accept climate change do so out of political identity as well—they are not moved by the science, but by their group identity. They just happen to be right, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Not being an expert on climate change, I follow the rational approach to any issue that requires expertise to settle: I go with the majority view of the qualified experts. As such, I accept that climate change is real and humans play a role. If the majority shifted, I would accept that view—after all, the history of science includes numerous shifts.

If this matter were a purely abstract debate, then there would be no real worry. However, the impact of the changing climate is already doing considerable harm and the evidence suggests that it will continue to get worse unless steps are taken to address it. Unfortunately, as noted above, climate is now a political issue with deeply entrenched interest groups and strong emotional commitments. In some places, such as Florida, there is considerable political pressure to not even use the words “climate change.” The problem is, of course, that not using the words does not make the problems go away. Miami will slowly vanish into the ocean, even if people refuse to say “climate change.”

As a philosopher, I do believe in reason. However, I am also a practical person and know that reason is the weakest form of persuasion. Because of the entrenchment over climate change, trying to use reason and evidence to change minds would be a fool’s errand. As such, I suggest a purely pragmatic solution: stop using the C words (“climate change”) when trying to influence public policy, at least in cases in which there is strong ideological resistance. Using those words will simply evoke an emotional response and create strong resistance to whatever might be proposed, however reasonable.

As an alternative, the approach should be to focus on the specific threats and these should be cast in terms of risks to the economy and, perhaps, the lives and well-being of voters and consumers. There should be no mention of man-made climate change and no proposals to change behavior to counter man-made climate change. In short, the proposals must focus solely on mitigating the damage of weather events, with due care taken to present the notion that these events “just happen” and are “natural” with no connection to human activity.

It might be objected that this would be analogous to trying to combat the Zika virus by dealing only with the effects while refusing to say “virus” and not proposing any efforts to address the cause. This is certainly a reasonable point. However, if there was a powerful political movement that refused to accept the existence of viruses and citizens emotionally devoted to virus denial, then trying to persuade them to deal with the virus would be a nigh-impossible task. If they did accept the existence of the effects, then they could be enlisted to assist in addressing them. While this approach would hardly be optimal, it would be better to have their cooperation in mitigating the consequences rather than facing their opposition.

It might also be objected that I am deluded by my own ideological views and have been misled by the conspiracy of scientists and liberals who are in the pocket of Big Environment. Since I rather enjoy a good conspiracy theory, I certainly admit that it could be the case that the noble fossil fuel companies and those they pay are right about climate change and the scientists are either villains or dupes. If so, then not talking about climate change would be the correct approach—just as not talking about climate demons is the correct approach (because there are no such things). Since the weather events are really occurring, then addressing them would still be reasonable. So, regardless of whether climate change is real or not, my approach seems to be a sound one: avoid the resistance of climate change deniers by not using the C words; but enlist them into addressing those perfectly natural severe weather events that will be occurring with increasing regularity.


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18 Responses

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  1. TJB said, on September 21, 2016 at 8:22 am

    “As such, I accept that climate change is real and humans play a role.”

    Mike, the problem is that most people labeled “deniers” also accept “that climate change is real and humans play a role.”

    There are really only two real issues:

    1) will climate change be catastrophic?

    2) what can or should we do about it?

    As far as I can tell, the evidence is:

    (1) weak that climate change will be catastrophic, and

    (2) the solutions proposed to date are hugely expensive and won’t solve the problem.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

      I only consider actual deniers to be deniers, not non-deniers.

      Criticism of proposed solutions is certainly a rational approach; provided they are based in actual evidence. There are, in fact, many very bad ideas about what to do about climate change.

      Some ideas seem good-for example, coastal cities are looking at how the Dutch have dealt with the ocean for centuries. Perhaps sea walls would be worth the cost in order to save existing infrastructure.

      The archaeological record shows the fall of numerous cities due to weather/climate issues. We are already experiencing water issues and, of course, have the dust bowl as a cautionary tale.

  2. TJB said, on September 21, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Matt Ridley:

    At the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today? In the end, that’s what this is all about. Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

    On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy. For yes, that is what has been repeatedly proposed by respected and senior figures in the climate debate.

    James Hansen, former head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute and the man whose congressional testimony in 1988 kick-started the whole debate, said a few years back, of fossil fuel company executives: ‘In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature’.

    As I am finishing this essay comes news that one of France’s leading television weather forecasters, Philippe Verdier, has published a book arguing that he thinks the problem of climate change is being exaggerated. As a result he was first taken off the air and then unceremoniously sacked. Imagine, for a moment, that he had published a book saying the opposite: that climate change is going to be worse than we think. He would have been feted, rather than fired. This is censorship, and the fact that it is happening less than a year after, and in the same city as, the Charlie Hebdo killings, when the world joined together to say ‘Je suis Charlie’ and insist that free speech must be protected, is astonishing.

    Recently 20 senior climate scientists wrote to President Obama and his attorney general to support a senator’s call that the administration mount a ‘RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change’.

    Remarkably, Dr Roger Pielke Jr, professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, then discovered that the lead signatory of the letter from the 20 scientists, Professor Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University, has been paying himself and his wife $1.5 million a year, via his ‘non-profit’ Institute of Global Environment & Society Inc. of which he is President and CEO. The money came entirely from public grants and was on top of his $250,000 university salary. Two of his daughters were also on the institute’s payroll. Is it any wonder that he very much does not want anybody to conclude that climate change is not a crisis? Is it any wonder he wants sceptics silenced by prosecution? And is it possible that the huge flow of money he receives has incentivised him to (in his own words) ‘knowingly deceive the American people about the risks of climate change’ in the other direction?

    Meanwhile it is now commonplace to hear scientists and commentators express disillusion with democracy as a forum for resolving this issue. One scientist muses that forms of ’good’ authoritarianism ‘may become not only justifiable, but essential for the survival of humanity in anything approaching a civilised form’, while a leading newspaper columnist wrote, of China’s climate policy: ‘one-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages’.

    To me, given that most environmental scares never turn out as bad as first feared, given that climate change has proceeded much more slowly and mildly than expected since 1990, and given that there is now a vast vested industry in alarm, thanks to munificent public funding, this feels like an over-reaction. That is to say, although I am in the ‘possibly’ camp, above, I cannot understand why so many people who should know better – in science academies, in parliaments and in international agencies – tolerate this vicious intolerance of a different position, let alone join in with it. Nor can I understand how so many politicians and scientists have grown more confident, not less, that future global warming will be catastrophically dangerous, even as estimates of climate sensitivity have come down and as real-world warming has consistently underperformed models, with the discrepancy growing larger every year.

    After all, the climate worriers have largely won the policy argument: most of the world’s governments pay lucrative lip service to the need to do something about climate change: subsidizing renewable energy, encouraging low-carbon fuels and taxing high-carbon ones, while preaching at their populations. Dr Shukla and others who worry about climate change receive about $31 billion a year from the US federal government; their sceptical opponents receive almost nothing. Yet the partisans are not satisfied, constantly moaning about how nothing is being done. It is true that emissions are not yet falling, but that’s because nobody has come up with an affordable substitute for fossil fuels – a problem of technology, rather than political will.

    Most disappointing of all is the way that science – especially the leaders of the world’s science academies – have joined in with gusto, not just demonizing those who say they are not convinced we face catastrophe, but turning a blind eye to the distortion and corruption of the scientific process itself. That’s what this essay is about. I am a ‘lukewarmer’: somebody who has come to think that climate change is likely to continue to be slow and mild, and that much greater humanitarian and environmental problems deserve more attention. I meet a lot of people who are skeptical and a lot of people who are alarmed. The latter have all the plum jobs, hefty grants and fat salaries. Yet respect for the scientific method is far more prevalent among the former. I genuinely worry that science itself is being damaged by this episode.


    • ronster12012 said, on September 21, 2016 at 9:14 am


      How much of science is corrupt? A fair bit it would seem. Big business+Big government= Big corruption.

      Excellent article on medical corruption


      Forget about Big tobacco, Big Sugar has probably done more harm


      So exactly what science can we depend on? Lot’s, I am sure. Planes fly, bridges stay up etc etc, but when it comes to dealing with mass consumer markets it seems that anything goes. Climate science falls into this category.

      • TJB said, on September 21, 2016 at 11:57 am


        I will check out the article on medical corruption.

        Overall, I don’t think science is particularly corrupt.

        Regarding the “Big sugar” incident:

        By 1965, the SRF funded “Project 226,” which would have Hegsted and McGandy—supervised by Stare—write a literature review that downplayed sugars’ role in heart disease and shifted blame solely to saturated fat. In return the researchers received a total of $6,500—the 2016 equivalent of $48,900.

        It is very difficult for me to believe that 3 Harvard researchers were “corrupted” by a paltry sum of $6,500. It is far more likely that they really believed fat was the culprit, and the sugar industry was happy to support their work.

        • ronster12012 said, on September 22, 2016 at 9:28 am


          I agree with you that science in general may not be corrupt, particularly in relation to technology and engineering, as things either work or they don’t. End of story…

          However, with medicine, things are much less cut and dried.Treatments work on percentages of populations and to varying degrees.No one designs structures that may or may not work. Added to this, most medicine is paid for by insurance of various sorts and the end users have only limited say in the matter, unlike building machines or buildings or other structures.

          One question that I have wondered about is that given the amount of money spent on research, there doesn’t even seem to be agreement on the optimal human diet. Every few weeks or months there is some research somewhere saying that what was once good is now bad and vice versa.

          As for climate change, we have arbitrary ranges on graphs, often starting at around 1860-1880, to catch the warming associated with the ending of the Little Ice Age(itself associated with a solar minimum in sunspot activity). I just read yesterday that the latest effort is to remove the 1940-1970 30 year cooling trend(which gave rise to fears of an impending Ice Age in the 1970’s). There have been attempts to remove or greatly downplay earlier warming periods as they damage the narrative.


          Honest people don’t do things like that, just like honest people don’t try to hide their data from from FOI requests( Phil Jones UEA CRU and the Climategate email dump of a few years ago) and on and on.

          Anyhow, it is not really about the environment anymore, but about a globalist redistribution of the world’s wealth as is admitted by an IPCC leader.


          So the whole thing is really just another globalist attack on us…….I wonder if George Soros is in there somewhere? Globalists +traitors+ useful idiots= current situation

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 21, 2016 at 8:37 am

    When you say “severe weather events that will be occurring with increasing regularity” you sound like one of those doomsday premillennial Christians who believes the Rapture is about to take place. I suppose the climate change doomsday nonsense feeds into your modern notion that we must abandon the planet because it’s doomed. Perhaps robots will save us? There’s more faith than science involved in your belief in climate change. The old saying is true: People who reject religion always have religious-like faith in something.

    • ronster12012 said, on September 21, 2016 at 9:01 am


      “The old saying is true: People who reject religion always have religious-like faith in something.” Ain’t that the truth. And we see this self righteousness and intolerance especially amongst those who push the latest cause du jour, ie. gay marriage, tranny rights, BLM, multicult, etc, they would gladly throw in jail anyone who disagrees, if they could.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2016 at 9:50 am

      The severe weather event increase claim is based on evidence. I’ve never advocated abandoning earth, just expanding to other planets.

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 23, 2016 at 3:16 pm

        Not enough data available to form such a conclusion. And what data is available is being misinterpreted based upon faulty assumptions. What would be the point of expanding to other planets?

  4. ronster12012 said, on September 21, 2016 at 8:49 am


    ” I go with the majority view of the qualified experts. ” Why is the majority necessarily correct? Given that there are many examples of the majority of experts being wrong there is no special reason that they should be right.
    All sorts of other factors come in to play, not least being careerism. Given that most scientists are pretty smart, they also are aware of which way the wind is blowing, and who wants to sail against the wind?

    I have been following Global Warming/Climate Change/ Global Climate Disruption( a term used by Obama who had realized that CC was becoming stale, unfortunately for him, it didn’t stick) since the early 1990’s and it still seems to be nothing more than propaganda.

    Firstly because it was initially promoted as an unmitigated threat.Of course that is all bullshit, a warmer world has winners and losers. I have never seen any mention of this(as it would dilute the message for the proles). Vast areas of Canada and Siberia would be able to be brought into agricultural production in a warmer world. More CO2 in the atmosphere increases plant growth, a bonus. But no mention of these aspects. So what is the net result of a warmer world?

    Secondly, it has been promoted as if it were the greatest global threat. Again more bullshit. Nuclear war would ruin everyone’s day much more than 2 degrees of warming…WTF are the scientists and politicians thinking?
    A decent asteroid strike would be game over for all of us, and exactly how often is that mentioned? It took amateurs to wake the professional astronomers up to that threat level.
    A Solar mass ejection, such as occured in 1859, the so-called Carrington Event, that burnt out the still rudimentary telegraph system would wreak untold havok in ourcomputer depedant world of today. Millions of lives would be lost, and yet no precautions are taken and the subject is never really discussed.

    So why are these other threats, of much greater importance in any rational assessment ignored? Because no one has figured out how to make money or advance an agenda out of a nuclear war, asteroid impact or SME etc…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 23, 2016 at 9:49 am

      The general grounding for going with the majority of experts is that experts are more likely to be right in their fields than non-experts, so the majority of experts would tend to be right more often than the numerical minority.

      For example, if a group of expert engineers were examining the cause of a rocket launch failure, then the majority opinion of the experts here would probably be right. As you note, the majority is sometimes wrong-but they are more often right than wrong. So, I would go with the majority of engineers since I am not an engineer and could not judge the matter as an expert myself. If I had doubts about the engineers’ expertise, I’d suspend judgment.

      • ronster12012 said, on September 23, 2016 at 10:57 am


        Your response reminded me that yes, experts are expert and groups of experts are also expert, but only in a certain sense. Political considerations creep in as well as other vested interests.

        To use your rocket launch failure example, just how independent are those experts? They all probably know each other, have worked together, are employed by a small group of companies and have numerous ties to each other. Then there is the legal aspect. If they are speaking in an official capacity they will have been briefed by lawyers as to what they can say to limit their employers possible liability…or even to white wash the whole thing…a case of there but for the grace of god go I…

        How long did the enquiry into the space shuttle disaster of 1985? take till the real reason was determined? How much blameshifting went on, all amongst experts? And what does that say about political or legal constraints on experts actually speaking the truth?

        • wtp said, on September 23, 2016 at 12:30 pm

          1986. I was working on that program at the time. Even after the real reason was determined, that being a MANAGEMENT decision to fly the machine outside of its specs, over the objections of the engineers, that disaster is sometimes used in management seminars where the blame is shifted to the engineers. Why? Politics. Not of the Dem/Rep kind but between professional disciplines. Politics that parallel these very discussions between those who work in the real world and understand its innumerable complexities and the limitations of understanding such, and those who think they know better. There was an excellent summary of the problem by Richard Feynman in his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? which I highly recommend. Feynman was extremely careful in drawing the line between what we really know and what we think and to what degree we really know.

  5. david halbstein said, on September 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    I read what seem to be well-researched, scientific articles that make the case that global warming is real, is a threat, is man-made, and I think, “Well, that does seem to make sense.”

    I then read what seem to be well-researched, scientific articles that make the case that global warming is natural, is not a threat, is not man-made, and I think, “Well, that does seem to make sense too.”

    Then I look at what the government is doing about it. Creating artificial markets in carbon that transfer huge amounts of money from one company to another, from one country to another, and skimming bits off the top for campaigns and foundations. Investing taxpayer dollars to forgive large loans for solar companies that have no chance of success without larger markets, that end up failing anyway. Demonizing large oil companies out of one side of their mouths and accepting large campaign contributions and lobby money from the other side. I look at the biggest voice in the issue flying around on a private jet and heating a multiplicity of mansions; I look at international accords that favor the biggest polluters in the world and I think, “Now THAT makes NO sense at all!”

    I work at a university where “Global Warming” is a great hue and cry – yet when I drive through the parking lot I see SUV’s, Ford F-150s, muscle cars, and oh, maybe a hybrid or two, and I think, “This makes no sense”. Why are these faculty, staff and students all driving such gas guzzlers when they are so passionate about “saving the earth”?

    I used to live in New Jersey, a prime location for solar energy AND in an area that was undergoing a tremendous amount of development, yet I saw no solar panels or solar shingles going on to new construction anywhere. I listened to NPR telling me that we are all doomed – I looked into having solar panels put onto my house but the tax rebates were meager and the cost recovery too long, and I thought, “This makes no sense”.

    Then I looked at the “unholy marriage” of the GE CEO, Jeffery Immelt, and the Obama Administration’s council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and I though, “Ahhh … THIS makes some sense!”

    I don’t understand the science – but I do understand the politicization of the issue. I do see very clearly that the government whips us up into a panic and rakes in the money from it, while nothing is really being done.

    Whether man-made global warming is a threat or not, if the government wants to reduce US carbon emissions, that needs to come from incentives, not punishments or secondary markets. If the half of the US population that professes to be so passionate about this issue would just put their money where their mouths are and drive hybrids, car pool, ride bikes or buses to work and invest their own money in green energy, prices would come down and we would be a nation of low carbon emission regardless of whether or not it’s a threat.

    It happened with computers – the first iMac came out right about the same time as the first Prius. Early adopters created markets that got bigger and bigger – and that led to more and more research and innovation and lower prices. No tax breaks were necessary, no loans needed to be forgiven – and now it’s hard to find a household that doesn’t have fewer than two or three computers, including mobile devices. Imagine if the population of the US had that kind of incentive to buy into green energy.

    • ronster12012 said, on September 22, 2016 at 9:35 pm


      As you say, if both sides of the argument appear ‘reasonable’, it pays to watch what insiders actually do and not what they say.

      When an existential threat emerges human nature is pretty constant in its response. Someone takes charge(as society is naturally hierarchical), and starts giving orders ie. you go there and do that, others go there and do this, and if there is any backchat you will be shot. That is how it works in wartime and natural disasters etc.

      Contrast that with the alleged climate change threat…er…let’s make money off this.That would be the same as say in wartime, trading ammunition futures instead of fighting it, or betting with the bookies on the enemy winning a particular battle or outsourcing the whole thing to save a few $$$.

      I had a good laugh a few years ago when it emerged that the mafia in Europe(the actual criminal enterprise, though some say that the EU itself is a mafia) were counterfeiting ‘carbon certificates’…the scammers got scammed. I don’t normally side with the mafia but on this occasion I did.

      • David Halbstein said, on September 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

        In saying that both sides appear “reasonable”, all I’m really saying is that I don’t really understand the science on either side; the charts and graphs and algorithms and data all look very nice but I have never studied this area and the whole thing looks way too complex to me.

        So I completely agree with you – for those who really do believe that this is a threat there is nothing of any substance being done; the solutions range from “Let’s make money off of this” to “This is YOUR fault, not mine!”

        Every once in a while there’s a guy like Ed Begley, Jr., who really puts his money where his mouth is. I admire that.

        As with so many other things, there is a very reasonable, viable “solution” to all of this, but it lies in markets. If people saw a direct, personal benefit to installing solar panels in their homes, those panels would proliferate – funding more research, refining the technology, driving the price down. Unfortunately, statistics seem to indicate that while the hybrid auto market is growing, those who own hybrids tend to drive more, negating any benefit they might offer.

        Of course, I have been told by experts that the free market does not work, that government is the answer to the big questions, so who am I to object?

        As for me, I ride my bike to work whenever I can. I do it because I like to; it saves me a little money on gas and taxes our fragile healthcare system a little less, saving resources for those who really need them (or who choose not to take care of themselves).

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