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Climate Change: Brand or Be Branded

By Jen Alic | Wed, 06 June 2012 22:11 | 14

It is very difficult to understand the climate change denial platform on a purely philosophical and scientific level. Climate change is a rather obvious aspect of the history of the Earth and clearly man interacts with climate in an increasingly dynamic manner. That this is even debated appears on the surface to be not a little ridiculous—somewhere on the level of discussing whether the Earth is round or flat.

It is the semantics of it all, which, when combined with politics and the necessary religio-political elements, muddies the waters. For partisan policy camps, it is probably beneficial that the average reader doesn’t really have a clue what anyone means when they say “climate change”, and throwing “global warming” into the mix only adds to the general confusion.

But here, scientists, climate change activist elite and environmental officials reading this will say that this is simplifying matters and that the real debate is not whether the climate is changing but the scale of that change as a result of our own actions. The debate, on this level, is about numbers, and it is sufficiently vague to render it a convenient instrument of politics. To this climate change elite, both “deniers” and “believers”, there is only one thing to say: You have not brought the debate to the masses in a coherent way.

On both sides of the divide, the public relations campaign has been a complete fiasco, and this is clearly illustrated by asking the average person what they think about climate change or global warming—an answer that invariably depends on the weather at the particular moment the question is asked.

From the media-duping “Climategate scandal” in 2009 to the “Unabomber Believes in Global Warming” campaign that bestowed its intelligence on us this year, we are led to understand only that our elite are not up to the challenge of rational arbitration.  

Those pushing for recognition that climate change is something that should be a major concern, and even a national security threat, have painfully mismanaged their efforts. Politicians do not understand scientists, and scientists clearly have no acumen for talking to the media, whose pull-quote analysis seeks to maximum damage and entertainment.

The way “climate change” has been handled by the “acceptance” camp in terms of public awareness has accomplished nothing other than to brand the idea as something only “hippies” believe in, something “alarmist” and not grounded in reality.

On the other side of the divide, the “deniers” camp has been equally adept at failure, leading to the branding of those who do not “believe” in climate change, or even those who have unanswered questions, as enemies of the Earth, right-wing Conservatives with no respect for the environment and on the payroll of corporations. Both cry conspiracy. Anyone who falls in between these two groups, and invariably this is the larger percentage, is entirely sidelined and branded at will by the other two.

These brandings are terribly unfair to the average citizen. To assume that people who fancy themselves Republicans have no respect for environmentally friendly activities is beyond wide of the mark. Likewise, to assume that those who fancy themselves Democrats are concerned with nothing short of destroying big business to further their naturalistic aims is also far from the truth. The truth is that the average American, across political divides, is genuinely concerned about the environment and would naturally be concerned about the implications of climate change had it not been hijacked by politics.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to watch the drama unfold over the latest campaign fiasco undertaken by the incentivized “deniers”. In late May, the Heartland Institute, the driver of climate change denial whose aim is not educating the masses but supporting insurance companies and big business, launched a billboard campaign featuring Unabomber Ted Kacynzki as a true believer in global warming. The bizarre logic underpinning this campaign was apparently that murderers, tyrants, terrorists and the like are the sort of people who believe in things like global warming (no longer, apparently, the sole purview of hippies).

The result of this hard-hitting campaign was not exactly what the Heartland Institute expected. Even its staunchest supporters recognized that it had crossed the line of no return. The institution split, with a sizable chunk of its members forming a new faction in an effort at damage control. Corporations not wishing to be taken to task for their alignment with Heartland withdrew a total of $825,000 in funding. Republican government supporters threatened to sideline the organization entirely if it failed to remove the offensive billboard campaign directly.

It was not a very cleverly calculated move on Heartland’s part, however amusing the campaign may seem to the cynical (and let’s admit it, it was mildly amusing, but in an unconstructive and unintelligent sort of way). The question topmost on everyone’s mind now is whether Heartland’s bad taste and its reputational dive will translate into any sort of victory for the climate change “believers” camp. If it does, it will be a hollow victory at best and as long as the “believers” insist on what can only be described as inaccessible advocacy and a penchant for delegitimizing anyone who asks questions.

The public’s choice on climate change is based entirely on a lack of information and disinformation. As long as the subject remains hostage to political and corporate whims, we can only expect more along the lines of the Unabomber.

The best thing to happen to climate change recently is the Obama administration’s very public push to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil—an endeavor that can only be achieved through renewable energy efforts. This is effectively reframing the climate change debate in terms that the intellectually vulnerable masses can understand. That said, as far as those masses are concerned, this will only happen if it can be monetized to their satisfaction.

Any climate change debate will necessarily have to be brought to the masses in a way that is translated in the only terms that have any sway: How it will affect their pocketbook in the immediate and near future. Ask anyone on the street. They will tell you they are happy to support any environmental efforts as long as it’s cheaper to do so than not.

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com

Jen Alic is a geopolitical analyst, co-founder of ISA Intel in Sarajevo and Tel Aviv, and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch in Zurich.

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  • Luboš Motl on June 07 2012 said:
    OK, I am a skeptic and I beg to disagree that the laymen's dependence of the climate opinions on the weather is a sign of any fiasco.

    These laymen may be ignorant and probably are ignorant about lots of issues but they are surely right if they consider the weather outside – right now, right here – to be the thing that really matters. It's because it *is* the more important thing that matters here.

    If something kills you or your crops in this year, it's the weather, not the climate. The local current temperature is changing by many degrees, often by dozens of degrees, and is doing so often very quickly. It's the thing that matters. When it comes to locations and regional climate, what matters are the differences between the climates, too. The coldest and warmest places on the globe have annual mean temperatures that differ by nearly 100 degrees Celsius. This matters.

    Whether the global mean temperature changes by 0.6 degrees Celsius in one century or 1.5 degrees Celsius in another century, with any sign, is vastly less important. They very idea that one should be obsessively interested in the global mean temperature and its changes by tenths of a degree Celsius is a demagogic nonsensical pseudoscientific idea spread by the alarmists.

    So if the public realizes that this is not what they should be thinking about or worried about, it just shows that the public hasn't lost its common sense. That's exactly what the skeptics wanted to prevent so this common-sense approach by the public isn't a sign of any fiasco. You may say that it is a sign that the skeptics have won and the public won't get brainwashed by the idea that changes of an irrelevant artificial quantity – the global mean temperature – by tenths of a degree or a degree per century, together with hypothetical links of a part of these changes with the industrial civilization, matters.

    It doesn't matter and the alarmists must get used to the fact that the days of Peak Alarm have passed a few years ago. They weren't able to eliminate this elementary common sense and basic scientific thinking by the public in 2007 when there was a risk they could do so; so they won't be able to do so today.
  • Rob Honeycutt on June 07 2012 said:
    Lubos... You might want to try sticking with string theory because you're clearly incapable of understanding even the most elemental aspects of climate change.
  • Hilary Ostrov on June 07 2012 said:
    I'm not sure what the writer means by "the media-duping “Climategate scandal” in 2009".

    The choice of "end points" [Climategate and Heartland's ill-conceived and shortlived billboard] - along with the use of "denier" - strongly suggests to me that this is a very poorly researched article.

    It skims a surface of convenience - and gives the non-politicized public no credit for being able to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
  • Shelby E Rogers on June 07 2012 said:
    Like it or not, climate change for whatever reasons is here to stay. Fossil energy is not going to go away regardless of any damage to the environment. Greenies who think renewable energy will replace fossil energy in the foreseeable future live in a tree.
  • Verity Jones on June 07 2012 said:
    Well said Hilary!

    However unsavory Heartland's billboard was, it has not suffered in the more recent term and it is not hard to find very recent information correcting the fallacy of its supposed demise: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/06/02/heartland-doubled-the-number-of-individual-donors-since-peter-gleicks-fakegate-scandal/
  • Les Johnson on June 08 2012 said:
    Rob Honeycutt: so, Lubos is smart enough to understand string theory, but not climate science? Interesting ad hom there.

    The writer makes a similar mistake, in underestimating, and insulting, the intelligence of the person in the street. Oddly enough, this strategy of insulting someone usually will not bring them over to your side of the argument. Go figure.

    When the public was told that AGW meant warmer winters, and this was dangerous, many agreed, according to polls. But the polls starting falling, when cold snowy winters came (coincidently with Climategate). The explanation was that this was a feature of AGW as well. Thats when Joe Q. Public started to think "WTF?"

    They were told green energy would be cheaper, create jobs, and save the planet. Power bills are up, and unemployment barely touched. Save the planet, then? "WTF? The first two didn't happen."

    Its a warm March in the US, and we are told this is bad for the planet.

    American: "WTF? This is a joke, right?"
    Eastern European, shoveling several feet of snow to get to his livestock: "WTF? You want MORE of this?"

    The population is told that storms and disasters are up. The data shows no trends in weather disasters. "WTF?"

    So, Jen, you first have to convince the populace that there is indeed a problem. Then that mitigating the problem is cheaper than adapting. This will need to be done with consistent arguments, backed with real data. The public will also need feel they have the money to spare. They will also have to feel confident in the people they give the money to.

    Good luck.
  • Mel Tisdale on June 08 2012 said:
    The tragedy is that the majority of comments so far reflect the public awareness of the problem and that has a lot to do with the way the media, desperate for advertising revenue, have biased their reporting of it.

    Lubos in particular has got it completely back to front. It is the change in climate that drives the weather. There is a good boxing analogy: climate is the trainer, but weather throws the punches. Thus weather is a manifestation of the climate. The west coast of the British Isles does not suffer droughts (yet) because the climate precludes it, but it is the wet weather that people notice.

    What is really strange is that so many people in what you would see as responsible positions, such as senators and congressmen, are prepared to deny science that has been established for over a century.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with the case for action on the issue is the inclusion of the 'A' in 'AGW'. It really doesn't matter that the warming so far experienced is the result of human (anthropogenic) activity. I like to compare it to the captain of a ship with an iceberg dead ahead. He or she is unlikely to refuse to take avoiding action because the iceberg is not man-made. What really matters is that we do our best not to make matters worse and the best way to do that is to cut our greenhouse gas emmissions.

    In some ways we are lucky that the warming is human in origin, because we can do something about it. If it really were due to the sun, as some would have us believe (the sun is actually showing a slight cooling trend), then we really would have a problem. The rate of temperature increase is dramatic from a geological perspective and we really would by now have had to have taken the most draconian of measures and probably to no avail.

    If it were not for positive feedbacks, we could happily go on with a business as usual approach until even the Heartland Instute agreed on the need for action. (By then, though, the next ice age will probably have come and gone.) It would be nice to be able to leave action until the public could see just how bad it is going to be, yet still not having crossed any tipping points.

    Unfortunately, positive feedbacks and their tipping points are a reality and many scientists are of the view that we don't have long before they overwhelm any efforts we might take to counter them. One has only to look at Siberian houses built on permafrost that have stood for ages yet are now collapsing as the permafrost melts and takes their foundations with it. When permafrost melts it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, which causes more warming and thus more permafrost melting and so on.

    We all need to bear in mind that Old Mother Nature's laws are immutable. Pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the temperature will rise and, incidently, the oceans will become more acidic.

    Considering that we get half of our oxyen from the oceans, making them more acidic is not a very wise thing to do. At least with global warming we can see its manifestations in the changes in the weather we experience. Only scuba divers get to see the manifestations of ocean acidification. Best not go there though, I don't want to be alarmist, do I?
  • FMSlay on June 09 2012 said:
    I am just stunned at the authors lack of understanding of the skeptics position. While there is a broad range of skeptical positions, every SINGLE skeptic believes that the climate is changing -- always has and always will. The author must have gone to great lengths to avoid learning anything about what skeptics really think.

    It's an impressive accomplishment, actually.
  • Mel Tisdale on June 09 2012 said:
    FMSlay is absolutely correct when he or she says that the climate always has changed and always will. If that were the end of the story, that would be it. We might as well put our collective heads between our knees and kiss our backsides good-bye.

    The climate only changes because something forces it to change. For the most part it is orbital variations or perhaps major volcanic erruptions, neither of which are responsible for the current warming.

    We know what is causing the current warming and, more importantly, we know how to stop it. The only problem is that the fossil fuel industry is at the heart of it, both as the cause and the cure. That means it is going to have to take a hit.

    If politicians and scientists did not need funding for their political campaigns and research, then perhaps it would be easy to make the changes necessary. Unfortunately, such is the way things are, it is proving almost impossible.

    I recommend going to skepticalscience.com and looking at the evidence there of some of the shenanigans that these politicians and scientists get up to (and that of a certain British peer) and you will see just how difficult it is going to be to effect the changes necessary.

    Fortunately, we live in an age of YouTube etc. and the misdeeds of these individuals are going to be writ large for eons to come. If, due to its timing, the inevitable public backlash when it sees through the lies and deceit does not impinge on them directly, it sure as hell will on their descendants.
  • Les Johnson on June 09 2012 said:
    skepticalscience.com? Thats a misnomer if there ever was one.

    Quick test on openness and balanced coverage: go to the AGW sites, and look for the skeptic sites that they link to. Zero, right?

    Now go the lukewarmers and the outright skeptics, and see if SKS or RC are in the linked sites. Mostly they are.

    And yes, the internet never forgets, so the proponents of CAGW will forever be linked, probably, with names like Lysenko, or groups like that who opposed Wegener.
  • Eddie Devere on June 09 2012 said:
    When it comes to the topic of global warming, I think that it's important to stick to the facts as much as possible.
    Carbon dioxide is clearly a green house gas, and humans are clearly the cause of the increase in CO2 levels over the last few centuries. The question then is: what is your philosophy of life?
    If you think that the goal of life is to grow life, the question is: what is the impact of higher CO2 concentrations on the development of life?
    If you think that the goal of life is to grow human life, the question is: what is the impact of higher CO2 concentrations on the development of the human economy?
    If you think that the goal of life is for humans to be happy, the question is: what is the impact of higher CO2 concentrations on human happiness?
    If you think that the goal of life is to prepare your soul for the next life, the question is: what is the impact of higher CO2 concentrations on developing your soul?
    If you think that the goal of life is to reach a state of nirvana, the question is: what is the impact of high CO2 concentrations on the your ability to reach a state of nirvana?

    Anyways, you can see where I'm going with this line of reasoning. Until there are sufficient people who are negatively impacted by global warming, I don't suspect that global warming will become a politically hot topic. Most people are smart, and only support legislation that they think will benefit them more than it will harm them.

    My opinion is that there needs to be a lot more (unbiased) research into the economic and environmental impact of climate change as well as (unbiased) research into the economic and environmental impact of any proposed legislation. At the moment, we don't even have validated climate models. Validating a climate model should be the first step before we even discuss legislation. It would be nice to see a model make a prediction 20 years in advance and to actually be reasonably close to the actual average temperatures. So far, the multiple IPCC reports have presented models that consistently over-estimated global average temperatures changes. While temperatures will most likely increase with increased CO2 concentration, it would be nice if we actually knew how much the temperature will change (to within 30%) for a given change in CO2 concentration.

    In my opinion, in the long run, the facts will win out against the hype and hysteria. Most people vote with their pocketbooks, and that's why our democracy, while inefficient in the short-run, functions well in the long-run.
  • Dave Springer on June 10 2012 said:
    Rob Honeycutt on June 07 2012 said:

    " Lubos... You might want to try sticking with string theory because you're clearly incapable of understanding even the most elemental aspects of climate change."

    You might want to consider the many parallels between string theory and anthropogenic climate change.

    Both are hypothecal, cannot be tested, so complicated no one really understands it, and regardless of whether it is true is not it doesn't make any practical difference because there's nothing we can do to change it.

    Thanks for playing.
  • David Springer on June 10 2012 said:
    Mel Tisdale on June 09 2012 said:

    "The climate only changes because something forces it to change. For the most part it is orbital variations or perhaps major volcanic erruptions, neither of which are responsible for the current warming."

    The climate has cyclical variations due to pipeline delays like time it takes the oceanic conveyor belt to convey warm tropical water to the pole and chilled water back to the tropics. Thus when major climatic change happens like oh say an interglacial period beginning or ending the system rings like a bell with variations around new equilibrium points. We have not been observing the climate long enough to nor do we have sufficient understanding to identify cycles that have periods of (at least) decades to millenia.

    The sun has cycles we understand even less. It appears a cyclical peak named "The Modern Maximum" has come to end and with it changes of unknown magnitude and duration are happening to the solar magnetic field which in turn throttles the high energy particles impacting the top of the atmosphere which (experimental and observational evidence suggests) throttles the kind and composition and number of clouds which in turn throttle how much solar energy reaches the surface of the planet to warm it.

    Pride goeth before the fall. Prideful CAGW boffins who have deluded themselves into believing they have enough of the puzzle solved to predict future temperature trends and causes are falling. Timber!
  • Allen Simmons on June 16 2012 said:
    Humans will argue ad infinitum about how important we think we are. The remnants of Japan's coast are now washing up on the west coast of the US. Nature does its thing and does it well. Yet we think we can have an influnce on nature. How arrogant. There will be more ice ages, and the continents will join one another as they slide aroung the globe, species will die, etcetera, etcetera. And here we puny folk are arguing over global warming, renamed climate change, renamed whatever for a few degrees of this and that. So what. Read "The Resilient Earth" and get a feel of the force of nature.

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