Chapter Five Excerpt: How Climate Rhetoric Trumps Climate Reality

From Hell and High Water (paperback now at Amazon):

Frank Luntz, conservative strategist

The scientific debate is closing (against us) but not yet closed.
–Frank Luntz, conservative strategist, 2002

Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).
–David Brooks, New York Times columnist, 2005

The global- warming problem is no longer primarily a scientific matter. Science has told us what we need to know about how life on this planet will be ruined if we stay on our current greenhouse gas emissions path. Global warming is also not a technological problem. We have the technologies to avoid the disasters that await us if we keep doing nothing.

Today, global warming is a problem of politics and political will. We lack the will to take the necessary actions–and many of the actions we are poised to take are either inadequate or ill conceived. The great political tragedy of our time is that conservative leaders in America have chosen to use their superior messaging and political skills to thwart serious action on global warming, thereby increasing the chances that catastrophic climate change will become a reality.

Global warming should not be a partisan issue–not when the health, well- being, and security of the next fifty generations of Americans are at stake. But it has become partisan, at least in this country. In order to determine how to create the politics of action in the next decade, we must understand what the politics of inaction has caused in the past decade. That’s what this chapter is about.

17 Responses to Chapter Five Excerpt: How Climate Rhetoric Trumps Climate Reality

  1. Paul K says:

    Language is important in political debate. Unfortunately, the deniers and delayers have lots of ammunition. An Inconvenient Truth is riddled with well documented errors. IPCC reports are a very difficult read for most. There is as yet no definitive understanding of climate sensitivity, forcings and feedbacks, only a range of estimates. People respond poorly to what they perceive as scare tactics and exaggeration. On the denier side, misinformation and misinterpretation abounds. Even though it is no doubt scientifically meaningless, it is hard rhetorically to get around the fact that 1998 remains the warmest year and variations since 2001 are statistically insignificant. So the challenge to action is great. If the language you are using is not effective in carrying your message, perhaps it is your language that needs changing.

  2. Trolboy says:

    “The scientific debate is closing (against us) but not yet closed.” -If so, then it has since reopened. You should be concerned with the numerous scientists complaining of persecution of their opposing views.

    “Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).” -As far as I know most “sceptics” accept that there has been warming. But how much?

    The uncertainty in the science should give you pause. And what about the mistakes? I’d be a lot more impressed with the IPCC if it could apologize for the Mann Hockey Stick.

    Let’s see, 1998 was the warmest year in so many centuries, oops, make that since the 1930’s.

    Have you gents read the scientific opposition?

  3. Paul K says:

    The points you raise are examples of misinterpretation that I alluded to. The only meaningful question about the science is does human produced CO2 have a negative impact on climate and if so how much? All else is on the margins.

  4. 2006 was the warmest year; 1998 was a very warm year. To begin an analysis of trends (and climate is a long term trend) in 1998 with the extremely warm year is the worst sort of statistical lying. It’s called cherry picking and is a typical unscientific, Republican, deny-er tactic. If you look at the long term trends, they are unmistakable.
    link to graph:

  5. Joe says:

    Troll: We have read the science. You seem to have read the Denier talking points. We have LONG since passed the 1930s in temperature. Seriously. Unless you are repeating the tired confusion of U.S. and global temperature data. But you wouldn’t be doing that.

    And the Hockey Stick was vindicated by the National Academy. No apology needed!

  6. Dano says:

    Have you gents read the scientific opposition?

    Why, no. No I haven’t. Nor has anyone else.

    There isn’t any.

    That is: there is no alternate testable theory or hypothesis. No alternate climate models. No equations, data, models, empirical evidence, journal articles, peer-reviewed papers, scribbles on a napkin.

    IOW, you ain’t got sh*t.



  7. Paul K says:

    Assuming the validity of IOW, you ain’t got sh*t, what is it about the message that leaves so many unconvinced?.

  8. John Mashey says:

    Paul K:

    It is always easier to generate confusion than clarity, and well-funded PR efforts go a long way.

    Let’s see: despite “The Surgeon General has determined” 40+ years ago, it is still legal to sell cigarettes, isn’t it? And somehow, despite laws against it, every year, kids get addicted to nicotine during those years when it can wire their brains for addiction, which makes it really hard to stop.

    There certainly was one clear effect: the smoking rates amognst doctors in the US dropped strongly.

    And smoking is *simple* compared to climate change.

  9. John Mashey says:

    Suggestion: this blog’s value is in discussing solutions to climate change and energy problems. Rehashing the same old arguments about climate science is waste of time and just fills up threads with junk.

    There are plenty of sites that discuss climate sciencev in gory detail, like RealClimate.
    has a nice list of wrong arguments that get repeated endlessly.
    #20 hockey
    #12 1934
    #26 lowco2

  10. Dano says:

    I agree with John.

    Perhaps our standard answer should be: asked and answered years ago. Our second sentence should be: your 400 “scientists” isn’t much. Our third sentence could be: almost all humans on the planet have moved on and are discussing solutions – what are yours?



  11. Joe says:

    This website covers science, solutions, and politics from an insider’s perspective. Yes, other sites cover science, but RealClimate is really for the more technically inclined, and it doesn’t keep people up-to-date with the latest news. I’d like this site to be useful for the general interest reader on climate.

    I will be discussing the solutions more, since that is the most important, and my specific area of expertise. But the science/politics debate isn’t over, and progressives need to stay informed on everything if we are going to avoid catastrophe.

  12. Paul K says:

    I also agree with John about deemphasizing the “science debate”.

  13. John Mashey says:

    OK, that’s useful, perhaps in that same way that:
    Scientific American
    science section in The Economist

    Might all discuss the same topic, usefully. Science might run a research paper, and a short Perspective on the topic as well for people who are not active researchers.

    However, seriously consider:
    a) Expanding your links section.
    For instance, tamino’s Open Mind does a terrific job with examples of time series and other data analysis, often with good tutorials.

    b) Categorizing links to help someone find more indepth discussions, at various levels.

    c) Be ready to point people off to specific other sites, especially when somebody wants to rehash the same old stuff for the zillionth time.

    d) Also, have pointers to key previous discussion threads here.

    AND, be ready to say: “See XYZ” rather than having endless rehashes.

    My concern is that it is all too easy for people to degrade the signal-to-noise ratio. I’ve seen that happen with USENET newsgroups that once were very valuable, and have deterioriated so badly that they drive away both knowledgable people and honest learners, in favor of babblers and trolls.

  14. Joe says:

    I appreciate all these comments. I am trying to create the right balance here. I think progressives need to understand the latest science, the actual impacts, and how to rebut the deniers. I don’t think most people subscribe to Science or Scientific American or The Economist.

    I hope I don’t lose people who aren’t interested in the science at all, but Climate Progress visits rose every month in 2007, so I’m not inclined to make big changes. I work VERY hard to include to include links to relevant sites in my posts. I find, however, that if I don’t summarize the original material, lots of people don’t go to the trouble of reading the original.
    I am trying to save people time here.

    Yes, I could improve the links. It takes a lot of effort to get my IT folks to do stuff like that. I’ll see what I can do.

  15. Paul K says:

    The desire to be useful for the general interest reader on climate is understandable but is a bit at cross purposes with discussing the important solutions. I’d guess the vast majority of visitors already agree with you about AGW if not some of the more catastrophic scenarios you lay out. Those of us who don’t will either argue the science, a distraction which I am trying to be less guilty of, or seek to find some common ground on solutions, which I would like to do. I think your growing readership is mostly due to the excellent writing style that shows your passion and your sense of humor. Also, the site is visually “easy on the eyes” and the commenters are, in the main, intelligent and polite.

  16. Joe says:

    Very kind of you.

  17. John Mashey says:

    Joe: sorry, that was ambiguous.

    What I meant was:
    The same story might be covered in The Economist, Scientific American, or Science, but it of course would be covered in different ways for different audiences, although of course, some of us read all 3. I certainly do.

    Anyway, articulating the role you want, and which level, and how you relate to others is a good thing. In some sense, my impression is that if RealClimate is ~Science, Climate Progress is more like at the level of The Economist (including editorial), with some excursions into SciAm turf [although sometimes SciAm goes into Economist space as well], and overlap with Science only when the latter is talking about policy issues.]

    Is that what you had in mind? Or is that a bad analogy?

    In any case, can your IT folks get you data on people’s usage of links?