Is calling global warming a religion the same thing as denying global warming science?
In mid-October, economist Steven Levitt wrote a blog post titled, “The Rumors of Our Global-Warming Denial Are Greatly Exaggerated,” which asserted:
Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve. Where we differ from the critics is in our view of the most effective solutions to this problem.
Then in another red-herring-filled post from last month, “The SuperFreakonomics Global-Warming Fact Quiz,” Levitt asserted that “we believe” it is “TRUE” that “The Earth has gotten substantially warmer over the past 100 years.” And he writes of that statement — that “fact” — (and 5 others), “It is our impression that none of the six scientific statements above is at all controversial among climate scientists.”
Duh. In fact, the most recent survey of the scientific literature signed off on by every major government in the world, including the Bush Administration, concluded “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
Unfortunately for the Superfreaks, their book is once again searchable on Amazon, so everyone can confirm it contains the following sentence — the very first one I criticize them for in my original debunking when I broke the story of their error-riddled book:
Any religion, meanwhile, has its heretics, and global warming is no exception.
That is a staggeringly anti-scientific statement. It should be retracted. It should certainly not be repeated, as Levitt is now doing on his blog!
Note that they didn’t say something like “belief in climate solutions” is a religion.” And they didn’t even say, “the theory of human-caused global warming is a religion” — which, in any case, they presumably don’t believe given that they say they believe rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon.
No, to Levitt and Dubner, “global warming” itself is a religion. Except, of course, it isn’t. Again, actual observations show that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
The only reason I am bringing this up again is that Levitt has doubled down on this piece of anti-scientific nonsense. As a eagle-eyed reader pointed out, Levitt blogged last week:
Actually, yes, at least if you live in the United Kingdom.
So what is it, Levitt?
You can’t simultaneously claim you understand that warming of the climate system is an uncontroversial statement of scientific fact — and then keep repeating the claim that global warming and belief in climate change is a religion.
As University of Chicago Geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert has charged, Levitt is guilty of “academic malpractice in your book.”
And for the record, climate change belief is not a religion even in the UK. It remains a scientific understanding there and everywhere else.
The particular case and the ruling are convoluted — no doubt in part because the judge was the same one who issued that confused ruling on Al Gore’s movie (see here). I would welcome any experts on British law posting here — and would certainly recommend reading the Guardian piece and an excellent dissection on Salon by Andrew Leonard. As the Guardian notes:
In today’s ruling, Mr Justice Michael Burton decided that: “A belief in man-made climate change, and the alleged resulting moral imperatives, is capable if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations.”
… The written ruling, which looked at whether philosophy could be underpinned by a scientific belief, quoted from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and ultimately concluded that a belief in climate change, while a political view about science, can also be a philosophical one.
At least in Britain, science can apparently drive moral imperatives that are protected by the law. As the winner of the lawsuit put it:
I’m delighted by the judgment, not only for myself but also for other people who may feel they are discriminated against for their belief in man-made climate change. This is a huge issue and the moral and ethical values that I have in relation to the imperative to do something about it, but crucially underpinned by the overwhelming scientific consensus, mean that to have secured protection in this way is, I think, a landmark decision … It’s a philosophical belief based on my moral and ethical values underpinned by scientific evidence and that’s the distinction [with it being a religious belief] I think. The moral and ethical values are similar to those that are promoted and adopted by many of the world’s religions. But one of the key differences I think is that mine is not a faith-based or spiritual-based belief: it is grounded in the overwhelming scientific evidence and it’s the combination of that scientific evidence with the moral and ethical imperative to do something about it that is distinct from a religion.
Levitt, of course, is beyond such nuanced understanding.
He made an anti-scientific statement in the book, and notwithstanding certain half-hearted walk backs, he clearly stands by the statement.
Is calling global warming a religion the same thing as denying global warming science? You be the judge.
UPDATE: Noting that the Superfreaks discuss New York’s turn-of-the-century horse manure problem, what she calls, “the Parable of Horseshit,” the New Yorker‘s eloquent climate reporter ends her joint review of their book and Al Gore’s “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis”:
To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that “SuperFreakonomics” takes, even as its authors repeatedly extoll their hard-headedness. All of which goes to show that, while some forms of horseshit are no longer a problem, others will always be with us.