Cool It and plausible deniability

Master misinformers like Bjorn Lomborg are expert at feeding the plausible-sounding rationalizations people use to justify inaction.

Given how extensively Lomborg has been debunked (see here), though, you’d think that Huffington post would be the last place to publish somebody duped by Lomborg’s razzle-dazzle. But on Saturday, Mark Joseph — “producer, author, talk show host and editor of” — posted a remarkable ‘review’ of the movie.

I’ll go through the whole thing since it sheds a great deal of light on the science illiteracy rampant in this country, the rationalizations that even smart people glom onto, and the mischief that Lomborg makes in his movie:

[Warning: Please put your head in a vise before reading further.]

Unlike schoolchildren around the world who take crayon to paper and draw horrible pictures of a world in which climate change has ruined our cities, I don’t spend too much time thinking about the issue of global warming.

That’s a nice red herring to draw the reader in — those mean scientists, scaring our children. But I’m pretty certain there isn’t an epidemic of schoolchildren writing horrible pictures based on, what, their parents scaring them about global warming? Lord knows you won’t find the media doing much to paint a realistic picture of what’s to come. I’m very certain children get worried about almost anything. My nearly-4-year-old daughter came running into our bedroom last night right after midnight saying there was a crab in her room. I guess I should stop taking her to the invertebrates exhibit at the National Zoo. Call child welfare. But I digress. Joseph continues:

Not because I don’t believe in science mind you, but precisely because I do believe in science, and its dynamic nature which often means that the things we worry about today either aren’t true at all or turn out to be not as bad as we thought, as new science is introduced.

There are so many misconceptions about science packed in that sentence it’s hard to know where to start. For instance, what about all those things that turned out to be much worse than we first thought, like, say, cigarette smoking or lead in gasoline or burning fossil fuels? Joseph seems to think that science is random, rather than a progression toward more understanding. Interestingly, he makes the exact same argument that George Will and Walter Russell Mead use in their risible anti-science revisionism: “Experts said margarine was the healthy alternative to butter “” until they said its trans fats made it harmful.”


They are actively arguing that because health research grew more sophisticated over time, we can ignore the increasingly dire warnings in the scientific literature (detailed here: “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice”). Of course they don’t know, or don’t care, that our scientific understanding of climate is based on vastly more data and research and analysis than any of those early studies of, say, trans fat. But it gets even better, which is to say, worse, as Joseph continues:

Take kids and sugar for instance. I thought it was settled long ago in a laboratory somewhere that sugar made kids act crazy. Turns out, according to the L.A. Times, that it has no such effect, that the hyperactivity parents like me associate with the sugar that kids ingest is really associated with the excitement of events that sugar is often associated with.

Here’s what kills me — or at least much of land- and sea-based life. If you actually read the LAT story in Joseph’s link, something he apparently didn’t do, it makes the exact opposite point. The point of the story is that, “In fact, science has shot down most of the food-mood links accepted as conventional wisdom and perpetuated by self-proclaimed nutrition experts.” Doh!

Yes, because science shot down one of Joseph’s misconceptions (which he thought was some sort of scientifically-established fact), he now rejects vastly more scientific evidence that unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases pose a grave and growing threat to humanity! And so we come to my favorite sentence in his review:

All that to say that people like me are the perfect target for works like Cool It, which releases this weekend, because I wouldn’t fit neatly into either camp on the issue of global warming.

Bjorn Lomborg, the author of several books, fancies himself a “skeptical environmentalist” and that sounds about right to me. His film is witty, fast-paced and above all else full of common sense.

Yes, people like Joseph are the perfect target for Lomborg! Seriously.

Lomborg counts on people not paying close attention to what he’s saying, not having any interest in hearing what actual climate scientists have to say, and, frankly, not even being interested in using Google for, say, one minute to learn that Lomborg is full of something, but it ain’t common sense (see “The Bjorn Irrelevancy: Duke dean disses Danish delayer” and “Lomborg’s main argument has collapsed” and the book, The Lomborg Deception).

Why don’t we paint all of our roofs and roads white? Why don’t we derive energy from waves that hit our shores? Why don’t we work to make nuclear energy, so obviously effective, safer? And why didn’t I know that a number of multi-national corporations supported the Kyoto Treaty because they stood to make billions of dollars were it to take effect?

These are the kinds of questions that an agnostic on the issue of climate change like me, leaves the theater with after watching Cool It.

Why don’t we paint all of our roofs and roads white? Well, I’ll tell you why the U.S. doesn’t. The Gingrich Congress zeroed out the budget for “Cool Communities” aka urban heat island mitigation in the mid-1990s. Why? Because it was part of Clinton’s “Climate Change Action Plan” and Gingrich’s band of anti-science extremists, like today’s, deny mainstream science and attempted to kill any Department of Energy program that was linked to global warming and/or involved deploying technology (as opposed to R&D).


Why don’t we derive energy from waves? Well, of course, President Reagan gutted Carter’s renewable energy budget, which set the United States back at least a decade. The Gingrich Congress probably cost us another decade. But the main reason one would have to say is that wave energy is more expensive than other forms of energy, particularly fossil fuel energy. And, of course, Republicans in Congress, like Joseph’s hero Lomborg, oppose aggressive effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The climate bill would have set a rising price on carbon that would have made all low carbon forms of energy more competitive.

And, of course, the biggest reason we don’t have more nuclear power with nuclear is cost, which, again, could only be addressed by solved by policies that Lomborg has helped kill with his disinformation.

And, of course, the Kyoto Treaty did take effect. If Joseph didn’t know that some companies would make money from it, if he thinks it’s somehow a bad thing that companies make money from reducing pollution, why is he touting white roofs, renewable energy, and nuclear power — all of which will enrich some companies.

In short, the reason we don’t have the solutions Lomborg supposedly embraces is because of people like Lomborg — and because of all those folks like Joseph who don’t spend too much time thinking about the issue of global warming.

Joseph ends with this head exploder:

If Lomborg’s goal was to make people like me even more skeptical about what’s been going on over the last decade by those forces of fear who inspire our children to take crayon to paper, than he has succeeded.

Yes, Lomborg’s goal was to make more complacent those who aren’t paying close attention, those who have no interest in investigating the science for themselves, those who refuse to check simple facts online. I just don’t think it’s anything worth bragging about.

I’ll end by excerpting Matt McCormick (h/t Tobis):

Geoffrey Munro of Towson University recently showed that when we are confronted with scientific, empirical evidence that challenges a position we favor, we are more likely to reject science altogether and claim that it cannot be employed to address questions of that type at all. The Scientific Impotence Excuse: Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts. Munro took test subjects with views about stereotypes, such as homosexuality. Subjects were tested beforehand to determine what views they held. Then they were given fake abstracts of scientific studies that purported to either prove or disconfirm the stereotype. So some studies indicated that homosexuals had a higher rate of mental illness, for example, while others indicated that their rate of mental illness was lower. Not surprisingly, the subjects who read abstracts that supported their preconceived views concluded that their views had been vindicated. But something remarkable happened with the the subjects who had their prior views challenged. Rather than acknowledge that they were mistaken and change their minds, these subjects were much more likely to conclude that proving (or disproving) the thesis simply couldn’t be done by science. They rejected science itself, rather than give up their cherished idea.

The climate rapid response team has their work cut out for them.