Squashing Dissent

The word "censorship" is used all-too-often in this country.  I take a much more narrow definition of censorship.  In my mind, only the government can be guilty of true censorship, which I define as using the coercive power of government to prevent certain forms of speech.  By even this narrow definition, the recent threats against Exxon by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe come awfully close to censorship:

We reprint the full text of the letter here,
so readers can see for themselves. But its essential point is that the
two Senators believe global warming is a fact, and therefore all debate
about the issue must stop and ExxonMobil should "end its dangerous
support of the [global warming] 'deniers.' " Not only that, the company
"should repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public
its funding history." And in extra penance for being "one of the
world's largest carbon emitters," Exxon should spend that money on
"global remediation efforts."

The
Senators aren't dumb enough to risk an ethics inquiry by threatening
specific consequences if Mr. Tillerson declines this offer he can't
refuse. But in case the CEO doesn't understand his company's jeopardy,
they add that "ExxonMobil and its partners in denial have manufactured
controversy, sown doubt, and impeded progress with strategies all-too
reminiscent of those used by the tobacco industry for so many years." (Our emphasis.) The Senators also graciously copied the Exxon board on their missive.

This
is amazing stuff. On the one hand, the Senators say that everyone
agrees on the facts and consequences of climate change. But at the same
time they are so afraid of debate that they want Exxon to stop
financing a doughty band of dissenters who can barely get their name in
the paper. We respect the folks at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, but we didn't know until reading the Rockefeller-Snowe
letter that they ran U.S. climate policy and led the mainstream media
around by the nose, too.

While I tend to believe that the warming camp is correct that manmade CO2 is creating or will create some global warming, there are a lot of very very good reasons to be skeptical of the magnitude of their warming estimates and their hysterical calls for massive government intervention in the world economy.  I call this the skeptical middle ground on climate.  (Update: more reasons to be skeptical of current "consensus" models here).  A skeptics guide to An Inconvenient Truth is here.

  • Rob

    Let's not forget the CO2 makes up 0.035% of the Earth's atmosphere. Nitrogen approx 78% oxygen approx 20%. The thing I don't like about the global warming caused by man arguments is that most of the hype is based off of anecdotal evidence (ie. Oh my god! 16 hurricanes last year = proof of global warming... so in that sense we must have cooled since there were barely a handful this year)

    Anyway, it comes down to causation and correlation (like Mr. Coyote stresses). Is the problem that humans are burning more? it sounds like a cause, but what about divorce rate going up? I could argue that there are more long winded arguments between couples, and we all know that we breath in air and oxygen is absorbed while CO2 is released... so maybe the increase in people breathing has caused global warming !?!?!?

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    Uh, what happened to my last comment? Not interested in dissenting comments on a post talking about squashing dissent?

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    You're way wrong on this one, man. Didn't the fact that the same guys who said they KNEW no warming was happening are now the ones who are saying they KNOW it won't be so bad, and KNOW it's not anthropogenic and just coincidentally happen to be funded by the companies who would suffer the most in a high carbon-tax environment make you suspicious in the _slightest_?

    Were you guys not around for all the "scientists" paid by Marlboro et al who kept the "uncertainty" about smoking and lung cancer going two or three decades past when the science really was settled?

    Science is true (or not true) on its own merits, even when it poses inconvenient for your political beliefs.

    Rob, your comment is so ignorant, I don't even know where to begin. Yeah, the climatologists who have made this their life's work are somehow ignorant of the concept of correlation vs. causation. Sure.

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    My bad on comment 2: the post had actually failed from my side. Sorry.

  • Rob

    M1EK,

    I'd be interested (and Coyote as well) in reading the proof that shows man is the 'cause' of modern warming/cooling trends.

    Also, I'm not sure which part of my statement was ignorant. The part about the breakdown of the atmosphere (these are facts, no)? The comment about the hype caused by anecdotal evidence, if the same logic is applied in reverse, then we would have to reason that this year the Earth cooled (since lack of hurricanes). Or the last part where I hinted at the idea that sounding like it's connected doesn't necessarily mean it is, so I provided a disconnected example.

    Now I would have to argue that your first paragraph is ignorant, from the point of view that you have correlating evidence which becomes a chain of causation based on suspicion alone.

    Of course your last paragraph makes a classically flawed assumption that experts can't be wrong, or that millions of people can't be wrong... still not proof.

    But, back to the point of this blog, science hasn't proven one way or another (well, hopefully you have the proof to link here). Of course, I don't think I would care even if the planet was warming up because I like the beach and I'm going to make a killing off of ocean front property in Iowa.

    What's my point? Climate changes, and weather in general, cause people to die, which is what this is ultimately about. The climate will change whether(no pun intended) humans affect it or not, and people will die from it. People are afraid of dissenters because they believe it will inevitably lead to a few more people dieing. Let's not forget the ability of humankind to adapt to their surroundings. When the time comes, we will adapt to whatever gradual or catastrophic changes which the Earth's climate has in store for us...

    On a side note, climate systems are very complex and adapting systems, and one characteristic of complex systems is that they can sometimes be simplified to a handful of variables which can describe everything. Inevitably, you believe it's CO2, and I think it's people breathing too much :P

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    Rob,

    I can pretty much tell you won't take said proof seriously when you throw around typical ignorant crap like:

    "Of course, I don't think I would care even if the planet was warming up because I like the beach and I'm going to make a killing off of ocean front property in Iowa."

    But here's my favorite site for reading about the science, if you really _are_ interested:

    http://www.realclimate.org/

    Short summary: The climatologists have been in not just consensus but overwhelming consensus for a very long time; so much that you can't even find peer-reviewed literature any more which disputes AGW. The same guys who claimed the earth wasn't really warming despite the scientists unanimously telling you it was are now hanging their hat on "it isn't our fault". Again, how many more times are you going to believe a bunch of shills?

  • septagon49

    Whether or not humans are causing global warming is still an open question. In fact it is one of the greatest earth science research questions in history. Begun in 1990, the U.S. Global Change Research Program has spent about $40 billion looking for the human footprint in global warming. The jury is still out. The problem is that we now know that the earth warms and cools naturally, so how do we identify the human influence?

    To begin with, the earth appears to have warmed over the last century or so, by one degree Fahrenheit. During this period atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose steadily. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, so it seems natural to conclude that the CO2 rise caused the temperature rise. This seems simple enough but as soon as one looks closely this picture falls apart and the hard science begins.

    For example, while the CO2 levels rose steadily, the global temperature actually went down for the middle third of the last century. Scientists predicted a coming ice age. This shows that rising CO2 levels do not necessarily cause rising temperatures. The CO2 went up but the temperature went down.

    Then too, it is now generally accepted that the temperature increase in the first third of the century was due to increased solar input, not increasing CO2. We now know that the sun varies over time. This shows that rising temperatures are not necessarily caused by rising CO2 levels. The temperature went up but not because of CO2.

    It is possible that the temperature rise of the last 25 years is due to rising CO2. However it has to be explained why the steady rise of CO2 over more than a century waited until the last 25 years to show up? Moreover, some parts of he earth are cooling, not warming. Others, especially parts of the Arctic, are warming very rapidly. This is inconsistent with being caused by the gradual CO2 rise.

    We also know now that it may have been just as warm a thousand years ago, and maybe a lot warmer 5,000 years ago, when there was no CO2 increase. Twenty-five years of research has taught us a lot about natural global warming, but this has only made the picture more complicated. In most cases we do not know why this natural warming occurs.

    There are many theories and counter theories regarding all of these issues, and many more issues as well. The result is an incredibly complex and expensive program of scientific research. Today there are three schools of scientific thought on global warming. The first holds that humans are causing the recent warming. The second is that most, if not all, of the warming is natural. The third school is the skeptics who say we really do not know what is happening, and will not know until we understand natural climate change. Among these schools there is a loud scientific debate. Whether humans are causing global warming is anybody's guess at this point.

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    "Today there are three schools of scientific thought on global warming. The first holds that humans are causing the recent warming. The second is that most, if not all, of the warming is natural. The third school is the skeptics who say we really do not know what is happening, and will not know until we understand natural climate change. Among these schools there is a loud scientific debate. Whether humans are causing global warming is anybody's guess at this point."

    That's just fundamentally not true. The most apt characterization is:

    Group 1: GW, anthropogenic: essentially all climatologists who aren't shills for Exxon

    Group 2: GW, maybe anthropogenic; maybe not: most of the shills who previously denied GW at all; plus a bunch of cranky geologist-types who think climatology is too new of a science to be trusted.

    Group 3: No GW: a few remaining crackpots.

    Seriously; not even most of the Republican establishment will sign on to Group 3 these days. You're pulling out FUD which is five years out of date.

  • http://www.1moreblogger.blogspot.com Ray G

    Bjorn Lomborg is a very good source for information presented accurately and evenly. Those needing to brush up on the subject without subjecting themselves to the one-sided litany of myths, distortions and lies touted by the mainstream media.

    Long story short though, most serious people have never denied that the earth's temperatures do fluctuate, but that we have proof that the earth has been through more severe warming cycles than this proves too much for us to jump through the kind of economic hoops that the enviros want us to jump through.

    Bottom line for most global warming alarmists is an economic platform with central planning at its core, and a definite whiff of anti-Americanism wafting about the entire time.

    Let us not forget that we were threatened with a another ice-age just a couple of decades ago. My elementary school teachers were adamant that the then current cooling cycle was presaging another ice-age that we were to see by the year 2000.

    So forgive my pessimism, but I'm not for turning the world upside down for a predictable and known fluctuation that history shows to be just that, a fluctuation. Kind of like the weather in Texas; hang around a bit, it'll change soon enough.

  • septagon49

    Ad homenim attacks at people who do not support you understanding of global climate proves nothing nor does it make your characterization more apt. Your implication that people who do not agree with your version of the truth are either kooks, Republicans, or corporate lackeys says more about your prejudices and bias than any scientific understanding of terrestrial climate.

    Consensus even overwhelming consensus is meaningless in scientific endeavors. Does you hypothesis fit the existing facts? Does your hypothesis enable you to make preditctions? Is it falsifiable? Is it testable? Consensus is a popularity contest.

    Perhaps an explaination of the basis physics behind CO2's ability to lower the heat capacity of the remaining 99.95% of the atmosphere to cause an increase in the average temperature of the planet given no increased output of energy from the sun. This testable and falsifiable and more germane to the topic than whether someone is a corporate shill. I am sure someone has worked out the math and tested it in the lab.

  • Rob

    septagon49,

    I was thinking the same thing about Ad hominem after reading M1EK's post. It sounds like M1EK should go read another one of my favorite blog topics from Mr. Coyote:

    http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2005/01/respecting_indi.html

    M1EK,
    What about group 4, GW: just another cycle in the climate to be followed by GC and again GW...oh wait, anyone who doesn't fit in group 1 and group 2 is generalized into the crackpot group...

    Here is another link for Progressives.
    http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2004/12/progressives_di.html

    I wonder if limiting speech about GW is just another way for progressive to hinder progress?

  • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ M1EK

    "Bjorn Lomborg is a very good source for information presented accurately and evenly."

    No, not really. He's the John Stossel of environmental science. Easily convinces laypeople, but falls apart when confronted by real scientists.

    This isn't ad homenium. It's simple common sense - you guys are basically doing what the folks defending tobacco against lung cancer studies were doing a couple of decades ago. At some point, you have to recognize that the opposition isn't comprised of honest skeptics anymore (those have moved on); it's primarily comprised of shills and kooks, just like those who write studies showing the earth is 6,000 years old.

    Look, either you believe in science or you don't. On this issue, the scientists doing the actual work have come up with an answer which MAY (but doesn't HAVE TO) lead to policy prescriptions your political ilk particularly dislikes. It doesn't make the science any less true than it would be if it led to political conclusions you _did_ like.

  • Rob

    M1EK,
    I read an article about complexity, from the link you posted. There were some things I don't agree with. I did like the example of local and long term predictions. However, I'm an expert in my field, and I have yet to see a climate model which isn't based on the old paradigm of deterministic linear models. The environment/climate is not a zero sum game, there are emergent properties. Predicting the emergence is where my doubt lies. By definition, emergence is something that is arrives unexpectedly and unexplained by the single parts of the system. For example, the current warming could be emerging due to the interactions of man (CO2 production). It's quite cryptic in that the parts of the system don't necessarily describe the response/behavior of the system. So, while it easy to prove the response (warming) the cause (from the parts) is where the difficulty lies.

    So, as far the this blog topic goes, there is no reason to stop discussing global warming. There are new ways of understanding modeling. The current models have a hard time fitting the mid evil warming period, the warming in the 30's, and the cooling in the 70's all together. There are so many factors that affect global climate, not just man made CO2. Until those key factors can be found, there is no reason to ad hominem (personally attack) dissenters who are against all the hype (by hype, i mean...16 hurricanes = proof of man made warming)

    Also, there is a big difference between the tobacco and climate arguments. Tobacco smoke stays in a closed system and is deterministic. Climate is neither deterministic nor a closed system. I'm not old enough to remember those studies (I'd appreciate if you post one), but growing up, it seems like common sense that inhaling toxic chemicals into your lungs will not result in something good. Whereas, it's not common sense to understand how driving an SUV could possibly cause the deaths of millions sometime in the future. It could be that my understanding of biology is thanks to the constant work by those who believed that inhaling smoke is great way to kill yourself sooner. Today, we would tell someone "Don't be stupid!" if they try to say that breathing in smoke
    is not bad for you. It's too soon to tell people "Don't be stupid!" when it comes to man made global warming, which is why debate must remain open, until one side has clearly won. Warming could be natural or it could be man made, it's really too soon to tell.

  • Rob

    "Look, either you believe in science or you don't." - M1EK

    Science lies on both sides of the debate. So, we are both guilty of ignoring science? The reason to keep debate open is to find out how/why the climate fluctuates in cycles and if humans can affect it both positively and negatively. One day we will be complaining about the planet cooling, what will we do then? It's naive to think humans can control the climate of the planet, and dangerous to try.