Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are You A Global Warming Skeptic, Denier, or Contrarian?

A previous Blog Post discussed two Opinion Groups that have major disagreements with the IPCC Report on Global Warming/Climate Change -- Skeptics and Deniers. But a Washington Post story presented some thought that a 3rd Category is needed -- Contrarians. Today's Blog critiques these Groups, ways to differentiate between them, and why it's important.

(1) Good Faith Skeptics. Individuals within this Group generally have several distinct attributes in addressing human-driven Global Warming (called Anthropogenic or AGW):

Science Uncertainty Beliefs: Probably 99% of Climate Scientists agree on a core of basic beliefs that does represent a consensus on settled science:

  1. CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas;
  2. Adding CO2 will have a warming effect on the Planet;
  3. CO2 levels have risen dramatically during the Industrial Age;1 2
  4. In the past ~200 years, the Earth has warmed.
  5. Since the 1950's, a large part of this warming is human driven.3

(1) NOAA data for 650 million years; NOAA data for past 1,000 years; IPCC AR5.
(2) The level of CO2 is now 42% above pre Industrial Revolution levels.
(3) Views on what "large part" means -- a percentage of ~50% (Curry) to 100% (Schmidt).

But understanding Climate Science/Change is much more than just this "basic science". Called a "Wicked Problem", it involves extremely complex issues where Climate Scientists can and do sharply disagree in how much and how quickly human driven greenhouse gas emissions will effect global temperatures and regional climates (called attribution) through:

  1. Feedback Loops (e.g., cloud formation);
  2. Impacts on Natural Variability (climate oscillations, e.g., El Nino).
  3. The predictive ability of Forecasting Models (e.g., the "Pause").
"Good Faith Skeptics" fit into this above science paradigm: They accept a "consensus view of the basic science", but have valid questions of how much and how quickly AGW will effect climate.

Favored Policy Beliefs: "Good Faith Skeptics" never argue that no actions are needed on AGW. Rather -- based on the "How Much and How Fast" science uncertainty, it's a question of prioritizing actions for:

  1. Mitigation (Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Reducing Air Pollution4);
  2. Energy Technology Research (Nuclear Power, Battery Storage);
  3. Adaptation (Flooding, Health, Agriculture, Water Resources)

(4) Efforts to reduce short-lived-climate-pollutants (smog, methane, HFCs, and black carbon) -- called "Fast Mitigation".

Generally, this Group of Skeptics is supportive of both Research and "true" Adaptation initiatives (not just any special interest infrastructure project). AGW Policy conflict with the so-called mainstream "Consensus" primarily occurs over the ideological approach and perceived effectiveness of certain Mitigation options.

For Policy related current mitigation efforts, "Good Faith Skeptics" are more inclined to align themselves with Conservatism rather than Liberalism. This means that Bottom/Up Policies (flexible and de-centralized) would have much more favor than Top/Down options (e.g., rigid command and control).

Fundamental Ideological Differences Between Liberal Vs. Conservatism
When AGW Policy options are opposed/questioned such as a U.S. Carbon Tax (a regressive tax with a questionable global CO2 outcome5), Carbon Trading Schemes (another potential financial derivative play-toy of Wall Street), or a "Federal" Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (that puts decision making into the hands of Politicians in Congress rather than our Engineers) -- it can be the Policy approach, not the science that is being balked at.

Liberal Vs. Conservative Approaches to Global Warming Policy

(5) How would a U.S. Carbon Tax impact international trade? Would it simply out-source greenhouse gas emissions to Developing Countries (actually increasing overall emissions)?

"Good Faith Skeptics" recognize there is no "One-Size-Fits-All" current technology approach or geo-engineering "Silver Bullet" in addressing AGW on a Global basis. They also recognize that AGW is not a "stand-alone" issue (CO2 ppm) -- but is tied to many different issues that effect the prioritization of efforts to improve the quality of life in Developed (e.g., health concerns of smog4) versus Developing Countries (e.g., just having a toilet).

Portfolio of AGW Current Mitigation Technology Efforts:
"Good Faith Skeptics" truly care about the poor. That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing is serious, and not just a catch-phrase meme. They hate pubic debate that reduces this issue to partisan ideological differences/theatre and not specific actions to address World poverty.

Since this Group has strong conservative attributes, Market Capitalism is extremely important to them. They believe that while "compassionate conservatism" should be practiced to Developing Countries, the "big picture" measure of success shouldn't be things like how many home rooftop solar panels are installed through foreign aid.

It should be how many industrial parks have been created, making cost competitive and lower carbon footprint products for export -- creating prosperity and reducing poverty within a society.

(2) Deniers: This Group is comprised of those who deny the above widely held (consensus) core of Climate Science beliefs. Typically, this is a denial/dispute of (1) the modern temperature record (including conspiracy theories of manipulating data); and/or (2) any acknowledgement there has been meaningful human influence (AGW) on modern history temperatures.

In January 2014, U.S. Senator Schatz (D) introduced a Resolution that simply stated: "Climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change". But 49 out of 54 Republican Senators voted against this -- justly earning a label of "Deniers". Republican Senator Inhofe sums up the current Republican majority opinion: "If you don’t accept the disease (AGW), you don’t have to accept any potential cure".

Included in this Group is a very vocal sub-set of Religious Fundamentalists. Rather than focusing on science, Biblical scripture is cherry-picked (with simplistic literal interpretations) as a "major basis" of denial views.6 This type of "Denier" is especially toxic, demonizing their opposition as Cultist and Worshipers of "Mother Earth" (Gaia) or following a Satanic "Green Dragon".

This sub-Group needs to go to Sunday School more, studying God's Word that "Dominion Over" doesn't mean "Domination". They need to study science better that reinforces what the Bible teaches us about the consequences of man's actions (which can include changing the Climate).7

(6) Dr. Stephen Pope has a good lecture on science and religion (at the 56 minute mark)
(7) Article on Roger Pielke and Florida's changing climate which contradicts Senator Inhofe's statement: “The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate.” “Man can’t change the climate.”

(3) Bad Faith Contrarians: As described in the Washington Post article, Contrarians are believed to have a politico-psychological trait (some would say a downright obsession) against authoritarianism where issues are framed (staw-man arguments) in extreme terms of black or white, good and evil, individual rights versus socialism. There is rarely, if ever, any nuanced area of gray that could lead to compromise for any mitigation actions.

Make no mistake about this Group however -- they are highly educated in science/engineering and talk a "very good game" of Reasonableness. But it's a game of obfuscation. In the end-game of taking any meaningful policy action to mitigate the threat of Global Warming/Climate Change -- these "Contrarians" usually end up in the same policy place as "Deniers".

For Contrarians, Even If God Told Us Human-Driven Global Warming (AGW)
Was a Real Threat, They'd Demand a 2nd Opinion (probably from Ayn Rand).

For Contrarians, no scientific argument will ever be good enough; no economic analysis (cost/benefit) for mitigation will ever be justified. They distort and magnify uncertainties as an excuse for inaction for financial or ideological reasons.

For this Group, Conservatism has been hijacked and transformed from a philosophy of cautious stewardship into an ideology that often encourages individuals to pursue self interest, whatever the consequences to others.

Good Faith Skeptics Versus Bad Faith Contrarians: Since both Groups are often saying the same thing in AGW science or policy skepticism & opposition -- How does one differentiate between them in trustworthiness?

Historical Track Record: Reviewing One's overall body of opinion on major enacted or proposed environmental policy measures is the starting point. Is there a clear one-sidedness of only/primarily opposition, or is it a mixed bag (showing objectivity over ideology)? In opposition, are there examples of trying to find "common ground" by offering/supporting or at least having a constructive dialogue (other than just saying no) on mitigation options?

You Just Might Be a Global Warming "Contrarian" If You
Oppose/Opposed Most Other Environmental Regulations.

Environmental Issue:
Lead & MTBE (gasoline):
Air Particulates:
Acid Rain:
Ozone Depletion:
Fluoridation (drinking water):
Coal Ash:
Global Warming (AGW):

Contrarians "Frame" their opposition to environmental issues with straw-man arguments of "Big Government", "Socialism", "Conspiracy Theories", "Junk Science", or "Junk Economics" -- and never things like children cancers, autism, dental health, asthma, and IQ development.

Whether Contrarians run away from their environmental track record or wear it as a badge of honor, they do so with incredible hypocrisy. One one hand they criticize Mitigation Advocates as Catastrophic Alarmists (CAGW) -- but have no problem in their own brand of catastrophic messaging (which time and again has been incorrect) that compliance costs will destroy economies as "the absolute truth".

Being Disingenuous: Usually, a "dead give away" of a Contrarian is when you hear the statement:

I am opposed to the policy of Big Government that distorts the Market and picks winners and losers. The free market should be the Driver.

When Contrarians make their above "Winners vs. Losers" argument it is not their words or even an Ideology (Libertarian) that is the problem. It is their disingenuous inconsistency in "Walking the Talk". As conservative Republican U.S. Senator Grassley (Iowa) states, Contrarians want to have this debate in a vacuum. They show "bad faith" in not wanting to put all energy subsidies on the table for review.

You Also Just Might Be a Global Warming "Contrarian"
If You Have Been Inconsistent on Energy Subsidies.

Which Subsidies Should Be Eliminated?
Oil Tax Benefits 8
Electric Utility Tax Normalization 9
Nuclear Energy:
- Tax Credit
- Catastrophic Insurance 10
- Construction Cap Subsidies 11
- DOE Loan Guarantees
- U.S. Export/Import Bank
- Federal R&D 12
Renewable Energy:
- Wind, Solar, Biomass Tax Credits
- DOE Loan Guarantees (Solar)
- Solar Net Metering
- State Programs (Wind, Solar)

(8) Tax Credits specifically for oil (not general tax benefits taken by Oil & non-Oil Companies). This includes: (A) Expensing of tertiary injectants; (B) Expensing for intangible drilling costs; (C) Percentage depletion for oil wells; (D) Special amortization for geological costs.
(9) Normalized versus Flow-Through Tax Benefits for Investor Owned Utilities in Ratemaking.
(10) Price Anderson Act. Also, special tax treatment for decommissioning nuclear trust funds.
(11) Energy Policy Act of 2005
(12) Per Senator Grassley (R-Iowa), $74 billion since 1950

Selective Outrage: But this isn't just about energy issues. As Contrarians (Anti-Authoritarian Ideologues and/or Special Interests) obsess over solar/wind tax credits, they also show their "bad faith" by continued obstruction to comprehensive tax reform. Where is their outrage over things like tax preferences to Wall St. Hedge Fund Managers? (who brought down the World's economies in 2008).

Looking For Good Faith: One must always remember though, "Good Faith" is a two-way street. Both sides must demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and grace themselves -- not always looking for a Gotcha! One does not have to agree with every enacted or proposed environmental initiative to be trustworthy. People can also evolve in good-faith from prior opposition positions -- especially in the spirit of trying to find current common-ground.

“What is the environmental platform of the Republican party? I don’t know either.” ~ Sen. Lindsey Graham A Republican Senator admits his party has no plan on climate change. Yet, they’re trying to block President Obama from acting to address the crisis.

Posted by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The constructive dialogue between Republican Senator Lindsey Graham
and the environmental organization NRDC illustrates what's needed.

The Importance of "Good Faith Skeptics": If there is any hope in achieving bi-partisan actions, "Good Faith Skeptics" must play the key role. They must take on a role of "Peace-makers", turning down the thermostat of partisan rhetoric -- seeking, nurturing, and building trust in finding "common ground" among very different constituencies/interests.

Only Through Good Faith Skeptics Can We
Possibly Find Common Ground On AGW
As discussed in previous blogs, there are two areas of potential common-ground that may be especially promising:

  1. Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants13("Fast Mitigation");
  2. International Trade (including selling U.S. natural gas to Developing Economies as they transition/bridge to lower-carbon standards14).

(13) Chemistry and the Linkages between Air Quality and Climate Change.
(14) But as part of a comprehensive plan -- not as a cherry-picked stand-alone policy action that would only benefit Special Interest Groups. A comprehensive plan of this type would place Deniers (e.g. Senator Inhofe) in a real dilemma, and force Contrarians to be more consistent.

A Needed Paradigm Shift: The most important thing that "Good Faith Skeptics" must achieve is to clearly demarcate themselves from the "Deniers" and "Contrarians". All too often in opposition to the the so-called 97% IPCC consensus, this line becomes blurred or even indistinguishable.

Making this distinction isn't about giving up one's values, principles, or beliefs in the name of compromise. It's about defining what one is FOR rather than just always what they are against (and angry all the time). It's about winning the "big picture war" rather than jumping into never ending battles du jour. Its about not allowing to be manipulated into a certain Group.

Incendiary Comments: Often in media settings, "Good Faith Skeptics" hear things they know shouldn't be said -- but just turn away in silence if the "verbal hand-grenade" supports battling the so-called 97% IPCC Consensus.

While this silence may "play well" with Deniers and Contrarians, it sure doesn't help in building trust within a critical target group that is "sitting on the fence" (lukewarmers). When terms like "Fraud" or "Hoax" are used, they should be called out for the epithets they are.

Be Careful Who You Hang Out With: For a moment, let's assume that a parallel World exists -- a World were President Obama (not Reagan) is trying for the first time to address internationally the "Ozone Hole". What would this "debate" look like in today's toxic political environment?
What would be the reaction if no Montreal Protocol existed and Obama proposed EPA Regulations to unilaterally reduce CFCs in the U.S.? Would we be hearing many of the same arguments from the very Groups that have consistently opposed so many environmental issues in the past?

Especially for "Good Faith Scientists", they don't need to be loved and admired -- they need to be broadly respected and viewed as the "Fair Umpire". "Fair Umpires" just don't hang out with Las Vegas Bookies.


Additional News Stories and Sources:
The Associated Press (AP) on Labels of Denier, Skeptic, Doubter.
Use of Labels in the Climate Change Debate -- (Matthew Nesbit OP/ED)
Gulf Power and Coal Ash

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