Climate debate - is it about science, or values?


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It is absolutely the case that it’s not entirely clear, from the simple fact of manmade climate change, what we should do about it. Science can help us make predictions about what will happen, but it can’t make the value judgements for us about how we should react to that. Personally, I think the best course is probably a massive investment in breeder reactors and solar power, but there are obvious problems with that scenario, too. That said, this article completely overlooks the fact that we can’t really have that discussion, as a society, while we still have a significant power block composed of people who lack the basic maturity to accept a clear, empirically verified answer when they don’t like it.


It’s pretty ironic that it’s about values, because

  1. Climate scientists are surprisingly conservative. Keeling, the founder and operator fo the CO2 observatory in Hawaii was legendarily conservative. Even as an undergrad in college, he had a distaste for music composed after the Rite of Spring.

  2. The carbon tax is the brainchild of a conservative economist, named Charles Pigou.

  3. Carbon cap&trade is also a brainchild of conservative economists, one that was already applied for sulfur emissions, by the Republicans under George Bush Sr.

  4. Pretty much all the other ideas for reworking our lives to address climate change involves a retreat to the past, and conservatives should be MORE sympathetic to such an idea, not less.


About (yikes) thirty years ago my college friends and I followed, with dismay, the antics of Duane Gish and other creationist activists.

These was the first round of attempts by fundamentalists to oppose the teaching of evolution in schools. They were unapologetic in their Young Earth theories. The world was 6,000 or so years old, end of story.

They “debated” evolution supporters with a well-rehearsed list of talking points. Second Law of Thermodynamics, Piltdown Man, moon dust only 1/8th of an inch thick, saltiness of the oceans, lack of transitional fossils.

It was possible to knock down everyone of these things with patient argument, but that wasn’t allowed for in the venues that Gish and his ilk preferred: School board meetings and the like. Get the floor, shout your talking points, smile smugly as the shy biology teacher who was chosen to “debate” you sputtered, amazed and appalled by your gall.

This is the interesting part. If you let one of these creationist debaters go on long enough, they got around to the real point of it all: “If we let kids get taught they were descended from monkeys they won’t have any moral bearings and society will descend into chaos!” I’ve seen those words, in letters columns and from the mouths of Gish’s trained “debaters,” many times. A more scholarly, rather conspiratorial version of it can be found in the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document.

Why do I mention this here? Because I see a similar style in some climate skeptics. One of them dropped by a comment thread here the other day. He spewed a list of talking points, some of them that more sophisticated skeptics abandoned long ago: Al Gore, cooling scare of the 70s, climate scientists are in it for the money.

And then there are the honest ones who admit global warming is real, that humans are likely to blame, but they don’t want to deal with it because that would mean giving in to hippies and environmentalists and big government control freaks who just want to tax everything.

We’re dealing with people deeply afraid of the fallout – societal in one case, economic in the other – of what science is telling us.

But you know . . .
“It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.” – Alfred North Whitehead


I think the best course is probably a massive investment in breeder reactors and solar power, but there are obvious problems with that scenario, too.

Yes, but I woudn’t put the problems of solar power and breeder nuclear reactors in the same sentence. Solar power can’t be used for nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. Solar power doesn’t create radioactive waste like nuclear does. Solar is vastly more sustainable and the other is not. Also, you left out wind, geothermal, tidal and other vastly more sustainable alternatives to nuclear. Not to mention nuclear is too expensive as to be practical.

Our future is more sustainable energy. Nuclear is going to be phased out (as it should). Even France who has benefited greatly from nuclear energy realizes that and is switching to wind, etc.


The best response I have ever heard to the old, ‘Soo, these ‘transitional fossils’, where are they?’ saw, was, ‘In the British Museum. If you ask, they’ll show them to you, and explain all about it’. The crowd did LOL.


Brings back fond memories of usenet “discussions” from ~20 yrs ago…

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Your own town of Minneapolis where I also grew up shows that recent warming is but a terribly boring continuation of the exact same natural warming trend:

Data motivates me and restoring the reputation of science by calling out fraud. Your article is a smokescreen that conceals that real data debunks the massive water vapor amplification of the classic greenhouse effect that all climate alarm is based upon.

-=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. in carbon chemistry (Columbia University)

That’s us told.

I am amazed in my own conversations at the disconnect so many of us have with science in general.

Almost everyone I know accepts climate change as a serious issue requiring action - and root their opinion in the widely accepted best available science on the matter. There is wide disagreement on what to do about it, but that is a second issue.

About 1/3 of the same people suspect vaccines are dangerous, despite (vast) empirical evidence that, while not perfect, vaccines are the best option in almost all cases and especially at the population health level.

About 2/3 of the same people are deeply suspicious of genetic engineering, and GM foods specifically - mostly based on their own instinctual reactions, combined with a suspicion of scientists as profit oriented. Some of that may be true, but very little of the popular discussion in that realm is actually based in science.

I admit to some of the same suspicions myself - I always wonder who to trust when there are large profits involved for somebody.


“Almost everyone I know accepts climate change as a serious issue requiring action…”

Get to know some serious NASA scientists then, unlike the mere computer modeler with a math degree quoted in Maggie’s social science essay:

Wow, another single-locale graph with a straight line fit. Weren’t you happy enough to have this particularly dishonesty exposed to death here and here? If you must bring it up again, couldn’t we at least move the discussion forward by skipping to your answers to criticism:

  1. That trying to disentangle the effect of multiple factors on temperature or sea level is pseudoscience akin to drug warriors stealing homes;
  2. That everyone who works in climate science is obviously corrupt if not evil, as proved by a former vice-president being wealthy, and one notable scientist having visited Arabia;
  3. That your critics here are blinded by metrosexual bravado, if not actually evil as well, like Cowicide who is plotting to phaser you;
  4. Or that at the very least, the people who post here must all be too ignorant to discuss this, as evident by Maggie having a mere anthropology degree, obviously less qualified than a chemist who coded PGP.

On the last thread, Falcor said that it is important both sides be allowed to prevent their viewpoints in an adult manner. I’m afraid I need help to understand if this is what that’s supposed to look like.


but Maggie, c’mon. Admitting that you have genuine fears and concerns is for pansies. Telling people to shut up and sit the F down a’cuz they’re stupid is how heroes do it.

Do not feed.


Posting that again? Two can play at this game…

Classic climate change denier drivel. Typical denier cherry-picking that means nothing.

You’re using the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop” (named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish).

The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which upon closer examination do no such thing.

Can you imagine how much more massive my pretty photo collage would be if I showed everyone in NASA who isn’t a climate change denier?


Geothermal only works in certain places, and wind and tidal (not even mentioning potential damage to local ecosystems by putting tidal generators all over the coastline) have the same problem as solar, that being that they aren’t constant. Solar is much more scalable than the other renewables, but we’re not at a point yet where we could realistically use it for all of our base load. Big R&D efforts for thorium for the middle term and fusion for the long term could pay off, but we can make breeder reactors now, and if we start a massive shift now, it’ll take ~15-20 years to really kick in, by which time we’ll be even further in the hole with our total carbon emissions. I think the point is, even if it’s not perfect, something we can do now is worth doing now, to buy some time to maybe do something better later. Of course, it’s a moot point, since it seems pretty obvious that we’re not going to do anything now, or even make the right R&D investments now.

The Gish Gallop! I’d been aware of the technique for years – see my post way uptopic – but didn’t know it had a name.

I’d love to see that photo collage. It would be worth putting together.


Geothermal only works in certain places

I never posited that it works everywhere and that wasn’t my point anyway.

and wind and tidal (not even mentioning potential damage to local ecosystems by putting tidal generators all over the coastline)

An environmental study should always be done before implementing tidal energy in an area. But, are you implying that the cons outweigh the overall benefits?

Tidal Energy Benefits:

• Tidal Energy is a renewable energy source which means that it does not depend on fossil fuel, does not pollute the environment with CO2 emissions and it is renewed continuously.

• As a renewable energy source, Tidal energy is green since it does not pollute the environment.

• Tidal power plants are more efficient than many fossil operated plants. For example a tidal plant converts into useful energy, electricity, about 80% of the kinetic energy while a coal plant achieves only 30% efficiency.

• Tidal Power plants have a high construction cost but they have low operating expenses, OPEX, and labor costs since they can virtually operate unattended.

• Tidal power plants have a long expected life span, about 75-100 years

we can make breeder reactors now, and if we start a massive shift now

It’s a moot point. Nuclear is too expensive and that’s why it’s on the way out.


I think the key is figuring out what will work best for a given locale. Tidal is useless in the Sahara, and solar isn’t much good in absurdly rainy places like Prince Rupert. But reversed there is huge potential.

What won’t work is massive megaprojects like dams and nuclear reactors. The future lies in basically combining everything that works into an effective grid, and backing some of it up with traditional generation (as little as possible and only for peaks etc).

Solar is somewhat predictable, wind can be useful, and the tides can be predicted years (decades?) in advance, to the minute. And there are hundreds of technologies in development that will help all of them deal with their issues. None of them leave highly toxic waste that takes millenia to degrade.


How about something along the lines of Project Steve? There are currently 1281 scientists called Steve who support the following statement:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

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