One of the most depressing aspects of the ‘Climate Debate’ is ease with which discussions become tribal rather than rational. This is understandable, and possibly inevitable, but I hate it!
I was reminded of this by the glee with which The Register’s global-warming-denial correspondent Andrew Orlowski, reported that James Lovelock, (currently publicising his next book) had ‘changed his mind’ on Global Warming. Orlowski seeks to portray Lovelock’s comments as agreeing with someone who says Global Warming isn’t a threat.
“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”
This puts Lovelock in the same territory as scientists such as MIT’s Professor Richard Lindzen.
“A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1°C to greenhouse warming,” Prof Lindzen explained [PDF].
Personally, I arrived at my view on Global Warming after reading widely and thinking about the basic science. I am affected by views of particular individual scientists, but not overwhelmingly so. Despite many uncertainties, I think the basic facts are well enough established.
The Orlowskian analysis is pernicious. It invites a tribal response, but I will not give it.
- Supporting Queen’s Park Rangers because your friends support them makes sense.
- Supporting Queen’s Park Rangers because Jamie Oliver supports them also makes sense in a funny way.
- Not supporting Queen’s Park Rangers because your friends support them also makes sense.
But adopting a position on the issue of Global Warming based on the opinions of friends or celebrities is bonkers.
If I allow myself to become embroiled in this kind of tribalism then I allow others to categorise me as being a member of a ‘Pro-Global Warming’ tribe – even though I am (of course) ‘anti’ Global Warming. Paradoxically, from a purely tribal perspective:
- ‘Good news’ is when ‘something bad happens’, such as a report of thinning sea ice: this is ‘good’ because it supports the Global Warming tribe’s stance.
- ‘Bad news’ is when ‘something good happens’, such as a report of no thinning of sea ice: this is ‘bad’ because it supports ‘our’ opponents stance.
- Stupid things said my fellow tribe members reflect badly on the tribe – and stupid things said by an opposing tribe reflect badly on them.
From a rational perspective, we just need less stupid things to be said on all sides. While tribal dynamics are interesting from a sociological, anthropological, psychological or political viewpoint – for a rationalist, they are a pointless distraction.
Concerning, Lovelock’s comments, I am glad that he now has a better understanding of climate dynamics, but few others thought we were on the eve of destruction, Our Climate system is unlikely to lead to disasters next year or the year after. But we could already be irrevocably committed to a path which will bring big trouble in coming decades or centuries.