Monday, May 11, 2009

Climate Debate: Why Conservatives Encourage Confusing Weather with Climate

It's helping them win the "spin" war on climate change regulations:

These results actually suggest a somewhat more profound relationship than Egan and Mullin identified from local data; each increase in average US temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit is associated with a 2.8 point increase in the percentage of Americans who expect to see the effects of global warming by the end of their lifetimes. Although we should caution against overinterpreting this data since we have only ten observations to work with, the relationship is nevertheless statistically significant at the 95 percent level. (A further caution: the effect decreases to 2.0 points if the discontinuous 1997 data point is dropped and the statistical significance drops to 85 percent).

It may seem implausible that Americans can remember discrepancies in average temperatures of as little as a degree or two, and even more so that it will affect their perceptions about global warming to a material degree. Something of a cottage industry has emerged on the right, however, to treat any period of below-average temperatures, even of a few days, as a point of evidence that global warming concerns are exaggerated. Meanwhile, normally fair-minded and intelligent conservatives like Michael Barone use weasel-worded phrases like "temperatures actually haven't been rising over the past decade" while skirting over the fact that temperatures throughout the last decade have been significantly higher than in the past (each of the last 11 years has each been associated with above-average temperatures in the United States, although 2008 was only barely so). Nor are conservatives like Barone likely to mention that temperatures were above average in 2008 almost everywhere BUT the United States and Canada [...]

Barone further suggests that a belief in global warming "has taken on the character of religious faith" for "liberal elites". If he is arguing that liberals take science as seriously as conservatives take God, then I suppose we should take that as a compliment. At the same time, the fact that Barone, or Matt Drudge, or Fred Barnes, or (more notoriously) George F. Will treat climate change as yet another bit of truthiness to be passed through the spin cycle is something which should both appall and alarm liberals: the former because nothing is a surer sign of the conservative elite's capacity for intellectual dishonesty, and the latter because perceptions about climate change are literally as fickle as the weather, and liberals are losing ground in the spin war at the very time they have the opportunity to advance serious policy reforms to mitigate it.
It's not an accident they concoct "discussion" like this. It's smart politics on their part, and our own failure if we lose the framing on this one, especially, as Silver writes, at a time when there is a lot of opportunity for progress. We're losing this one by playing it smart, while they aren't above going bat-shit. Do we stoop to their level in a means justify the end approach, or will the intelligence of the average voter (outside of Texas and Oklahoma, of course) prevail? It's nice to see that a google search for "Sutherland Institute Earth Week" returns links to our "who's who" keepin'-em-honest posts, but nationally that isn't always the case. Consider the latest utter b.s. from Rob Bishop on the shaky report from Italy on green jobs. People take him seriously, and he's not above whoring his reputation citing a bad study, apparently, to push the meme. Should advocates for responsible regulation be willing to do the same, or do we just keep hold of the high ground on this one?

Hard questions.


  1. You're in self-denial...the global warming crowd is already why not accept it and do it seriously like Gore and NASA's Jim Hansen?

    Also, I am honestly wondering why this issue is so important to someone like you? Is it the "science versus faith" component? Is it just that lefties everywhere are so into it and it's the liberal political thing to do? Why is it?

    It's not because of the science...or else you would actually cite it and argue it and discussion it...instead of simply besmerching the reputations of the "antis."

    Curiously yours, PTM

  2. I had to think for a second on this one, to explain it correctly. But it's two things for me: realism of potential risks ("economic" assessing of pros and cons of one course of action vs. another), and the seemingly entrenched dishonesty of the debate (from both sides, admittedly).

    The first issue is kind of simple. We aren't sure about the cause, and we aren't sure we can do anything about it, but considering the consequences IF it is man-made, and IF we could do something about it, only a troglodidic race of thumbless morons would defend the status quo of business models and industry structure in the face of potentially irreversible ecosystem damage. Those hand-wringing over the outright destruction of our economic system should we act pro-actively (even if it IS just in case) remind me of street corner doomsday preachers screaming about the end of days. Ironically, that is how many outright "deniers" see advocates of responsiveness to climate change.

    The second is a bit more complicated to put in words for me. The science is sketchy, and will probably remain so long past the period of time we have to act (should it be a legitimate risk). Both sides are emotionally charged, and ideologically convicted, one way or another. But supporters of climate change legislation and response have the backbone to be forthright with their representation. If someone from the Sierra Club speaks in support of cap-and-trade legislation at an event, they are billed, straight forwardly, as "so and so of The Sierra Club." Equally as convicted "denier" organizations practice no such level of integrity. (C'mon, Paul, you guys brought in a freakin' WEATHER MAN, for the love of...and tried to promote him as an expert on the issue) From think tanks to astroturfing groups to lobbying firms, one side has been more dishonest in their approach and has attempted to create an image of those who oppose dealing with climate change pro-actively in lights that are not transparent or, in some cases, even honest.

    Neither side is free from stretching the definitions of "definitive scientific proof" to further their pre-conceived notions on the issue, but it's been my experience that "the lefties," as you would put it, have been more honest in how they've conducted themselves in doing so. The Western Business Roundtable is probably one of the best examples of this assumption that voters are to be duped, not dealt with as adults. WBR promotes itself as a "concerned group of western business owners," but isn't it important to know that the majority of the coalition are not just business owners, but specifically owners/operators of energy industry firms? Yeah, that matters. If they would simply state it upfront, I'd have no complaints, and return to reminding people of the only true opinion on the issue I have:

    We don't know. We won't know anytime soon. I know what an intelligent species would do, considering the possible consequences.If we try "my way," and I am wrong, we can take it back. If we try "your way," and you are wrong, we are screwed. It's just simple economic decision making. Learned it in High School "Critical Thinking" (thanks Mrs. Obray!)

  3. P.S., I'm glad you asked. :)