Man-made climate change supporters exhibit poor thinking skills. Coincidence?

Emphatic supporters of the climate change establishment all seem to share the same grab-bag of rhetorical tactics, logical fallacies, memes and slogans that they depend upon to insulate themselves from any information that threatens their beliefs. The pattern when debating them tends to follow the same sequence: They begin by making definitive assertions with a zealous certainty for the unquestionable truth of their position. Then, after even the mildest probing, out come the straw men, appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, logical inconsistencies and various other tactics of deflection and obfuscation.

I was reminded  of this again while having a fairly heated online debate about climate change that had been inspired by comments from a lightweight Australian TV personality named Waleed Aly.

There was the usual default, unexamined presumption that all the credible experts unequivocally support man-made climate change theory.
As I always do upon encountering this widely believed misconception, I provided a long list of recognized experts at the top of their fields and quoted their criticism of the AGW theory and the establishment that is committed to it.

Predictably, my opponent was oblivious to the existence of so many esteemed critics of the orthodoxy. But rather than this new information provoking curiosity or stimulating a deeper appreciation of the complexity of the issue, he instead headed straight for Google to search for something to torque into a justification for dismissing the criticisms out of hand.

Out of the ten or more experts I quoted, he found (no doubt to his great relief) that one scientist, Robert Carter, had been paid the whopping fee of $1,667 a month a few years ago by that  Great Satan of climate change heresy – The Heartland Institute.

And because the priority for climate change absolutists is not the truth but protecting their beliefs from threatening information, this was enough for my debating opponent to categorically conclude:

“Yes, he’s a seasoned scientist, but because of the source of his wage, unfortunately, we cannot trust his opinion in this case.”

What utter bollocks.

I pointed out that this argument was an example of ‘genetic fallacy’ – when an idea is either accepted or rejected because of its source, rather than its merit.

Didn’t matter.

I pointed out that not only had Carter been a critic of AGW theory prior to being offered the piddling stipend from Heartland, his position is in accord with other scientists who are NOT receiving a stipend from Heartland (like everyone else on my list whom he simply chose to bypass) and highlights observable, real world discrepancies between what the AGW theory crowd said would happen and what has actually occurred.

Didn’t matter.

I questioned the plausibility that this highly respected Ph.D., palaeontologist, stratigrapher, marine geologist and environmental scientist whose career spans more than three decades, who has served as Chair of the Earth Sciences Discipline Panel of the Australian Research Council, Chair of the national Marine Science and Technologies Committee and has a personal publication list of more than 100 papers in international science journals could be seduced into jeopardizing his credibility by providing false scientific claims for a $1,667 paycheque.

Didn’t matter. I was told:

“He was paid for being a critic, apparently, so yes, his word means absolutely nothing to me. He was paid after or before, no difference.”

Curious about the consistency of these ideals concerning the corrupting influence of money in climate science,  I cited the example of a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change that lauded the EPA and the Obama Democrats for a policy of strong carbon emission restrictions that was co-authored by researchers receiving huge grants from the EPA itself – amounting to a princely sum just shy of $50 million in total.

I suggested to my opponent: “If you find the privately donated $1667 a month allegedly paid to Carter to be”extremely worrying”… you should be apoplectic about $50 million worth of tax revenues being handed over to these guys.”

The response tells you everything you need to know about the circular reasoning and unapologetic indifference to intellectual integrity that seems to be typical of the climate change faithful:

“Funding by governments for “climate research” is expected and I fail to see your point here. Are you suggesting that the governments shouldn’t fund climate research?”

Insert head explosion here.

But it gets positively surreal with his next comment. He tells us that in his estimation it is those of us who have continued to exercise intellectual autonomy and make the effort to think critically – in spite of the overwhelming cultural  incentive to submit to torrents of climate change propaganda and groupthink – who are most likely the gullible pawns of powerful external interests.

“Just to be clear”, he writes, “I’m not being personal here, I’m just coming to the conclusion that you may have been mis-informed by a highly organised, lucrative group of organisations, with great interest in slowing the pace of policy against the use of fossil fuels.                                                                                                      
Needless to say, I suggested there was something delusional and self-serving about assuming that highly organized, “lucrative groups” and organizations could have an incentive to misinform people such as naive ol’ me, while simultaneously taking for granted that the billions of dollars at stake for the climate change establishment, government tax revenues and ‘green’ energy interests have no motivating influence whatsoever for the people shaping his perspective.

Guess what? Didn’t matter.

I ended up pulling the plug on the conversation after he concluded a subsequent round of circular reason and self-aggrandizement with this charming sentiment:

“But you seem so stupid, that I feel I need to explain certain things to you, simple things. You know?”

Yer. Where would we be without these towering intellects to enlighten us?

I wish I could say that out of the hundreds of similar debates with devotees of the Church of Climate Change that the quality of reasoning displayed by this guy was uncommon. But it isn’t! It’s pretty much the standard.

Having adequate thinking skills is NOT optional for constructing a valid opinion. It’s time we reintroduced this axiom into our culture and made it unequivocally explicit.

And in my view, this is really where the debate has to begin. Not with the premise of man made global climate change itself. But with drawing attention to how consistently lousy the reasoning skills are of those who most ardently support it.

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Climate change is not about science….at least not for 99.999% of us

For everyone on the planet other than the miniscule fraction who get paid by government to study it, global climate change is not an issue of science. Essentially none of us have direct knowledge or experience of the data or the arcane calculations involved – and even if we did, we wouldn’t know what to do with any of it.

So what does this mean for the 99.999% of the world’s population whose opinion on the science is less than irrelevant?

It means we need to be self-consciously aware of what we are really doing when we settle on a particular opinion about man made climate change. Since we are not basing our opinions on the actual production and evaluation of the data, what are we basing it on?

The answer is trust. We are deciding to trust certain far removed professional institutions and the various forms of media that filter their proclamations down to us. There is nothing particularly wrong with doing this. In fact, it is the only means we have for engaging with the complexities of the larger world beyond our immediate experience. But it isn’t science.

Too often people pretend that the act of choosing to trust an institution is the same thing as as being knowledgeable about the phenomenon of planetary climate change itself. Even worse, it often imbues people with an unearned sense of intellectual and even moral validation.

If on the other hand it was explicitly clear to everyone that the only issue we are grappling with when it comes to climate change is whether or not the institutions and media who promote the premise are deserving of our trust, then the debate would be much different than the one we tend to see. Rather than supporters hurling the pejorative ‘denier‘ at people who refused to ‘acknowledge’ what they personally ‘know’ to be an incontestable fact, they would be obliged to ask, ‘What cause do you have for not choosing to trust these institutions?’

A humility in the face of our collective ignorance about the physics of atmospheric CO2 concentration is immediately imposed on everyone. Instead of arguing about the arcane proclamations of a distant, unquestionable professional scientific class – we are forced to justify and take responsibility for the quality of our own skills for critically assessing the arguments.

Could man made CO2 emissions be driving planetary climate change in a way that proves to be catastrophic? I guess so. All I know for sure is that unlike what we have been encouraged to believe, there are many highly credentialled, professional scientists who are recognized authorities in their fields presenting reasonable, rational, demonstrable criticisms of the means, methods, conclusions and politics of the climate change establishment. Anyone who looks into it finds the same thing. But like the rest of the 99.999% of the population, I have no freakin’ idea who is right and I’m not qualified to say anything definitive about it.

But I am qualified to critically assess the intellectual integrity, logic and ethical validity of influential institutions that insist we believe there is no valid criticism of their work while encouraging the denigration and demonization of anyone who dares challenge the absolutism of their authority. And so are you.

Is this tactic of immunizing themselves from criticism a factor in my judgement of their trustworthiness?

You’re damn right it is.

 

As always, feel free to leave a comment below!