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Eco-Authoritarian Catastrophism: The Dismal and Deluded Vision of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

Submitted by on October 9, 2014 – 10:36 am 115 Comments |  
(Note: The following post strays from the usual geopolitical concerns of GeoCurrents into the realm of environmental politics. It also deviates from the norm in being a polemical review of a particular book. Regular posts will resume shortly.)

UnknownAs with so many other hot-button debates, the climate change controversy leaves me repelled by the clamoring extremists on both sides. Global-warming denialists, as some are aptly called, regard the scientific establishment with such contempt that they abandon the realm of reason. In comment after comment posted on on-line articles and blogs, self-styled skeptics insist that carbon dioxide is such a scant component of the atmosphere that it could not possibly play any climatic role, while castigating mainstream climatologists as malevolent conspirators dedicated to destroying civilization. Yet on the equally aptly named alarmist side of the divide, reasonable concerns often yield to dismal fantasies of the type so elegantly described by Pascal Bruckner in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse, upheld by exaggeration to the point of absurdity. More alarmingly, climate activism seems to be veering in an unabashedly authoritarian direction. In such a heated atmosphere, evenhanded positions are at the risk of being flooded out by a rising sea of mutual invective and misinformation.

This essay addresses only one side of this spectrum, that of the doomsayers who think we must forsake democracy and throttle our freedoms if we are to avoid a planetary catastrophe. Although it may seem paradoxical, my focus on the green extreme stems precisely from my conviction that anthropogenic climate change is a huge problem that demands determined action. Yet a sizable contingent of eco-radicals, I am convinced, consistently discredit this cause. By insisting that devastating climate change is only a few years away, they will probably undermine the movement’s public support, given the vastly more likely chance that warming will be gradual and punctuated. By engaging in mendacious reporting and misleading argumentation, they provide ample ammunition for their conspiracy-minded opponents. And by championing illiberal politics, they betray the public good that they ostensibly champion. It is a sad day indeed when an icon of liberalism such as Robert Kennedy Jr. can plausibly be deemed an “aspiring tyrant” for wanting to punish global-warming deniers.

A few off-hand comments by the flighty scion of an illustrious political family, however, are hardly enough to substantiate my admittedly harsh charges. But more damning examples of eco-authoritarianism are not difficult to find. For the present essay, I will limit my attention to one crucial text, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2014 The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. Idiosyncratic though this book may be, its significance is undeniable. Its authors are widely noted experts in the politics and intellectual history of the climate change controversy, have previously co-written a seminal work, Merchants of Doubt. They teach, respectively, at Harvard University and the Cal Tech, and the book in question was published by Columbia University Press, one of the world’s most esteemed academic presses. Such widely respected public figures as Elizabeth Kolbert and Timothy E. Wirth provide effusive endorsements on the back cover. Kolbert goes so far at to claim that the book should be “required reading for anyone who works—or hopes to—in Washington.” Wirth tells us that unless we heed Oreskes and Conway’s warnings, we will have no chance of avoiding their “dire predictions.” The noted science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson chimes in as well, telling us that the book’s prognostications are “all too plausible.”

Before delving into Oreskes and Conway’s dismal predictions and authoritarian proposals, a few words about the structure and contents of their unusual book are in order. As the authors explain in their first two sentences, The Collapse of Western Civilization aims to “blend the two genres” of science fiction and history in order to “understand the present.” In actuality, virtually nothing that is recognizable as either science fiction or history is found between its covers. Instead, one encounters a brief text (52 pages*) that purports to be a straightforward account of the planetary catastrophes of the 21st century, written by a fictional historian living in the Second People’s Republic of China three hundred years after the final collapse of “Western Civilization” in 2093. This imagined author informs us that that Western Civilization was destroyed by its obsession with free markets and devotion to a “carbon-combustion complex,” which is contrasted with the authoritarian system of China that allowed it to survive and eventually help restabilize the global climate.

Global Warming Temperatures Map 2As the book claims to outline the “not only predictable but predicted” (p. 1) consequences of a fossil-fuel-based energy system, I will begin by examining the author’s actual foretelling. As it turns out, most of it is hyperbolic, going far behind even the most extreme warnings provided by climatologists. Consider, for example, Oreskes and Conway’s most grimly amusing nightmare: the mass die-off of dogs and cats in the early 2020s. Lest one conclude that I am exaggerating here, a direct quotation should suffice:

 [B]ut in 2023, the infamous “year of perpetual summer,” lived up to its name, taking 500,000 lives worldwide and costing nearly $500 billion in losses due to fires, crop failures, and the deaths of livestock and companion animals. The loss of pet cats and dogs garnered particular attention among wealthy Westerners, but what was anomalous in 2023 soon became the new normal (p. 8-9).

Global Warming Temperatures Map 1Within a mere nine years, global warning could produce temperature spikes so elevated as to generate massive cat mortality? The idea is so ludicrous that I hardly know where to begin. Domestic cats, as anyone who has spent any time around them surely understands, are heat-seeking creatures; native to the Middle East and North Africa, they thrive in the world’s hottest environments. Yet Oreskes and Conway expect us to believe that within a few decades “normal” temperatures across much of “the West” will exceed the tolerance threshold of the house cat? If they really think that such a scenario is plausible, one must wonder why they delay the collapse until the late 21st century and excluded China from destruction, as it would seem that we will all be cooked well before then. (One might also wonder why wealthy Westerners would not allow their beloved companions to remain within their air-conditioned homes during the death-dealing heat waves of the 2020s, but that is a different matter altogether.)

The great cat catastrophe of 2023 is by no means the only instance of risible fear-mongering found in the book. It would seem that there is no limit to the horrors that global warming will spawn, including a resurgence of bubonic plague (p. 30) and the creation of “viral and retroviral agents never before seen” (p. 25). Even typhus is predicted to make a major comeback owing to “explosive increases in insect populations” (p. 25); although it is reasonable to imagine some insect species proliferating in a warmer world, I have a difficult time seeing a massive revival of body lice generating a typhus epidemic that could easily be forestalled by antibiotics. Or consider the authors’ overall depiction of the global scene in the late 21st century:

 [S]urvivors in northern regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as inland and high-altitude regions of South America, were able to begin to regroup and rebuild. The human populations of Australia and Africa, of course, were wiped out (p.33).

Australia Maximum Temperatures MapWhy yes, of course; how could anyone be expected to survive global warming on continents as hot as Australia and Africa? The only problem with this assertion is the inconvenient fact that vast areas of both landmasses are not particularly warm. In Melbourne, Australia the average January (summer) high temperature is 78° F (26° C), only slightly above that of July in Paris. Hobart, a city of more than 200,000 inhabitants, posts summer temperatures virtually identical to those of Stockholm. ** Nor is Africa climatically extreme; most of South Africa is World Average Annual Temperature Maptemperate, and the mountains of Algeria and Morocco are cooler still. Throughout eastern and southern Africa, high elevations ensure equable conditions. Contrary to Oreskes and Conway’s warnings, inland Africa is generally less vulnerable to climate change than most parts of inland South America, owing mainly to its higher elevation. Currently, the average high temperature in the warmest month in Asunción, Paraguay is a whopping 10 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than that of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The same gap, moreover, is found in regard to the highest temperatures ever recorded in both locations.

Such temperature contrasts, however, are not the main issue. Rather, it is the fact that even the most extreme scientific predictions of possible global warming over the next century do not posit conditions that would preclude human life over vast expanses of the world. People can live quite well in hot climes, and can even do so without air conditioning. Perhaps Chicago will eventually become as warm as Dallas, which currently has an average July high temperature of 96° F (35.6° C), and perhaps Dallas could become as hot as Las Vegas, with its average July high of 104° F (40° C). But even with such a development, neither town would reach the current conditions of Kuwait City, with its average July high of 116° F (46.7° C) and sultry average July low of 87° F (30.7° C).

But perhaps Oreskes and Conway do not foresee all Australians and Africans perishing directly from heat, but rather as dying off from droughts, massive storms, and other climatic disasters—along with new heat-spawned viral diseases and sundry other mega-misfortunes. For the North American agricultural heartland, they seem to mainly fear devastating dry spells. Imagining conditions in the 2050s, they write:

As the Great North American Desert surged north and east, consuming the High Plains and destroying some of the world’s most productive farmland, the U.S. Government declared martial law to prevent food riots and looting (p. 25).

Africa 2060 Drought MapIt is true that many climate models indicate increasingly aridity over the Great Plains and the Corn Belt, which would certainly harm U.S. food production. But at the global scale, such thinking does not pan out, as a warmer world will almost certainly be a wetter world, enhancing agricultural potential in many dry areas—even if more precipitation does come in the form of torrential downpours. If some parts of Africa will lose their food-production potential, others may see it enhanced. Much of East Africa is shown in some models as acquiring a less drought-prone climate, as can be seen in the map posted here. And as is currently the case, most of Africa will remain immune from hurricanes and tornados, the increased intensity of which, moreover, is not assured. (The equatorial belt will always be cyclone-free, as the twisting Coriolis effect diminishes to nothing at latitude zero.) It must also be acknowledged that higher levels of carbon dioxide are to an uncertain extent associated with enhanced vegetative growth. Some evidence even indicates that elevated CO2 Tropical Cyclones Track Mapallows plants to better withstand aridity, as their gas-exchanging leaf pores (stomata) do not need to open as widely under such conditions, reducing transpiration and hence water loss. The mere mention of any such possible positive consequences of climate change, however, is widely regarded as intolerable heresy, and hence would never appear in a book like The Collapse of Western Civilization. I hesitate here as well, as I do not want to imply that the gains of climate change could somehow cancel the losses. In the end, however, honest disclosure of the existing evidence is an obligation of all serious scholars.

Regardless of whether climate change will undercut food production, Oreskes and Conway’s own prescription for dealing with the crisis would only intensify the problem. They strongly support, for example, biodiesel and other forms of biologically derived fuel, viewing “liquid biofuels for aviation” as nothing less than “crucial” (pp. 21, 24). Channeling biological production into the energy system, however, either diminishes the human food stream, raising the price and reducing the availability of staples, or detracts from natural ecosystems, diminishing the scope of non-human life. As Will Boisvert has devastatingly demonstrated, there is nothing at all green about biofuels.

Oreskes and Conway’s support of biofuels is linked to their dismissal of natural gas. They reserve particular contempt for the idea that gas could act as an environmentally beneficial “bridge to renewables.” Most of their arguments against gas are familiar, focused on such issues as the “fugitive emissions” that occur when carbon dioxide and methane “escape from wellheads into the atmosphere.” (p. 23). Such leakage is a genuine problem, but most experts think that it can be solved by technical means. Some of their other objections, however, are novel, such as the idea that natural gas will replace near-zero-emission nuclear energy and hydropower, especially in countries such as Canada (p. 23). Why such a substitution would occur is not specified, even though the possibility that it would is extraordinarily low. The costs of hydropower in particular are almost completely upfront; once a dam has been constructed and the turbines installed, the resulting power is cheap and hence not vulnerable to replacement by natural gas. The only reason why Canada might be tempted to dismantle its hydroelectric and nuclear facilities would be political pressure from environmental activists. Would Oreskes and Conway be among those urging the end these extremely low-carbon sources of power? One cannot tell from the book in question, but in other writings (here and here) Oreskes rebuffs nuclear power, due mainly to “difficulties inherent to the technology and its management.” It would thus appear that this particular objection to natural gas is self-cancelling.

Oreskes and Conway’s focus on the supposed sins of Western Civilization also demands further scrutiny. It is not merely the energy-hungry United States that they portray as essentially doomed, but also many of the world’s most environmentally oriented countries, which happen to be located in the European heartland of the West. The ultimate problem, they imply, is not the environmental policies of particular states, but rather the deeper cultural predilections of the Western world. Such “cultural practices” center around an “ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets” (p. ix) but also include such features as “excessively stringent standards for accepting [truth] claims.”

Such arguments are difficult to take seriously. Can one really claim that Germany suffers from an “ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets,” considering its fat subsidies for renewable energy as well as the recent collapse of the Free Democrats, the country’s only political party that embraces classical economic liberalism? Could France possibly be regarded as possessing such an obsession? One of the stumbling blocks here is the authors’ failure to define what they mean by “Western Civilization.” Although they never specify its geographical contours or seriously delve into its cultural content, they do give it oddly precise temporal boundaries: 1540-2093. How the initiation date of 1540 was selected is anyone’s guess. If anything civilizationally momentous occurred in this year, it has evidently escaped our historical accounts. Ironically, however, 1540 does occupy an intriguing position in climate history. According to the historical geographer Jan Buisman:

[T]he year 1540 was one with an even more severe summer than 2003. All over Europe, the heat wave lasted, off and on, for seven months, with parched fields and dried up rivers, such as the Rhine. People in Paris, France could walk on the riverbed of the Seine without getting their feet wet.

Dating the emergence of “Western Civilization” may be a relatively trivial matter, but the same cannot be said about Oreskes and Conway’s dismissal of “excessively stringent standards for accepting [truth] claims.” Here we encounter one of the book’s deeper paradoxes. The climate movement relies on its defense of science, leveling the charge of “science denialism” against its opponents whenever possible, yet here we find Oreskes and Conway attacking the very epistemological foundations of the entire endeavor. Nor is this their only instance of rejecting the standard practices of science. “Statistical significance,” they claim, is an outmoded concept that will someday be regarded as “archaic” (p. 61). In several passages, they lather contempt on “physical scientists,” those benighted practitioners, “overwhelmingly male,” who:

[E]mphasized study of the world’s physical constituents and processes … to the neglect of biological and social realms and focused on reductionist methodologies that impeded understanding of the crucial interactions between physical, biological, and social realms (p. 60).

Oreskes and Conway embrace “interaction” to such as extent that they even regard “environment” as another concept that will eventually be dismissed as archaic, as it supposedly entails “separating humans from the rest of the world” (p. 55). In actuality, most people use the term “environment” precisely to highlight connections among humans and the rest of nature. But according to the authors, it was not until the coming of “radical thinkers such as Paul Ehrlich and Dennis and Donella Meadows” in the late 20th century that anyone “recognized that humans are part of the environment and dependent upon it” (p. 56). Such claims are preposterous, as the history of Western thought thoroughly demonstrates. To appreciate the historical depth of such recognition, I would recommend Clarence Glacken’s magisterial, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century.

Although many of the key scientific questions of the day do indeed demand, as Oreskes and Conway write, an “understanding of the crucial interactions between physical, biological, and social realms,” it is equally imperative to recognize that most do not. Most of the issues addressed by chemists, physicists, and geologists have nothing to do with the social realm, and must be examined through a “reductionistic” lens if they are to be approached scientifically. To insist instead that they must be framed in a socio-biological context is to reject the methods of science at a fundamental level. Such a tactic risks reviving the intellectual atmosphere that led the Soviet Union to the disaster of ideologically contaminated research known as Lysenkoism. In the final analysis, the denial of science encountered in The Collapse of Western Civilization thus runs much deeper than that found among even the most determined climate-change skeptics, as it pivots on much more basic epistemological and methodological issues.

Not just science by also logic suffers at the hands of the author. They argue, for example, that it is a logical fallacy to contend that natural gas could serve as a “bridge to renewables,” due to the fact that analyses of the effects of natural-gas combustion on the atmosphere have been “incomplete” (p. 53-54). In actuality, this is an empirical issue, not one of logic per se.

The most troubling aspect of Oreskes and Conway’s book, however, is not its scare-tactics, its sloppy depictions of climatic patterns, or its attack on scientific standards. What is truly frightening is its embrace of authoritarian politics, coupled with its denigration of liberty and democracy. This is a tricky issue, however, as the authors’ pseudo-science-fictional narrative strategy provides an easy out, making it appear as if the authors actually value liberty and reject despotism. Oreskes contends in the interview that comes at the end of the book that the preservation of any freedoms that we still enjoy demands immediate and thoroughgoing action, as “delay increases the risk that authoritarian forms of government will come out ahead in the end” (p. 70). It is rather, the authors contend, supporters of the status quo who are undermining freedom by their failure to embrace the alarmist position. As they write:

And so the development that neo-liberals most dreaded—centralized government and loss of personal choice—was rendered essential by the very policies that they had put in place (p. 49).

This tactic, however, is disingenuous. No evidence is provided, for example, to indicate that autocratic governments respond more effectively to environmental crises than democratic ones. Rather, this thesis is merely assumed, despite the large body of evidence that points in the opposite direction. It is, moreover, an unfortunate fact that global carbon-dioxide emissions will continue to rise for some time regardless of any minuscule effect that the publication The Collapse of Western Civilization and similar books may have on public opinion. India, for example, has recently announced that it will prioritize economic development over climatic stabilization. The governments of many other countries concur, all but guaranteeing increasing emissions. As result, Oreskes and Conway may claim that they do not personally embrace authoritarianism, but their larger arguments hold that it is nonetheless necessary if civilization is to survive in any form. Finally, given their own predictions of shattering disruptions across the world, China’s geographical position ensures that it would suffer vastly more than Western Europe, the historical core of the supposedly doomed Western Civilization. In imagining China’s unlikely survival against the thrust of their own arguments, they evidently find something deeply compelling about its political system.

China’s intense vulnerability to the kind of climate change foreseen by Oreskes and Conway is undeniable. To begin with, most of the densely settled, agricultural productive areas of the country already experience pronounced summer heat. The huge metropolis of Chongqing, for example, has an average August high temperature of 92.5° F (33.6° C) as well as a sultry average low in the same month of 76.5° F (24.7° C), which makes it distinctly warmer than almost the entire expanse of southern Europe. Even the far northern Chinese city of Harbin post a warm daily mean July temperature of 73.4° F (23° C), which is virtually identical to that of Italy’s Milan (73.6° F/23.1° C). To be sure, the vast Tibetan Plateau of southwestern China has a cool climate, but most of it is too high, and hence Oreskes and Conway's Vision Maptoo oxygen deprived, to serve as a refuge for those fleeing climate disturbances. Only the Yunnan Plateau and few portions of the extreme north would be suitable resettlement zones in a world so hot as to depopulate (most of) Australia. (To illustrate the larger argument here, I have juxtaposed map details of southeastern China and southeastern Australia, extraced from several of the maps posted above.)

Global Warming Natural Disasters MapHigh temperatures, moreover, are by no means the only problems that China would face in the world imaged by Oreskes and Conway. The country is already highly susceptible to drought, especially its densely populated North China Plain. Massive engineering projects are now being constructed to alleviate water shortages in this region, although many experts doubt that they will be adequate. Desertification, likewise, is much more extreme in China today than in North America, let alone Europe. The same story is encountered in regard to flooding; it is no coincidence that most of the world’s truly devastating floods have occurred in China. And it goes without saying that the surge in tropical mega-storms predicted by the authors would have a vastly greater impact on China than on Europe. The same is true in regard to the terrifying northward surge of tropical diseases that the authors envisage. Finally, even specific calamities imagined by Oreskes and Conway, such as the failure of the Asian monsoon—generated it their view not by global warming but rather by geo-engineering efforts to forestall it (p. 27)—would devastate China but spare Europe. As a result of such considerations, it is odd indeed that the authors imagine China surviving while the Western Civilization of Europe perishes.

In a few passages, Oreskes and Conway seem to indicate that China will be able to meet the challenge of climate change with relative success due to its foresighted environmental policies. Considering China’s environmental record to date, this is a most curious argument. Although China does subsidize renewable energy—as do most Western countries—it continues to spew carbon dioxide with abandon. More important, it unquestionably prioritizes economic growth over environmental protection. The most recent figures show that China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions have just surpassed those of the European Union, which is an extraordinary development considering the fact that the EU is much more prosperous than China.

Oreskes and Conway’s depictions of China’s environmental advantages over the West, moreover, are far from convincing. Consider, for example, the following passage:

China, for instance, took steps to control its population and convert its economy to non-carbon-based energy sources. These efforts were little noticed and less emulated in the West, in part because Westerners viewed Chinese population control efforts as immoral … (p. 6).

In actuality, certain Western countries have made greater efforts than China to move to a non-carbon-based economy, albeit with checkered success.*** But any such accomplishments will have no impact on any particular country’s vulnerability to climate change, as greenhouse-gas emissions are a global rather than local matter. What is truly bizarre in this passage, however, is the idea that Western countries have failed to “emulate” China’s population-control policies. At present, virtually all Western countries, no matter how “the West” is defined, have birthrates below the replacement level. Many of them, moreover, post fertility-rate figures well below that of China, including Germany, Poland, Italy and Spain. Yet for all of this, Oreskes and Conway still think that it necessary to scold the West for its failure to enact coercive population control measures.

In other passages as well, Oreskes and Conway ardently support China’s one-child policy, imagining that by the 2040s it will, by necessity, be “widely implemented” across the world (p 24). Yet in actuality, it is not merely Western countries that have seen their fertility rates plunge well below the replacement level. Brazil, Iran, and Thailand fall into this category, as do all the states of southern India. Yet in all of these examples, birth-rate declines have occurred on a strictly voluntary basis, without the human-rights abuses that have accompanied the Chinese program. The drivers of such declining fertility are reasonably well understood, including broad-based economic and social development, mass public education (especially of girls), and even the availability of televised “soap operas” than model small but happy middle-class families. Evidently, the authors find such a gentle and accommodating path to demographic stability much less appealing the strong-arm approach of the Chinese government

In the end, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Oreskes and Conway’s vision of China’s survival is rooted not in the country’s potential for enacting beneficial environmental policies, but rather in its current authoritarianism. Indeed, Erik Conway admits as much in the interview at the end of the book: “authoritarian states may well find it easier to make the changes necessary to survive rapid climate change” (p. 70). The despotic Chinese regime, in other words, is regarded as possessing the ability to force adaptive change on its population, unlike the liberty-besotted West. The authors imagine, for example, that China would be able to effectively arrange mass transfers of people away from inundated coastal plains and other eco-disaster zones. Admittedly, China does has some experience with such relocation programs, having expelled more that a million people from their homes when it began to fill the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam. Human-rights advocates, however, generally see such displacements as catastrophic in their own right, but such considerations seem to matter little to Oreskes and Conway.

Former U.S. senator Timothy Worth’s avidly blurbs The Collapse of Western Civilization, describing the scenario outlined by Oreskes and Conway as “chilling.” On that I would certainly agree, but what chills me are not their overwrought depictions of the coming global crisis, but rather their totalitarian response. On the final page of their text, their fictional mouthpiece tells us that three hundred years after the collapse of Western Civilization, “decentralization and redemocratization may be considered.” “May,” however,” turns out to be the operative term, as the passage goes on to note that, “others consider that outcome wishful, in light of the dreadful events of the past.”

Oreskes and Conway’s authoritarian inclinations are seemingly linked to their contempt for the West, which they identify with a dangerous devotion to personal freedom. The most telling passage to this effect is found in the authors’ interview, where Erik Conway states:

 To me, [The Collapse of Western Civilization] is hopeful. There will be a future for humanity, even if one no longer dominated by “Western Culture.”

No matter that Oreskes and Conway see every last person in Africa perishing, they still apparently find such a scenario promising as long as Western Culture perishes in the process.

As noted at the beginning of this essay, tens of millions of people have reached the conclusion that anthropogenic climate change is a giant hoax perpetuated by corrupt scientific and journalistic establishments. In their previous book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway attribute such benighted views to the money and machinations of oil companies and other organizations with financial interests in the status quo. While I would not deny that such factors play a role, they do not provide a full account. Of particular significance are the writings of green extremists such as Oreskes and Conway themselves. By putting forth grotesque exaggerations, by engaging in misleading reportage, and by embracing authoritarian if not totalitarian politics, they discredit their own cause. The Collapse of Western Civilization, in short, reads as if it were part of a great conspiracy, one that that seemingly rests on an insincere approach to evidence and argumentation.

The Collapse of Western Civilization is, of course, merely one thin book, and as such it must be asked whether it can be regarded as representative of even the extremist fringe of the climate movement. But in the final analysis it is not the book itself that disturbs me so much as its reception by the broader green community. Judging from published reviews and on-line comments, it would appear that acclamation has been the most common response. Such acclaim, however, is deeply ironic. Environmentalists generally regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as politically liberal. But when self-styled liberals embrace a work that is not merely illiberal but ostentatiously anti-liberal, I must wonder whether the mainstream environmental movement has any future at all.

*A “glossary of archaic terms,” and an interview with the authors, and a set of scholarly notes, bring the page count up to 89.

** It is true that the record high temperature of Hobart (107° F/42° C) exceeds that of both Paris (105° F/40.4° C) and Stockholm (97° F/36° C), but it is still well below the record high temperature of most cities in the U.S. Midwest. The figure for Saint Louis, for example, is 115° F (46° C).

*** Germany has probably gone farther than any other country in pushing renewable energy, but its success has been limited. Owning to its dismantling of nuclear reactors, it has been forced to increase its coal and biomass combustion, despite its surging solar and wind energy production. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions have increased, deforestation has accelerated, and energy prices have risen, placing a heavy burden on the poor.

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Commenting Guidelines: GeoCurrents is a forum for the respectful exchange of ideas, and loaded political commentary can detract from that. We ask that you as a reader keep this in mind when sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • LorenzoCanuck

    “In such a heated atmosphere, evenhanded positions are at the risk of
    being flooded out by a rising sea of mutual invective and

    That was awful/amazing and you should be ashamed/proud of yourself

    • Definitely an appropriate comment!

    • SFrankel

      You should definitely be ashamed of the reference to Robert Kennedy Jr as “the flighty scion of an illustrious political family,” considering that his cousin died in a plane crash.

      (Music cue: Pasty Cline with “I fall to pieces.”)

      • That event did not cross my mind. After reading about his life, including his expulsion from high school for bad behavior, his conviction for heroin possession at age 29, and his anti-vaccine efforts, I considered using the term “flaky,” but I decided that that term is a bit informal, so I turned to “flighty” instead.

        • hunterson

          I had forgotten about his anti-vaccine work. He is not merely a wannabe tyrant. He is an anti-science misanthrope.

  • SirBedevere

    I do love the apt terms you have used here. First, I have usually seen what you call “denialists” called “skeptics.” They are only skeptics in the sense that Agent Scully in the X-Files is a skeptic, denying the validity of an argument long after they have seen overwhelming evidence of its soundness. But the title here is just golden–eco-authoritarian catastrophism. I cannot tell you how often I have heard from university professors (usually in the humanities) that the ongoing overpopulation of the planet requires us to adopt policies far more despotic than those of China, along with a variety of other controls on human life that cannot wait for the slow wheels of democratic government. No amount of demographic data can turn such people from this misperception, either. They feel it is right, so it must be true.

    As for the cats and dogs, might the argument be that food will be so scarce that people will choose not to feed their pets? That, of course, would be ridiculous, since in this model, the rich would be able to purchase dog food without any competition from any group providing food to the poor, but that might be what they were thinking, as opposed to domestic cats getting cooked as they tried to sun themselves on window sills.

    • I too find it astounding that so many people continue to favor coercive population policies. For one thing, they often backfire, as they did in India in the 1970s.

  • So if: “The following post strays from the usual geopolitical concerns of GeoCurrents into the realm of environmental politics. It also deviates from the norm in being a polemical review of a particular book.” This begs the question: Why? What purpose does this solve here, except to interject someone’s personal views into a “regular” blog stream? If you wish to keep ” loaded political commentary” out of the comment stream, I would respectfully ask that you keep it out of the article stream.

    • Najah

      Oh, but it was such a good rant! And environmental politics has a geopolitical component. It’s not that much of a stretch. Sometimes it’s important to point out the nakedness of the naked emperor.

    • That is a fair comment. I will keep such opinionated posts to a minimum. Occasionally I can’t resist — perhaps I should.

      • Opinionated as it is, it’s actually far better informed and balanced than most of what passes for “fair and balanced” journalism these days. I’d say “go for it”!

        • joseph

          definitely go for it, this was a great read!

      • I came here from BishopHill – the skeptic blog run by Andrew Mountford. “The review is magnificent” he says “Do read the whole thing” which I have. It was not as funny as I expected – but I suppose the authors do have a capacity for harm which is not funny.

      • glendower

        Don’t resist. This is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing I’ve ever seen.

    • hunterson

      You would like to simply have silence regarding an out of control social movement that is squandering tens of billions a year and whose fanatic supporters want dictatorial power?

      • “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

        As for me, no, I would not ask for silence. SInce you asked, I am one of those “fanatic supporters” (I prefer evidence-based scientist and public policy expert) who, via tools like remote sensing and GIS, are witnessing the negative effects of the Anthropocene on the planet and, by extension, ourselves. But I won’t bore you with the details, because I am sure they would not change your mind and especially not your political views.

        • hunterson

          The only thing significantly manmade about the climate we are in is the projection of human angst onto it. You are not seeing increasing deserts. You are not seeing increased storm frequency or intensity. You are not seeing an ice free Arctic or the melting of the Tibetan glaciers. You are merely seeing what you decided to see; not reality.
          The fact that you refer to political views instead of the issue of climate demonstrates that you are as deluded as the authors of the pathetic book that is deconstructed in this review.

          • It’s not just what I am seeing, it is what every actual climate scientist is seeing, as reflected not only by the IPCC reports but by every major scientific body worldwide. Or, speaking of delusional thinking, I suppose, you can claim it is all a vast global conspiracy:

          • hunterson

            Always and never are seldom true, and your reliance on palpably false assertions like “every actual climate scientist” sees what you claim to alllegedly see makes you look much less than credible. Clues that someone is invested in a social delusion: reliance on consensus, depedence on argument from authority, use of out of date data, confusion of opinion with fact… in other words your argument so far.

          • (Sigh. Mr. Lewis, this is why you shouldn’t post blatant troll-bait: If you post it, they will come.) hunterson, as someone who teaches courses in critical thinking, I can tell you there is a huge difference between “appeal to authority” and overwhelming scientific consensus of ACTUAL authorities. Even those few climate scientists oft-(mis-)quoted by the conservative punditsphere such as Curry, Christy, and Spencer agree that climate change is happening; they simply quibble over details such as sensitivity or how bad things are likely to get. Normally I would diagnose confirmation bias in posts such as yours, but as you cite no references I can only assume argument from ignorance. Ending this total waste of time conversation in 3…2…1…

          • hunterson

            If you are a teacher of critical thinking, you are fortunate that malpractice suits against teachers are nearly unheard of. Your ignorance on this topic is nearly as boundless as your arrogance. First, not all climate scientists agree with the apocalyptic consensus. Second, your characterization of this as right v left demonstrates the fallacy described in the article well. Third, someone with critical thinking skills would never confuse the reality of a changing climate with the idea that the climate is changing dangerously or unusually.
            And the running away part sort of fills out the profile of the intellectual coward perfectly. Ciao, loser.

          • John Archer

            Whoops, Hunterson! I see you you got there before me. Hat tip. 🙂

          • hunterson

            Kyle seems to be a poster child for the old maxim about those who can’t do something teach it.

          • John Archer

            Well, Kyle, for someone who “teaches courses in critical thinking”, you’re surprisingly relaxed about using much of it yourself:

            Even those few climate scientists oft-(mis-)quoted by the conservative punditsphere such as Curry, Christy, and Spencer agree that climate change is happening” [My emphasis]

            You say that as if there were a controversy. I’ll tell you what: I’ll leave it as an exercise for you to spot the flaw in what you’ve said there. Meanwhile here are a couple of hints for you: (a) focus on the part I have emboldened; and (b) consider use of the words anthropogenic and catastrophic. Please do make the effort. I think you’ll find it rewarding. Let us know the results.

            Incidentally, courses on “critical thinking” sounds very much like the kind of thing that might be needed for … oh, what shall we call them? … the cerebrally challenged, say — you know, the remedial/special-needs sections of the kommunity, such as liberal arts students, media-studies types, budding sociologists and all those other students of the non-subject “XYZ Studies” variety (especially ‘gender’) that have proliferated in bozo liberal academia since the 1960s. Climatology, of course, would be another one — it’s a ragbag of an interdisciplinary hodgepodge very much for low-grade also-rans and otherwise incompetents who couldn’t get a decent job elsewhere. Phil Jones would be a classic example.

            Of course, what we’re talking about here is the basic ability to reason, but putting it as bluntly as that would clearly dent the little overweening darlings’ self-esteem. Hence the laughable euphemism.

            I’ll bet you don’t get too many physicists or mathematicians taking your courses, do you? If you do, they’ll be pretenders. [A quick point about bozo classification, just so you know: pretenders are a grade lower than fakers, whose fellowship is one to which they aspire.]

            I hope that helps. Any questions, don’t hesitate etc blah blah blah…

            That’s OK. You’re very welcome.

  • Thanks for this essay, Martin!

    I am appalled at the pro-authoritarian stance of these (and many other) authors. For people who believe that authoritarian/totalitarian states are better than democracies at dealing with environmental issues, I have just one word: Norilsk.

    As for China specifically, last night I was flipping through TV channels and came across Anthony Bourdaine’s show about Harbin (at least the part I watched was about Harbin). I was struck by how polluted the place appeared even through TV lens. Besides air pollution that Bourdaine commented on, I noticed how dirty, mud-looking the snow was, despite the biting cold that he kept complaining about. It’s pretty obvious that China isn’t doing as great of a job at combating environmental issues, as these authors believe.

    • You are certainly right about Norilsk — and many other Soviet examples could be used as well.

      • Chernobyl is probably even more dramatic. And by the way, speaking of China’s (and any other authoritarian country’s) ability “to effectively arrange mass transfers of people away from … eco-disaster zones”, let’s not forget that people were NOT moved from the Chernobyl or Kyshtym disaster zones at all, until it was too late. Also, people were moved to the Chernobyl area — conscripts who were helping contain the fall-out — without being told of potential consequences to their health, fertility etc.

        • marc biff

          How many people have actually died due to Chernobyl?

          • It’s hard to tell precisely, in part because many of the Chernobyl-related deaths were not directly in the aftermath of the explosion, but due to prolonged (and totally unnecessary in many cases!) exposure to radiation afterwards. In part also, because the radiation blew far and wide from the epicenter in Chernobyl itself — Saint Petersburg is said to have had emergency levels of radiation because of the Chernobyl accident. Also, there’s virtually no records of the conscripts who were sent to clean up and contain the mess — their exposure was among the worst, yet their military records do not state that they were even there and neither do their medical records. In many cases, doctors had no idea they were dealing with radiation sickness because of all this cover-up. So there are numerous scholars that try to extrapolate the numbers of deaths from the available data but it’s all very uncertain… Here’s my post on an earlier Chernobyl-like nuclear disaster that was even more covered up:

          • Craig King

            31 in the actual event and three months following, all of whom were first responders. It was thought there would be 4000 additional deaths from cancer over the decade following but there has been no evidence of that in the statistics.

            The children who got thyroid cancer were all treated successfully with iodine.

            The animals and plants living in and around the reactor show no signs of mutation or die back, in fact they are doing very well. Also there are tours that take you around the whole complex today and they are quite popular.

          • Statistical predictions vary greatly and go up to 100,000. That these predictions are not supported by statistical evidence is due in part to the fact that the statistics itself is inadequate: as I explained above, people who were exposed (including those who worked in immediate damage control and were exposed to significant radiation) were not recorded as such or kept track of. There is even less certainly about non-lethal damage, such as infertility and birth defects.

      • Stephen W. Houghton

        Another example would be the Ariel Sea, whats left of it.

        I am a skeptic for largely the reasons mentioned in the article. Sure CO2 is a greenhouse gas and it will get some what warmer as we add more to the air, but the hysteria put out by some is outrageous,

  • sunpapushi

    Anyone who thinks Paul Ehrlich has any credibility left cannot be taken seriously. Great article.

  • RationalEnvironmentalist

    Seems to me they started with the premise of ‘What will frighten people most….the death of their pets! Lets start there…

  • ClimateLearner

    The entire global warming panic has been orchestrated by the likes of Maurice Strong and his machinations within the UN organisation. It has been a disgrace to civilisation. This silly book which you have so effectively reviewed is but a minor wart on a very ugly creature.

    • mothcatcher

      I find it difficult to believe that the warmists really set out to deceive, but observe that an audience usually gets the publications that it deserves. By this I mean that such hyped writings strike a deep chord in the core of many humans, who take it as axiomatic that there is this wonderful world which was doing just fine, until human beings came along and quickly started to wreck it all. There seems to be a deep NEED to believe this, and any false-authority confirmation of it will be a money-spinner.
      We’ve seen it all many times before, perhaps most spectacularly in the resource-depletion and overpopulation scares of the 1960s/70s, Incidentally, P.Ehrlich figured prominently in both, and STILL has the ear of the president..
      I am probably more sceptical of the global warming science itself than is our excellent reviewer, Martin Lewis, and I fully expect that when we look back from the perspective of history, all this will seem just as quaint and baffling. The matter ought to be open to rational debate, and at present I just see each side talking past the other..

  • geoff Chambers

    An excellent article, though it’s a pity you feel you have to preface it with an attack on “extremists on both sides”. Most sceptics, far from attacking the science, desire only to see it discussed rationally. It is the scientists who support alarmism (Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, Sir Paul Nurse) who have consistently refused debate, and even walked out of a television studio to avoid contact with sceptics.

    Oreskes and Conway are not the only voices calling for authoritarian measures to avoid climate catastrophe. Chris Huntingford, a climate modeller- at Oxford University has called for discussions about suspending democracy, while Professor Stephen Emmott in his book “Ten Billion” advises people to “teach their children how to use a gun”.

    • maxberan

      Chris Huntingford isn’t at Oxford University – he works at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a research lab part of the Natural Environment Research Council. Nor is he really a “climate modeller” but models the carbon cycle albeit a cycle relevant to climate change.

      • geoff Chambers

        Thank you for the correction.
        Huntingford describes himself as a climate modeller on his employer’s website. You’re right though that he is not at Oxford University. To be fair to Dr Huntingford, he did describe the suggestion (from James Lovelock) that democracy should be suspended as “unhelpful”,
        adding “Lovelock’s comment that possibly the only solution is to temporarily suspend democracy needs considerable discussion with social scientists and historians. I cannot be alone in feeling nervous about such a view.”

        • maxberan

          Chris Huntingford’s research does take him quite close to Gaian matters – the role of biosphere in Earth (and hence climate) system processes. On his self description, I guess that’s part of the problem – the way people describe themselves as climate modellers when their actual business is tangential. It starts as a shorthand but ends up being accepted as gospel. Carbon cycle modelling is a precursor to climate modelling but it isn’t actually climate modelling. This elision becomes even more misleading and offensive when applied to people who take the output from climate models and use them as an input to some other arena, say agriculture or water supply. It wouldn’t matter but for their recruitment to the alleged 97% who are said to agree professionally with climate forecasts or whose papers are counted among those supposedly in agreement with the CO2 climate thesis.
          I don’t at all demur from your political points and worry how our kids and grandchildren are being overdosed on environmentalism woven into their school curriculum. This will soften them up to go along with the notion of humankind as a blot on the planet and lower their guard against the sort of tendency you are describing.

  • JonFrum

    ” an icon of liberalism such as Robert Kennedy Jr.”
    Bwahahaha! Stop, you’re killing me!

  • Drechsler

    Not at all happy with the opening gambit against sceptics. The sceptics are not paid to articulate the science, the scientists and scientific writers are but they claim consensus which is in the realm of religion not science, hence the disconnect. The blogosphere doesn’t always offer time or opportunity to correct a quick rant, it’s a bit rich to criticise the bloke in the street who smells the rat and is smart enough to see a scam.

    Also interesting to note that the ‘Collapse of Western Civilisation’ is going full steam ahead and seems to be the desired outcome for the climate nuts.

    • kingkevin3

      I wouldn’t take this guy seriously. Labelling anyone a “climate denier” instantaneously qualifies oneself as being entitled to call oneself a complete fucking fuckwit.

    • Orson OLSON

      Would that most global warming skeptics (realists, actually), wer even paid at all! Most are self-funded, and often retired or near to being so.

  • ramspace

    I guess it was inevitable that someone would call her “Orestes” eventually (in this line: “Contrary to Orestes and Conway’s warnings. . . .”)–though she’s really more like one of the Furies that pursued him.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I have changed the spelling.

  • Upsetting indeed. On the bright side, the predictions will presumably make for great laughs a hundred or three hundred years from now.

    In all seriousness though, I appreciate your explanation of the issues and very much share your concerns.

  • Jon Jermey

    Well, this is a change. What happened to the official party line that nothing bad, no matter how unrelated to climate, could not be caused or explained by global warming? There’s a comprehensive list of things that have been blamed on global warming here:

    and so far no self-proclaimed warmist that I know of has bothered to dispute even one of these attributions. Have we reached a ‘tipping point’?

  • TW

    Martin Lewis notes: “Environmentalists generally regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as politically liberal. But when self-styled liberals embrace a work that is not merely illiberal but ostentatiously anti-liberal, I must wonder whether the mainstream environmental movement has any future at all.”

    If this is the the first, or one of very few, examples of self-styled liberals embracing the illiberal which this author has encountered, the author doesn’t get out much. There is a whole literature on this topic, and for good reason.

    • Yes of course – the issue is omnipresent, and I
      have certainly been aware of it for decades. I wrote a book entitled Green Delusions: An Environmentalist
      Critique of Radical Environmentalism in 1992 that covers some of this same
      ground. Mainstream American liberalism has, for some time, been corrupted by ideas from the authoritarian left.

      • Yes, I read it and I can testify that it’s a great book. I particular enjoyed your cogent response to the “authoritarian regimes better for environment” claims. It is sad that some of the same idiocy is still promoted 12 years later, and by faculty from prominent schools such as Harvard no less… Which is why this “rant” was so timely!

      • hunterson

        I am ordering your book, by the way. It sounds very interesting.

      • hunterson

        Order for “Green Delusions” finalized, on the way.

    • Stephen W. Houghton

      As a conservative, I want to say that it is not fair to label liberals as authoritarian. It rather progressivism with its links to what later became fascism and certain radical left movements with roots in Marx that are authoritarian. These have polluted the left in our country and many others, but that is not liberalism.

      After all I am a liberal, just a cautious one.

      • The problem, of course, is that the word “liberal” has switched its meaning to almost the opposite of what it originally meant, a process not unheard of in language change…

      • Yes indeed. But I don’t like the world “progressive” either, as most self-styled progressives don’t really believe in progress.

  • mrdavidjohnson

    A splendid review!

  • There Jon, there

    The characterization of deniers is too formalistic and the criticisms of those concerned with Earth too harsh. There is no need to say how paid for this article.

  • I think climate skeptics are being unfairly tagged as denialists. I would guess that most would not deny that CO2 is causing long term warming. They are reasonably skeptical about the urgency of the problem and have identified real problems with the science. The models have clearly over predicted. They have uncovered appallingly bad practices in the paleoclimate field, particularly with Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph. And the climate scientists have been extremely tribal. Look at their responses to Climategate, Judith Curry and Roger Peilke Jr.

    • I did not claim that all climate skeptics are “deniers.” But
      I have read hundreds if not thousands of comments on climate-skeptical blogs, and a large number of them insist that that carbon dioxide plays no role in climate, and just as many regard all of climatology as a giant hoax. I certainly regard this as a form of denialism.

      Or take a look at the comment (above) about my own article in
      question from one “kingkevin3”: “Labelling anyone a ‘climate
      denier’ instantaneously qualifies oneself as being entitled to call oneself a complete fucking fuckwit.” This kind of crude, adolescent preening is all too common on skeptical websites. It does not reflect well.

      I agree with you about Judith Curry and Roger Peilke Jr.

      • Craig King

        Thank you for your essay Mr. Lewis it was a deeply informed analysis of the book and I have recommended it far and wide.

        With regard to the skeptics I will say that there are mad dogs like kingkevin3 on many comments boards regardless of the topic and most people see them for what they are and move past. Moderated sites like “Watts up with that”, Climate etc., Climate Audit, have very few and what crazies do appear get short shrift from the denizens.

        The mainstream position of skeptics is quite simple. They feel that while CO2 is a radiative gas and so will bring about some warming, and mankind is increasing its concentration in the atmosphere, they see that effect as being less than the climate scientists claim through their range of models and may possibly be trivial. Judith Curry has recently published a paper that shows this may be true.

        That said the climate activists like Ms Oreskes, and there are many, seem to be using their alarmism to attack our entire political and economic system. In other words as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. A significant proportion of the green/environmentalist movement agrees with her and that is troubling because the ends are political not scientific and at the risk of sounding like a dinosaur it is the politics of Communism, which as you point out is totalitarianism.

        Judging by the attitudes of many western politicians who think that moving rapidly to a carbon dioxide free economy is sensible let alone achievable it is obvious they think there is a pool of votes in the green camp they can capture. We climate nonconformists ( denier is such an ugly word ) feel we need to let the large group of ordinary people know that they are being duped and in turn cause the politicians to stop this drift into the totalitarian society hoped for by the greens.


      • BC

        Your so-called denialists are a tiny minority of the sceptical group. Nearly every rational person agrees that, ceteris paribus, temperature will increase with rising CO2 levels.The physics seems to say 1 degree C per doubling. The questions are, how much more than that and what will the consequences be. And the answers may well be, not much and very little. What we need is fewer of the Oreskes frauds and more sceptical scientists.

        • I agree. But I do think that some of the “so-called denialists” are quite vocal and powerful. One example would be Senator James Inhofe.

          • hunterson

            If Sen. Inhofe was not standing firm against the consensus we would have incredibly wasteful, pointless climate obsessed policies rammed down our throats as laws. Again, the problem is not symmetrical. The climate obsessed are pushing an agenda that is as alarmist and useless as eugneics polices of ~100 years ago.

        • Given that CO2 radiates to space exactly as much and in the same bands as it absorbs from the surface , it’s far from clear to me that it increases our mean temperature . After all , its spectral lines help make the planet appear near black in the IR as seen from the outside and its our spectrum as seen from the outside which determines our radiative balance wrt the Sun’s spectrum . It most definitely does help transfer heat from the surface to the whole atmosphere , and visa versa at night profoundly decreasing our diurnal variance , but I never see that discussed .

          In fact , despite the constant clamor that “the science is settled” I have never seen a quantitative physical analysis of planetary temperature . My observation is that the journeyman “climate scientist” does not even know how to calculate the temperature of a radiantly heated colored ball . The utter stagnation in the field over decades is appalling especially when compared to other branches of applied physics where , in semiconductors for instance , the prefixes have changed from kilo- and mega- to giga- and tera- .

          • DavidAppell

            Your very first sentence is wrong — there is obviously energy missing at the top of the atmophere precisely where CO2 absorbs IR:

          • What is your explanation for notch exactly in CO2’s emission bands ?

          • DavidAppell

            “It most definitely does help transfer heat from the surface to the whole atmosphere “

            CO2 doesn’t “transfer energy.” The Earth’s surface emits infrared radiation upward, and some of that is absorbed by CO2. When CO2 then emits at the same wavelength, in a random direction, some of the re-emitted energy is downward. THAT is the greenhouse effect and. now, global warming.

          • It transfers energy by conduction ( collision ) to the molecules around it .

          • DavidAppell

            If it transfers energy, why is that energy missing at the top of the atmosphere?

          • DavidAppell

            “In fact , despite the constant clamor that “the science is settled” I have never seen a quantitative physical analysis of planetary temperature .”

            See Manabe and Wetherald’s famous 1967 paper:

          • I’m looking for a college textbook style presentation of the fundamental physics as one finds in any other field of applied physics . Griffiths Electrodynamics is an excellent example and much of its contents is very similar to heat but with the added complexity of curl . I’m currently reading Incropera et al , 2007 , Heat Transfer , which was mentioned on Science of Doom , but , of course it’s not focused on the relevant material .

            Griffiths , in particular , spends the first couple of hundred pages on electrostatics , and , of course , it’s all about analysis of simple surfaces and solids : planes , cylinders , and spheres .

            You have to be able to quantitatively understand the experimentally testable simple before leaping to the complex . That’s why you absolutely have to be able to demonstrate that you can compute the temperature of a simple colored ball if you are going to claim that you can compute the temperature of a varicolored planet with a semi-transparent atmospheric skin .

            That’s the purpose of my Heartland presentation , linked at my — to work thru the basics of orbital geometry and the basic equations of radiative balance . Altho you don’t seem to be able to follow even the computation of energy density as a function of distance from the sun — or even that radiant energy flux can be converted to spatial density by dividing by a light-second , you have to note that given the crude assumption that Earth has an absorptivity=emissivity wrt the Sun’s spectrum of 0.7 but 1.0 in the IR , the produce the same 255k temperature so widely parroted .

          • DavidAppell

            I’ve looked at Armstrong’s Heartland Institute “science” in detail, and it’s laughable. His understanding of “quantitative” science is not even at a high school level. He uses equations where the units don’t balance. He thinks the solid angle subtended by the Earth doesn’t depend on the Earth’s size. And these are just the beginnings of his many errors…..

            Armstrong had to give his talk at a Heartland Institute conference — no scientific conference would have let such junk into their program.

          • DavidAppell

            Here’s the book I recommend: “Principles of Planetary Climate” by Raymond Pierrehumbert. See especially Chapters 2, 4 and 7 (if your math is good).

          • Pierrehumbert is distinctly NOT quantitative .

          • DavidAppell

            Why don’t you read it and find out? I bet you can’t handle the math in it….

          • DavidAppell

            “That’s why you absolutely have to be able to demonstrate that you can compute the temperature of a simple colored ball.”

            What is the justification for modeling a planet as a “simple colored ball?”

          • DavidAppell

            “That’s why you absolutely have to be able to demonstrate that you can compute the temperature of a simple colored ball.”

            No — because planets are not croquet balls. Or golf balls, basketballs, tennis balls, baseballs, billiard balls, or ANY type of ball.

            Maybe it has escaped your notice, but planets have atmospheres.

            So your first assumption is just stupid. It’s no wonder you get stupid results.

            And I have already given you the expression for a colored ball. Though it’s clear you didn’t understand the arithmetic.

          • DavidAppell

            “Altho you don’t seem to be able to follow even the computation of energy density as a function of distance from the sun.”

            You mean your claim that the solid angle subtended by the Earth is independent of large the Earth is? Yeah, I CAN’T follow it — because it’s wrong. It’s completely, totally, OBVIOUSLY wrong.

          • DavidAppell

            “…given the crude assumption that Earth has an absorptivity=emissivity wrt the Sun’s spectrum of 0.7…”

            Emissivity is a property of an object. It doesn’t matter what light irradiates it.

            And this is a good time to remind you that just after you write a=e in your presentation, you then proceed (pg 23) to write aS = eT, where S is a spectrum and T is temperature.

            Notice, THIS IS DIFFERENT from a=e. And it doesn’t even make sense dimensionally, because OBVIOUSLY the units don’t balance, because obviously temperature does not have units of a spectrum.

          • DavidAppell

            “My observation is that the journeyman “climate scientist” does not even know how to calculate the temperature of a radiantly heated colored ball .”
            I explained this to you once; I’ll explain it again: Here is a general expression for its temperature T, assuming the surface of the ball is uniform. Let

            T = temperature
            sigma = Stefan-Boltzman constant
            v = light frequency
            e = emissivity = e(v,T)


            sigma*INTEGRAL[0,infinity]e(v, T)* T^4*dv = INTEGRAL[0,infinity]B(v,T)*dA*dv

            where B(v,T) is the Planck spectrum for frequency v and temperature T, and dA is the appropriate area differential for a sphere = cos(theta)d(DELTA), where theta is the angle of a light ray relative to the body’s surface and DELTA is the solid angle differential.

            This is a very difficult equation to solve (especially analytically) for the general case, where the emissivity e depends on v and T.

            For a flat, infinite plane where the emissitivity E is a constant for all v and T, which absorbs all the light energy it receives (viz., its albedo is zero) and F is the total light power incident on the plane per unit area of the surface, then

            F = E*sigma*T^4

            which gives

            T = (F/E*sigma)^(1/4)


          • Oh , here , thanks for repeating it .

            Want to look at it further , but it looks like you are getting closer . But from my perspective , lots of irrelevant noise .

          • So substituting F in your last equation , we have

            T = ( ( E*sigma*T^4 ) / E*sigma)^(1/4)
            T = (( T^4 ) / E*sigma ) ^ ( 1/4 )
            T = T / ( E * sigma )^( 1/4)

            And claim to have a PhD from George Sterman at Stony Brook ? I’m really checking into that .

            You bring in all sorts of irrelevant crap and don’t even have the power spectrum of the source or the absorption=emission spectrum of the object in the equation .

            I again leave it to others to judge our relative competence .

          • DavidAppell

            You can’t even do basic algebra, dumbo. You wrote:

            If T = ( ( E*sigma*T^4 ) / E*sigma)^(1/4)


            T = (( T^4 ) / E*sigma ) ^ ( 1/4 )

            Your 2nd equation is hilariously wrong. because you forgot the E*sigma in the numerator, which cancels the same in the deominator. Thus T=T.

            Jeesh, are you a poor mathematician. You can’t even do basic algebra. That makes you an ideal speaker for Heartland Institute conferences.

            Don’t reply until you have understood your trivial (trivial!) error, and apologized.

          • DavidAppell

            DId you find your algebra mistake yet? Or are you (again) going to pretend you weren’t in error.

          • DavidAppell

            BTW, a colored ball is a LOUSY model for a planet. Even worse than lousy — as Pauli would say, it’s not even wrong.

          • I am still waiting for your equation for the radiative balance of even that case . You presented an integral on some post which may have been half of the quotient of dot products required . Your notation is prolix .

          • DavidAppell

            This is now the 3rd time I’ve given it to you:

            Here is a general expression for the temperature T of an object:

            T = temperature
            sigma = Stefan-Boltzman constant
            v = light frequency
            e = emissivity = e(v,T)


            sigma*INTEGRAL[0,infinity]e(v, T)* T^4*dv = INTEGRAL[0,infinity]B(v,T)*dA*dv

            where B(v,T) is the Planck spectrum for frequency v and temperature T, and dA is the appropriate area differential [for a sphere = cos(theta)d(DELTA), where theta is the angle of a light ray relative to the body’s surface] and DELTA is the solid angle differential.

            This is a very difficult equation to solve (especially analytically) for the general case, where the emissivity e depends on v and T.

            For a flat, infinite plane where the emissitivity E is a constant for all v and T, which absorbs all the light energy it receives (viz., its albedo is zero) and F is the total light power incident on the plane per unit area of the surface, then

            F = E*sigma*T^4

            which gives

            T = (F/E*sigma)^(1/4)

            For a sphere I’m sure you can put in the differential spherical area element and do the integral yourself.

          • DavidAppell

            “Given that CO2 radiates to space exactly as much and in the same bands as it absorbs from the surface.”

            That’s completely wrong. These data is all about showing that that ISN’T true:

            Also, there are not CO2 “bands” in the surface radiation; it’s the Planck function of earth.

          • DavidAppell

            “After all , its spectral lines help make the planet appear near black in the IR as seen from the outside.”

            Then where did that IR energy go?

            PS: Notice that your second sentence directly contradicts your first sentence. Nice going.

      • Edahlgren

        The quote
        “Labelling anyone a ‘climate

        denier’ instantaneously qualifies oneself as being entitled to call oneself a complete fucking fuckwit.” is apt. The problem is that people like Michael E Mann and Orsekes instantly start with character assassination of *anyone* who disagrees with them in *any* way. Mann and Orsekes start their juvenile name calling for anyone who dares to question any of the science, period. Considering that there are a lot of open questions, for example, what is the actual Transient Climate Response (TCR) to a doubling of C02? No one knows and the range of TCR in the IPCC reports is getting larger, not smaller, it seems that Mann and Orsekes are more interested in being perceived as right instead of actually knowing something. They want to shout down and insult those who ask questions.

        In my experience, those who shout down anyone who ask questions are doing so because they are either liars, incompetent or hiding something. Note, in Manns case I think it is because he is incompetent and more interested in being famous than right.

  • hunterson

    The pro-forma attack on skeptics is rather silly. The issue is not that skeptics have shown the climate fear industry is full of bs. The issue is that the promoters of climate fear are increasingly indistinguishable from tawdry con-artists. Conway and Oreskes are merchants of ignorance. Their climate work is designed to further enfeeble those weak minds who read and believe their risible palpable tripe. For those with critical thinking skills, their climate work is unintentional self-parody which future historians will join in laughing at. Whether cynical money hunts by the authors or passionately sincere, Oreskes and Conway have added yet more to the pathetic bibliography of climate hype which they have so prominently contributed to.

  • Earnest_Green

    Oh no – the denialist blogs have got hold of this and they have arrived en masse in the comments.
    How dare you question the wisdom of Comrade Naomi and Saint Erik? How could you write this horrible attack on their scientific expertise and sober analysis? You must have been corrupted by Exxon, Big Tobacco and the Koch Brothers, how much did they pay to write this heresy? My poor pussy-cat is already looking sick, and I’m sure it must be caused by global warming.

  • Personally, like most people I know, I prefer warm climates to cold, so warming to the extent mentioned in global warming tracts (a couple of degC over decades) seems like the last thing I should be alarmed about.

    For sea level rise, why not move the polar ice caps to Dubai, where the water would be useful, in giant oil tankers? Sounds nuts but far more feasible than asking the world to quit cost-effective energy.

    I think we will adapt – and so will our pets.

  • I have a 4 word review for all of AGW, including this book:

    The models are useless.

    • I don’t think that the models are useless, but they do have a long long way to go before they can generate reasonably accurate predictions. The science here is immature — and one problem is that way too many people treat it as if it were mature.

  • Brian J. Baker

    “Oreskes rebuffs nuclear power, due mainly to “difficulties inherent to the technology and its management.”

    Anyone who thinks nuclear power is difficult to manage has obviously never heard of nuclear submarines. During our last election the green candidate stated that obtaining the necessary certification to run a small nuclear power station didn’t know that one had been running outside Derby county football ground for 50 years with people walking past it every day.
    These people are nuts.

  • Robbo_Perth

    As a liberal and libertarian scientist who often travels to China for international conferences, I know very well the feeling of admiration for Chinese authoritarianism lurking in the mind of many of my leftist Western colleagues. Conference dinners (after a little wine) is when their true feelings and dreams come out, whereas they have to be a little more restrained back home. The Chinese government is great, because they listen to the scientists and implement rational 10-year-plans, based on what is good for the people, without pandering to ignorant public opinion… the Chinese government is great because they make sure only the correct information is passed on to the people, not like in the West where evil foxnews & andrewbolt are allowed to exist and poison the bogans’ [rednecks’] minds and then they vote the wrong way… the Chinese government is great (of course) because it implements strict birth control and moves people around in a rational way… the Chinese government is great because it’s a barrier against the evil Western free-market economy…

    Underlying reason for all this: many academics think that because of their higher IQ, they can and must re-order the world and run it in a rational way, telling common people what to do. Because common people are too ignorant and stupid to understand on a rational level, scientists (so I heard from many colleagues) have to use a combination of scary stories and authoritarian government. Plato already had the same misconception 2500 years ago.

    • Thank you. Very well said. I think that Karl Popper had Plato figured out years ago, as shown in his boo, The Open Society and Its Enemies.

  • Mnestheus

    The historigraphic problem is that the authors previous book is almost as fictitious – look deeply into their footnotes and you’ll discover you’re reading a rehash of polemics from The Nation and Vanity Fair.

    • Yes, it is a deeply problematic book as well — but its flaws are not nearly as obvious.

    • askew2

      So are you saying that their previous works were fictitious? Please write up your arguments in detail. I’m sure that would be a compelling read.

  • The book has exactly zero negative reviews on Amazon.

    • hunterson

      That is difficult to believe, unless negative reviews are being deleted. The book is badly written, derivative, offers a physically impossible view of the future, demonstrates extreme ignorance regarding easy to check things like cats and temperature.

      • I just checked Amazon: 47 five-star reviews; 13 four-star; 15 three-star; 8 two-star; and 11 one-star. All of the “most helpful reviews” are positive. Here is a typical line from a “most helpful” review:

        “This book should be read by anyone interested in the future of our civilization during the lifetime of our children and grand-children. It should be read by scientists who are trying to warn us of the coming catastrophe from climate change. It should be read – but won’t be – by the politicians and the economic top 1% who are unable to comprehend, or simply don’t care, that they will be the major cause of almost unimaginable suffering to humanity, all for the sake of living the high-life for a decade or two. Oreskes and Conway are very perceptive historians who bring a strong understanding of science to their writing.”

        Astoundingly, one of the one-star reviews seems to argue that the book did not go far enough: “Very disappointing. Not nearly enough fictional ‘ detail ‘ on the progression of the inevitable collapse.”

        • hunterson

          It sure sounds like some astroturfed reviews. If the gushing reviews were from sincere people who are peers of the authors in terms of education, then they demonstrate some some pretty negative things about the academy.

          • askew2

            Yes, it’s almost as if the vast majority of climate scientists agreed with the authors. But that can’t be right….

          • hunterson

            That would mean they are fools, and I doubt that. So perhaps astroturf would be the right answer.

  • William O’Keefe

    It is mind boggling that the book is trashed as extremism beyond reason and yet the author accepts the Merchants of Doubt without reservation. That book is pure character assassination devoid of any objectivity or basis in truth.
    Denialists/skeptics are dismissed without a serious look at their arguments or criticisms of the climate establishment’s scientific facts which are meager.

    • It is not true that I accept Merchants of Doubt without reservation. I described it as “seminal,” which is merely a synonym for “influential.” Whatever one thinks of the book, it was influential in certain quarters. I regard it as a significant but highly problematic work.

  • William O’Keefe

    Yes it has been influential just as Senator Joe McCarthy was influential. It may also be seminal but not in the way most people think of that word. Oreskes attacks the dead because they can’t defend them selves. She has no shame.

    • You are right that “seminal” usually has positive connotations. Perhaps I should change the word. Nice nod to the Joe McCarthy issue y the way, but it would have been even better if you would have ended your comment with, “She has no sense of decency,” as that was the actual line from Joseph Welch at the hearings. (Welch to McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” See

  • William O’Keefe

    I have used the full Joseph Welch quote in describing Oreskes and it fits perfectly.

  • Adam Smith

    The book by Oreskes and Conway, their positions at Harvard and Cal Tech, and publication of the book by the Columbia University Press, reflect the real threat to the survival of Western Civilization, and the actual most compelling issue of our time: intellectual corruption, by which I mean gross intellectual dishonesty.