Word games in ‘climate change’

I have been interested in ‘anthropogenic global warming’ for several years, and one aspect of it that fascinates me, if only because I am a writer, is the verbal jousting that goes on in public arguments, and in particular on the blogs. Those who support the orthodoxy have the upper hand, as the orthodox generally do. They see sceptics and dissenters not simply as the enemy, but as rather less intelligent than themselves, and to be put down for both reasons.

They do so by dismissing any objection or alternative offered by the dissenter, not by showing that it is wrong, for good reasons that are displayed, but by undermining the ground on  which the dissenter stands. None of this is peculiar to ‘climate change’ – you can see its equivalent in any debate or dispute where the orthodox confront dissenters, like economics, or religion, or foreign affairs.

But since I am a sort of sceptic in this field, and have seen a lot of the debate, I thought it might be fun to set out the dismissals, and how a dissenter might respond to each of them. Here we go.

(1) ‘You’re not a climate scientist (so what would you know?) …’ There are two possible retorts here. The first makes the point that climate science is a new field, and those with any seniority in it have come from another discipline. In the second, you agree that you are not a climate scientist, but point out that neither is Ms Gillard, nor any other member of the present Federal Government or Parliament. Yet both Government and Parliament are obliged to come to a decision on ‘climate change’, and to do that MPs and Senators have to read, think and ask questions. And we the citizens have to be able to judge whether or not they have done so well, so we too have to read, think, ask questions and make our own minds up. Was the carbon tax necessary? Will it have any effect on global emissions? We have to be able to decide on such questions at election time.

(2) ‘Don’t you realise that 97 per cent of all climate scientists agree about AGW?’  This challenge has a number of siblings, like the ‘thousands of scientists’ who are said to have worked on the various IPCC reports, or other large numbers or proportions of those published in the field who agree about AGW. If you follow the references up, these numbers and proportions just evaporate. The 97 per cent figure turns out to be 75 of 77 people, while the thousands writing the IPCC reports turn out to be a modest score or so (yes, there are thousands of references in the IPCC reports, but that is a different matter).

(3) ‘But all the scientific bodies agree about AGW!’   It is true that the executives of many scientific organisations around the world have issued statements warning of the rise of AGW and calling for action, but it is also true that none of these statements has been endorsed by the membership, and that in some cases these statements have caused unrest within the  organisations and resignations by prominent members. I would add that these statements seem political to me, rather than scientific. But you would need to read them yourself, and come to a view.

(4) ‘We must observe the Precautionary Principle!’  The Precautionary Principle is a version of Pascal’s Wager, and has no more force. It states that being unsure is no reason for not acting. ‘Better safe than sorry’ is a proverbial version, while ‘first do no harm’ is the medical one. But it cuts both ways: since it is clear that the science surrounding AGW is not certain (and when is science ever ‘certain’?) are we right to reduce our own standard of living, and condemn poor societies to further decades of poverty?  There’s a considerable degree of harm there, and that’s what a global carbon tax would achieve.

(5) ”I care a great deal about the future for my grandchildren! (and you, by contrast, are a selfish slob)’.  If this argument is produced  you are doing well. The person offering it is not able to argue with  you, but has gone to the high moral ground for safety. Even weaker versions of this dismissal are to claim that you must also be a ‘creationist’, or someone who doesn’t think that smoking causes lung cancer. Incidentally, never buy into either argument, even though you know that many smokers do not die of lung cancer or related diseases. It’s a side-track, and you can’t win.

(6) ‘Have you seen So-and-So’s paper that debunks/disproves/throws cold water on (whatever point you were making)?’   The orthodox usually rest on the last IPCC Assessment Report, but from time to time a new paper will come out that appears to buttress it. If you don’t know the new paper the safest course is to say so. If you have read in the area, you could summon up the papers that point the other way. Usually you will be told that those papers are not taken seriously, or were dismissed by the IPCC last time, or were published in inferior journals. Your best course is to nod, but express caution – the last word on this subject has not been said…

Global warming and climate change are subjects made for argument. I hope that by reading the above you will be better prepared for next occasion one arises.

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Christine says:

    Yes, it is very difficult to hold a reasoned discussion when those in the discussion are not using reason or are arguing from flawed logic. Of the points you raise it is worth considering the following:

    (1) Many of the most prominent participants in the debate including Gore, Stern and Garnaut are not scientists, and of the scientists participating in the debate most including Tim Flannery, who is an Australian Mammologist and Paleontologist special sing in the evolution of the kangaroo, are not climate scientiststs.

    (2) I am not aware of the number of climate scientists within the scientific community, however, this statistic must be available so that it should be possible to quantify the number of climate scientists who either agree or disagree with AGW. However, it is more likely that their response would be more nuanced as many of the arguments for and against AGW, as demonstrated by the following website,( http://www.globalwarminghysteria.com/ten-myths-of-global-warming/ ) are drawn from a variety of scientific disciplines and specialties.

    (3) ditto as above.

    • Peter Lang says:

      Christine said:

      Yes, it is very difficult to hold a reasoned discussion when those in the discussion are not using reason or are arguing from flawed logic.

      True. But isn’t that exactly what people are doing when they argue illogically for irrational policies?

      It seems that people who advocate climate alarmism and precautionary principle are being selective (cherry picking). They argue we must urgently stop ACO2 emissions by implementing policies that will do enormous damage to humanity, but without being able to demonstrate the policies they advocate will deliver any benefits. That’s no precautionary principle. That’s ideology and religious-like zealotry.

      • Christine says:

        Peter using rhetorical devices that unnecessarily polarizes the participants in a discussion to extremes whether that is calling them ‘climate deniers’ or ‘climate alarmists’ is unhelpful.
        The sciencific evidence and the policy approach need to be dealt with separately. This is because it is possible to agree with the science and not the policy as well as disagree with the science and the policy or agree with science and the policy.
        The precautionary principle is not policy but a principle of international law, so the argument for or against its use needs to be based on the appropriateness of its application given the facts.

        • Peter Lang says:

          Christine, you said:

          “Peter using rhetorical devices that unnecessarily polarizes the participants in a discussion to extremes whether that is calling them ‘climate deniers’ or ‘climate alarmists’ is unhelpful.”

          I suggest you should consider applying your advice to yourself and your motivations. The rhetorical devises you use are the same as you accuse others of. You comments are clearly based on motivated, political reasoning. They initiate polarization (intentionally, I suspect). Your first comment used loaded words and so did your reply to me.

          Perhaps you should think about your rhetorical and polarizing wording. It is unhelpful. If there is any unbiased substance to the rest of what you say, it’s ignored because your comments are based on motivated reasoning.

          • Christine says:

            My apologies Peter, my sentence construction was not the best for what it was intended to express. By addressing you personally it seems you took the comments that followed as directed to you personally, as they are in my first sentence here. That was not my intention. Rather it was to point out that emotive language functions in particular ways, which do not assist in arriving at the scientific truth of the matter. However emotive language can be powerfully persuasive as classical rhetoricians and good barristers are aware.

            So once again please accept my apologies and my intention to be more careful in constructing my sentences in future discourse.

          • Peter Lang says:


            No apology is needed because no offence was
            taken. I think you may have mis-interpreted my first comment. I’ve re-read it and I feel it is clear – and an important point. This is, most of those advocating ‘sustainability’ and ‘precautionary principle’ are actually activist for an ideological cause. They are not interested in weighing and balancing benefits and costs or of considering the overall consequences of the policies they advocate (like carbon pricing and renewable energy). They just want governments to mandate, regulate and subsidise what they believe in.

            The Brundtland Report advocated economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development. However, Bob Hawke’s government twisted that for political reasons (to win the Green vote) to “Ecologically Sustainable Development. In Australia, we’ve been trying to undo the mess that caused ever since. Now we have an even worse government making the situation far worse.

          • Christine says:

            There are many people who call themselves climate change or environmental activists. I am not sure why they adopt this label for themselves. Perhaps it is because they have a political rather than an intellectual interest in the debate. If this is the case it is possible that their advocacy is based on a political ideology.
            I am sure Don would be the best person to address the question of how policy is made and adopted by political parties and to what degree cost/benefit analyses are part of the process and to what degree political ideology holds sway.
            Thank you for pointing out that ESD as opposed to Envirnmentally Sustainable Development has a political pedigree in Australia. I am not aware of what consequences flow from this.
            In practical terms the two definitions within the law have come to mean quite different things, ‘environment’ broadening the consideration of the genesis of the impacts, while ‘ecological’ denotes a closer consideration of the impacts on one element of the system with other related and dependent elements.

          • Peter Lang says:


            You said:
            “There are many people who call themselves climate change or environmental activists.”

            True. However, importantly, most of the leading climates scientists are activists but they don’t admit to it. And’also importantly, they and the so called environmental NGO’s are leading us to create bad laws, such as the ones you are talking about. We need to recognise this and work to get governments that will remove those those bad laws.

            The thirteen part “Clearing up the climate
            debate”, which was written by Australia’s top climate scientists, demonstrates they are up to their necks in activism.

            ‘Part One’ provides links to the thirteen Parts (scroll to the end of the article). And a list of the signatories that endorsed this compendium. It’s a list of who’s who of Australia’s top climate scientists.

            It is clear from the contributions written by these top climate scientists they are activists and extremists.

            I went first to ‘Part Four’ (written by Mike Sandiford) to try to find out what they say about the consequences of AGW. Why are the scientists saying it is catastrophic?

            It’s about the evilness of humans, the damage plastic bags are doing and the like.

            Nowhere in the thirteen Parts, written by Australia’s top climate scientists, could I find any persuasive case for dangerous or catastrophic climate change.

            Don’t miss ‘Part 13’ the wrap up by a well known climate activist!

          • Christine says:

            Yes, it is easy to see why you can easily dismiss this document and therefore it’s authors and the views they represent. I am not sure who they expect to convince and what they expect them to be convinced of!
            I am not so sure about ‘bad’ laws. It would be worth reviewing the case law and perhaps the progress of projects subject to EIAs to see the relative beneficial and detrimental effects of the laws. Law reform is an ongoing process and it is ultimately the public good which should be served.
            It would seem that everyone agrees on natural climate change? Perhaps if what this is and its extent was clearer any changes not due to natural processes could be more clearly identified and their impacts quantified.

          • Peter Lang says:


            Perhaps if what this is and its extent
            was clearer any changes not due to natural processes could be more clearly
            identified and their impacts quantified.

            There is an enormous amount of debate on the attribution of man’s CO2 emissions
            to weather events and climate. Judith Curry’s web site would be a good place to
            get some background. Here is a recent
            thread with links to other threads: http://judithcurry.com/2012/11/05/systemic-thinking-on-causation/

            I am not so sure about ‘bad’ laws. It
            would be worth reviewing the case law and perhaps the progress of projects
            subject to EIAs to see the relative beneficial and detrimental effects of the

            The problem can be bad laws or it can be interpretation and
            implementation of bad laws. Either way,
            bad laws need to be changed. The ‘Precautionary
            Principle’ is being interpreted by environment activists and climate activists (including
            activist judges) to support the policies they want implemented. That is, policies that will do great economic
            damage. Economic damage means damage to
            human well being. They are using the ‘Precautionary
            Principle’ to put focus only on the ‘Ecological’ part of the Brundtland Report’s
            three pillars and avoid the other two: “economically, ecologically and socially
            sustainable development”. So, however people
            may wish to present it, the law is being misused and therefore needs to be

            The costs of what we are doing, both in Australia
            and world wide in the name of ‘Precautionary Principle’ – such as carbon pricing
            and renewable energy – are huge. The costs
            enormously exceed the benefits. There is
            no evidence that such schemes can ever deliver the expected net benefits. In fact the opposite is the case. Here is one example (just for Australia):


  • Christine says:

    On the point (4) the precautionary principle is a principle of international law with validity and application beyond the climate change debate. As John M Van Dyke points out in his paper on the evolution of the principle, it has played a central role in “the 1992 Biodiversity Convention, the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the transformation of what used to be called the London Dumping Convention, the adoption of the 1995 Straddling and Migatory Species Convention, widespread protests against the shipment of ultra hazardous radioactive cargos and the global moratorium on the harvesting of whales.”
    In essence the principle shifts the burden of responsibility for preventing or reducing harms to those undertaking a development or using a resource.

    (5) This accusation also arises from a principle of international law, that of sustainable development, from the Brundtland Report:
    “Sustainable development is development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations

  • Warwick says:

    I think that something very important should be noted in relation to the assertion that “the great majority of climate scientists support the idea that human activity is bringing about catastrophic global warming (or climate change.)
    I must admit that I am simply quoting Stewart Franks, the adjunct professor of hydrology at the University of Newcastle, NSW. He noted that the overwhelming majority of academic climate scientists were committed environmentalists before they became climate scientists. To be more precise, they were convinced that humankind is destroying the natural world long before they began their university studies. I imagine that they were strongly influenced, as adolescents, by Rachel Carson’s very flawed book, “The Silent Spring.”

    This is the religious aspect of the belief in AGW. In fact, environmentalism IS the new religion, replacing Christianity in its believers. Since things such as the totality of the influences on climate are only very vaguely understood, it is possible to produce explanations and predictions that suit one’s pre-existing convictions.

  • Christine says:

    Yes, it is difficult when the distinction of who is and who is not a climate scientist, as opposed to who is a scientist working in the field of climate change is blurred. ( http://climatescientistsaustralia.org.au/about/members.html )
    I am not sure of the biographies of these scientists and how they gained a passion for the environment and equally whether their current interest in climate change is internally or externally driven by the zeitgeist.
    However, these are not new problems for the scientific community, so perhaps a bit of historical reflection on the process of the development of scientific theory and discovery may assist?

  • Christine says:

    Peter, far from environmental law being vague on causation it looks to the ‘seed’ of the injury to substantiate any claim and it’s onus of proof is sufficiently rigorous. ( http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/toxic-tort-and-environmental-law-update-81420/ )

    Systematic causation may be sufficient for socital speculation, but it is direct causation that is necessary to make a case in law for the purposes of compensation.

    It is likely that a more precautionary approach to causation which looks at systematic causation, is being adopted by councils and encoded in planning law to avoid future litigation and compensation claims.

  • […] written about the Precautionary Principle before. With that title it was adopted at the 1992 Rio conference on climate, and it has been used a great […]

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