I guess that I am a ‘lukewarmer’

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the track I have argued that putting people or ideas into categories, while it may be useful for an early stage in sorting things out, is deceptive if it is carried too far. We don’t live in a binary world, but one with multiple shades of meaning. Not only do we not have to choose between black and white, there are almost certainly more than fifty shades of grey (the book with that title I found I could not finish).

In the ‘climate change’ domain those who criticise what I call ”the orthodoxy’, a set of propositions about the importance of curbing fossil fuels, are referred to as ‘deniers, ‘denialists’ and ‘contrarians’, which suggests a binary division. I refer to myself as an ‘agnostic’ with respect to the science and a ‘sceptic’ about the virtue of carbon taxes, Renewable Energy Targets and their counterparts. But that makes me, in the eyes of the orthodox, a ‘denialist’ etc. Inasmuch as we often have to summarise our position on issues I have searched for a label that would serve my own purpose, rather than someone else’s, and had begun to think of myself as a ‘lukewarmer’.

The meaning I give to that word is that adding CO2 to the atmosphere is likely, all other things being equal, to lead to higher global average temperatures. My caveat is that other things are not equal, and that on the evidence there have been other factors that enhance that warming or nullify it. It follows that CO2 additions are most unlikely to be the sole or even the major contributor to global warming when we have it.

Further, whether or not higher temperatures are harmful to humanity and other life forms is another question altogether. On the evidence so far, the 0.8 C warming of the past hundred years seems to have been beneficial. Further still, whether or not humanity is threatened by warming is another question too. The argument for it is based on the projections of computer models that have not been able to predict the past ten years or so without appreciable warming. Accordingly there is no need to demonise fossil fuels. There is much more to it all than that, I agree, but those three basic statements seem to me to distinguish the people who call themselves ‘lukewarmers’, and I am happy to be of their number, especially as they include Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen and Matt Ridley.

As it happens, Brigitte Nerlich decided to explore the origin of the term and its current meaning, and that has enabled me to check on the appropriateness of the word for my position. You can read her account here. She found something from Stephen Mosher (who thinks of himself as one) to the effect that to be a lukewarmer is to be inside the science but at odds with the public face of that science, which is a neat and I think accurate summation. Another summary is that of Matt Ridley: Global lukewarming need not be catastrophic. He talks about a lukewarm “third way” — that climate change is real but slow, partly man-made but also susceptible to natural factors, and might be dangerous, but more likely will not be, and man-made climate change is real, just not very frightening.

I’m happy with all that, I thought, and then I started to read the comments, which added more substance. Lukewarmers think that climate sensitivity is likely to be low, and since I’ve thought so too (see here), I’ve added that to the list. Then Lucia Liljegren (see my Blogroll — The Blackboard), who is a statistician of some note, argued that lukewarmers try to distinguish themselves, in particular, from what she called the real deniers:

Lukewarmers disagree with those who:
1) Believe CO2 has no net warming effect.
2) Believe the warming effect is so small that any observed rise in measured global temperature is 100% due to natural causes.
3) Believe the measured global temperature rise purely or mostly a result of “fiddling”.
4) Believe the world is more likely to cool over the next 100 years than warm.

Yes, I’ll accept that set of statements too, though from #1 to #3 are matters where finally having decent data will settle the argument. As to #4, I simply do not know, and nor does anyone else. It is all argument and computer modelling.

The comments section, and the arguments in it, produced a response from Ms Nerlich that I found completely acceptable: Yes, labels are insidious, divisive and slippery like eels! As societies we cannot live without them, but it makes working together so much more difficult. I am puzzled as to why labels have proliferated so much in the climate change debate. I don’t think the proliferation is restricted to ‘climate change’. Labels are characteristic of our tribe. It is how we find allies and know enemies. And when people try to give us labels that we don’t like, we look for ones that we like — and that’s how I got into seeing myself as a lukewarmer!

Lukewarmers aren’t necessarily supporters of fossil fuels. Thomas W. Fuller, who co-authored ClimateGate with Stephen Mosher, argues that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels because their supply is limited. I am not sure about that, but agree that he may be right, just as those who argue that we will never run out of them, just as we haven’t run out of trees, may be right too. Fuller is for nuclear power; others of the same view are for power sources based on thorium. I have no objection to either, if they work. What I want is reliable and affordable electric power. I depend on it every day for nearly everything. Fussing about with wind turbines and solar arrays for grid power at the moment seems to me to be almost fatuous. How can anyone seriously support it? We do not have the knowledge yet to justify it.

But I do think that that in exploring the harnessing of solar energy we are going in the right direction, and I have supported R&D in that area  for thirty years. One day we will be able to store solar energy effectively and cheaply, and when we do that a great deal of the current debate will disappear. As developments occur that can be marketed sensibly (as in the use of solar energy for hot water) the market takes them up. It is the forcible take-up of devices that cannot sustain themselves in the market without subsidies that I object to. Once a subsidy is in place, it is extraordinarily difficult to remove it, as we are seeing with the debates about the ludicrous RET.

Lukewarmer, it turns out, is a fuzzy label, and I have to retreat to saying that when I use it about myself, I mean what you read above.

[Footnote:  I came across a careful 12-minute video by Dr David Evans about the sceptic’s case on ‘climate change’. I thought it was quite good, though it doesn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover everything in that time. You can view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gDErDwXqhc ]


















Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Alan Gould says:

    Yes, some labels stick in the craw and arouse antagonism. ‘Denier’ or ‘denialist’ is one such for me because it is intended to relegate and dismiss, and shows precisely the unthinking qualities in the person who uses the term as he seeks to apply to me. On the other hand, I have always been entirely happy to applky the term ‘alarmist’ to many because the most cursory glance at their discourse shows the intent to raise alarm being inalienable to it.
    On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with ‘Sceptic’ because it accords with what my mindset is on this issue. The term ‘Lukewarmer’ does not appeal to me much, as i think ‘Sceptic’ covers that. I agree that the basis of an attitude should have this degree of fluidity, however. If I have argued that CO2 is entirely innocent, but discover with further unfolding of the argument that it has a role in warming, but is moderated in the way you describe above, then I need to modify my discourse. This ought to be the basis upon which the entire controversy is managed, but instead it has rigidified into predisposed attitudes whose psychological cause, I suspect, has a far older hold on human reactions than the AGW argument.

  • Neville says:

    I posted this yesterday at Jo Nova’s blog———-

    If everyone read Lomborg’s “Cool It” or watched his movie (of the book) on youtube we would have a much better educated population.

    BTW I just posted this at Bolt’s blog in response to Bowen’s stupid understanding of AGW.

    Don’t forget it has taken about 100 years to raise co2 levels from 300 to 400 ppmv or about one part co2 in 10,000 parts of the air we breathe. That’s correct that’s an increase of JUST 1 in 10,000 parts of the atmosphere. Yet the alarmist scientists like Trenberth, Flannery, Solomons, Schmidt etc also tell us there is nothing we can do about the mitigation of CAGW for thousands of years. The mitigation of so called CAGW is the greatest con and fraud in science for over one hundred years. And it will cost OZ 100s of billions $ over the next few decades for zero change to the climate, co2 levels and temp. Just refer to the PR study from the Royal Society and National Academy of Science report.


  • handjive says:

    When commenting @theconversation, I use the description “climate consensus rebel”. I am now blocked.

    Donna Laframboise:

    “Last week I tried out a new self-description, one that has been bopping around inside my head for a while. I called myself a ‘climate rebel.’

    Those of us who dissent from mainstream thinking about climate change truly are voices in the wilderness, analogous to the Rebel Alliance in the fictional Star Wars’ universe. Scattered, underfunded, thin-on-the-ground – that’s us.

    On the other hand, the forces assembled against us are massive.”

    I will not empower their words, however ‘mild’ they seem.

    • dlb says:

      Didn’t you know “The Conversation” is an interface for sensible conversations between academia and the public. Frivolous names like “climate consensus rebel” are just not acceptable, you should try something serious like “resistance gnome”.
      (my tongue is in my cheek)

  • Neville says:

    This is the 2014 joint Royal Society, NAS report point 20. The authors are Trenberth, Solomons etc. They point out that we could reduce all human co2 emissions today but wouldn’t see a change in temp or co2 levels for thousands of years.

    Flannery said as much to Bolt in 2011, therefore we can say that Labor/Greens claims of “taking action on CAGW” is a total con and fraud.

    • dlb says:

      Surely you don’t believe what the orthodox say without a heavy dose of scepticism?
      I have been following the interesting thread over at Climate Etc about CO2 attribution. If I remember rightly Ferdinand E. who I have some respect for, claims that if we kept the emissions at current levels we would see CO2 levels start to fall as the sinks catch up with the emissions. I tried to verify this claim but the thread is too long. Anyway Ferdinand seems to talk a lot of sense.

  • RB says:

    Believe the measured global temperature rise purely or mostly a result of “fiddling”

    Maybe something for Lucia to comment on:

    The ‘derivative’ of the temperature anomalies from Woodfortrees is
    the monthly change in temperature divided by the change in time (in

    If the error in monthly anomalies is ? then the error in the derivative is ?2.?/month (square root of the sum of the squares).

    The error in the difference in the two derivatives is 2?/month or 24?/year.
    The actual standard deviation for the differences from the measurements
    (?) should be half of this, 12?/year (the convention is to use 2xSD for
    the error).

    The ? for the differences in the derivatives of GISS LOTI and RSS
    from 1979 is 0.14. This gives an estimate of the uncertainty of each
    monthly anomaly of about ±0.01°C. Remember, this estimate is for repeats
    of the same experiments making the same measurements where the error
    for each month, ?, is 2 times the SD of repeat measurements.
    GISS LOTI is an index of global temperature change from surface
    thermometers and RSS is the satellite measurements of the lower
    troposphere. The surface data comes from thermometer readings that are
    not spaced evenly and need homgenisation (and other adjustments for TOB etc.). The average of half hour readings can vary by degrees from the average of the min and max readings, they suffer from UHI effects whereas RSS does not and there are a lot of other issues.

    There is a systematic error so looking at the two plots of anomalies, they do look different but I noticed that general shape was too close to be realistic. One has copied the others work. Apparently, the Hadley Centre has admitted that they calibrate their work with the satellite data. The same guys who’s dog ate their homework (missing raw data).

    The accusation is that while the world has warmed since the LIA, not only has the warming been exaggerated but done in a way to reduce the obvious natural oscillation (get rid of the cooling between 1940-80 as well as the pause).

  • David says:

    I believe in vaccinations. It is just that I think
    small pox is good for you. J

  • David says:

    Don, if you want to seriously re position yourself as “lukewarmer” you need to consider how you respond to some of the denialist comments you receive on this site. I cant recall you ever countering with a lukewarmer position.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      My position has been the same for ten years or so. I’ve found a label that might fit, that’s all. I’ve dealt with some of the more extreme positions, such as the whole thing is a hoax or a conspiracy, in separate posts. I don’t respond to every comment that’s made — commenters themselves often argue with one another, as they do with you.

  • margaret says:

    Isn’t being a ‘lukewarmer’ like sitting on a fence? Can get splinters that way. Good luck with your book launch – I like those Paperchain events.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      No, Margaret. Your metaphor suggests that there are only two positions, one side of the fence or the other, while I am trying to say that there are other positions. The fence is an example of the binary option that I argue against int he essay.

      • margaret says:

        Yes I understand, the clash of black and white positions seems to be what drives progress in the west, but lukewarm is a position that appears tepid. It’s not a persuasive word. You are it seems ‘inside the tent … “, a better position than most ignoramuses (sic?), by being inside the science but at odds with the public face of that science.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          What we are talking about here is Hegel’s dialectic, the notion that a proposition (thesis) is countered by its opposite (antithesis) and the tension is resolved by chiselling away at the differences until we have a new position that has a bit of both (synthesis). As you say, a good deal of our advances in knowledge come, or at least seem to come, from that play of argument.

          But at any time, there may be many varieties of the thesis, and many varieties of the antithesis. I think that is the case today in the domain of ‘climate change’, and my discovery of the ‘lukewarm’ position allowed me to find a label for myself (not that I really need one) that I was comfortable with.

          As you will have read, there are other lukewarmers who also hold different positions too, so there’s not one central ‘lukewarm’ position. I agree the word comes with some indifferent baggage.

          • margaret says:

            I don’t think the dialectic necessarily works in a favourable way, many ‘advances’ have been the result of the most powerful rather than the most knowledgeable and have wreaked havoc – I find the whole climate change ‘debate’ so … repetitive and unhelpful. Clever men (and thankfully some women) who have scientific knowledge and seem mostly intent simply on being right.

            I like debates for entertainment but the winner of a debate is not necessarily right. I’m happy to be called naive – I think teamwork and sharing knowledge gets the best results in all instances.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I have to confess that I’m getting tired of the debate, and feel that I have nothing further to add to it — only responding to new papers or new events that bear on the debate. There simply are other interesting things about in the world.

  • […] little while ago I came across a remark by Stephen Mosher, whom I’ve mentioned before, to the effect that unless the sceptical minority came up with their own theory about how and why […]

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