Mar 31 2016

The Need for Improved Food Production

land useThere are two undeniable trends that impact global food production – increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is warming the planet, and the human population is growing. The former affects production, the latter demand. In both cases there are anti-scientific ideological groups hampering progress, and even denying that there is a problem.

By 2050 it is estimated that the world human population will be 9.7 billion. This means we will need to produce 87% more food than we produce today. Johannes Kromdijk and Stephen P. Long argue in a recent paper that we need to act now if we are going to avoid a serious food shortage. They argue we are “One crop breeding cycle from starvation.”

Rising CO2

Some who deny the reality of global climate change have argued that, even if CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere, who is to say it’s a bad thing? Plants breath CO2, so increasing CO2 should just increase plant growth.

Kromdijk and Long point out that this view is naive. This is based on the simplistic thinking that if some is good then more is better (the fallacious basis of the entire supplement industry). In reality, biological systems exist in a complex homeostasis. Further, evolution is very efficient at optimizing biological systems to their current environment. If you rapidly change that environment, there may not be time for evolution to catch up.

They give this quick summary of the science:

The chloroplast accounts for the majority of leaf nitrogen in crops. Within the chloroplast about 25% of nitrogen is invested in the carboxylase, Rubisco, which catalyses the first step of CO2 assimilation. Most of the remaining nitrogen is invested in the apparatus to drive carbohydrate synthesis and regenerate ribulose-1:5-bisphosphate (RuBP), the CO2-acceptor molecule at Rubisco. At preindustrial [CO2], investment in these two aspects may have been balanced resulting in co-limitation. At today’s [CO2], there appears to be over-investment in Rubisco, and despite the counter-active effects of rising temperature and [CO2], this imbalance is predicted to worsen with global climate change.

Rising CO2 is causing an imbalance in how plants incorporate nitrogen and carbon, causing a deviation from evolved optimality. Wild plants will adapt eventually, but crops are not evolving under natural selective pressures. They change through deliberate cultivation, which means we (not nature) have to develop cultivars that are adapted to a world with higher CO2.

Sorry, global warming deniers, but rapidly changing the environment is probably not a good thing.

GMOs

This brings us to the other anti-science ideology, the pro-organic, anti-GMO movement. This movement is almost entirely based on the appeal-to-nature fallacy, and scaremongering about new technology. Daniel Engber wrote in a recent commentary that the movement is more akin to a religion, and is simply not about facts.

One of the talking points in the anti-GMO movement is that we do not need to increase our food production. We produce more than enough food today to feed the world’s population, the real problem is distribution. While this is true, it entirely misses the point – the point that Kromdijk and Long now make explicit. It actually misses two points.

The first is that agriculture has a huge footprint on the planet. According to a National Geographic study in 2005, 40% of the Earth’s land mass is used for agriculture. All of the best land for agriculture is already being used. The same study indicates that we could potentially double the land mass used for agriculture, but we will be spreading into less desirable land, and devastating natural ecosystems in the process (mostly in Africa and South America).

Remember, we will need to produce 87% more food by 2050, and we cannot simply increase land use 87%. We need to use our land more efficiently.

The authors point out that two-thirds of the calories consumed by humans come from just four staple crops: rice, wheat, maize and soya bean. So clearly part of the solution will need to involve improved efficiency in these crops.

There are multiple potential solutions. A lot of land is used for raising animals for meat. There is some efficiency to be gained by reducing the total number of calories derived from meat. However, much of this land is used for grazing and is poorly suited for crops. In any case reducing meat consumption is probably going to be necessary.

Microfarming is another opportunity – breeding insects for food. This does not mean you will have to eat whole insects. Insect protein can be milled into a flour substitute. I haven’t tried cricket bread, but I understand it tastes just fine.

No matter what else we do, however, we also need to increase the efficiency and productivity of our major crops. This takes time.

This is the other point that the anti-GMO crowd misses – they argue that we don’t need GM technology to feed the world today, but that is not the point. We need to the technology to feed the world tomorrow.

Kromdijk and Long point out that the breeding cycle, the time it takes to develop a new cultivar and then deploy it in the field, is about 20 years. That means that any new cultivar we start developing today will become available around 2036. This further means we are coming up fast on the time necessary to develop solutions for 2050 – and the clock doesn’t stop at 2050.

No matter how you slice it, we need to prioritize agricultural efficiency and we need to be availing ourselves of every possible technology in order to do this.

Organic farming is going in the wrong direction – this is boutique farming with lower yields and therefore greater land use, catering to the well-fed. Proponents argue it is more sustainable, but that is not true if you consider land use.

I have argued before, organic farming is an ideologically driven false dichotomy. We need to utilize whatever methods are evidence-based and produce the optimal sustainability and efficiency. Organic farming, I believe, stands in the way of that progress and is therefore bad for the environment.

Genetic engineering is one technology (no one says it is the only technology) that can be used to address this looming crisis.

This is where the paper gets pretty technical, but basically they are talking about using GM technology to develop cultivars that “Optimize photosynthetic leaf nitrogen allocation.” Essentially, they want to make photosynthesis more efficient. This will also include optimizing the sensing and incorporation of CO2 into the plant.

There are also other research programs underway to genetically improve photosynthesis in major crops, like wheat and soy. This could improve yields 36-60%. It’s a good thing that we are not yet at the theoretical maximal efficiency for photosynthesis – turning sunlight into plant calories. But in order to take advantage of the potential to improve efficiency, there is no question that we need genetic engineering.

Conclusion

It is easy to dismiss warnings of future doom by appealing to the historical fact that the doomsayers have all been wrong before. This is a legitimate point – we are not always dealing with a zero-sum game, and technology and simple human cleverness has a way of changing the game and earning us another generation or century of growth.

But there are limits, and our success has come at a cost. Converting natural ecosystems to farmland (again – 40% of the Earth’s land mass) has had devastating effects on the environment and animal populations.

Earth-bound human population cannot grow forever. At some point we have to reach an equilibrium point. We also have to decide what we want to the Earth to look like at that point. It seems obvious to me that we would want to feed ourselves with the smallest amount of land possible, leaving the rest for living space and natural ecosystems.

In order to achieve this end we need to continue to use human cleverness and technology, including genetic engineering.

This means that right now it is a pretty close contest between global warming deniers and anti-GMO alarmists in terms of which ideological group will have the greater negative impact on our environment.

 

62 responses so far

62 thoughts on “The Need for Improved Food Production”

  1. Skeptico says:

    By 2050 it is estimated that the world human population will be 9.7 billion. This means we will need to produce 87% more food than we produce today.

    Steven

    Are you sure that math is correct? Your link states the current world population is 7.3 billion. Wouldn’t 9.7 billion be a 33% increase?

  2. That figure is from the paper. If you dig deeper, the reference they cite says:
    “The world is experiencing rising demands for crop production, stemming from three key forces: increasing human population, meat and dairy consumption from growing affluence, and biofuel consumption. By 2050, global agricultural production may need to be increased by 60%–110% to meet these increasing demands, as well as to provide food security to the ∼870 million now chronically undernourished.”

    So it is more than just straight population increase. As I said, we can mitigate it somewhat by reducing meat consumption. I did not mention biofuels, but that is another factor we can manipulate. We can also optimize food distribution and reduce waste.

    Even if we did everything, we still would need to increase our food production as population grows, and we are already using 40% land mass for agriculture.

    2050 is an arbitrary date. The real question is, where will the human population level off?

  3. Would think GM technology can easily add the traits to eliminate the need for pollinators in certain crops. No bees? No problem. Stay ahead of banana diseases. Expand the climatic range of food crops, grow rice in Chicago, lingonberries in São Paulo. Turn annuals into perennials. What’s not to like?

  4. Ivan Grozny says:

    “Sorry, global warming deniers, but rapidly changing the environment is probably not a good thing.”

    Heard about “CO2 fertilization”? Hint: it is already boosting agricultural productivity tremendously and its going to do it even more in the future. The current literature on agricultural productivity estimates that CO2 increased the crop yield by about 15% since 1961. The estimates show that a 300ppm increase in the CO2 content leads to 25-55% increase in plant biomass! With higher CO2 atmospheric concentration the crop yield is going to increase yet further.

    This is a review of the literature by one of the leading experts in CO2 fertilization:

    http://web.uvic.ca/~kooten/Agriculture/CO2FoodBenefit(2013).pdf

  5. Ivan Grozny says:

    And I am not saying that this proves that the increased CO2 is a good thing for food production on balance, just that you cannot make an informed judgement about that without taking into account a truly gigantic boost that increased CO2 gives to plant growt,h which is well documented in literally thousands of studies.

  6. MikeLewinski says:

    The most recently approved GE crops in the United States both have traits to reduce food waste. The Arctic Apple is non-browning and the Simplot White Russet (Innate) potato is reduced bruising and also lower reducing sugar content. The VP of Simplot explains here how these features will reduce waste:

    In terms of food waste, the blackening that occurs after potatoes are bruised affects the quality and recovery in processing French fries and chips – in bad years this can be more than 5% of all loads, according to the industry. The affected potatoes must be trimmed or face rejection before processing, resulting in quality challenges or economic loss. In fact, some processors reject loads with reducing sugar content above 2%, which we understand can be up to 20% of potatoes produced. However, Innate potatoes exhibit significantly less black spot bruising and lower reducing sugar content, which could save growers and processors tens of millions of dollars.

    I frequently encounter the argument “We don’t need genetic engineering to feed the world because we already waste enough food to feed everyone”. It’s a false dichotomy because not only can GE increase yields, but it can reduce waste too.

  7. Ivan – that is misleading. Here is a good summary why: http://www.skepticalscience.com/carbon-fertilization-effect.html

    The main points:

    – Most of the CO2 fertilization effect is in the tropics, not in the farm belt. In the farm belt the effect is small and mitigated by warming.
    – When dealing with crops, that are already pushing the limits of production, the CO2 fertilization effect causes an imbalance with other needed nutrients, like nitrogen. That was the point made in the current paper – you can’t just increase one nutrient and expect it will be beneficial.
    – The CO2 fertilization effect diminishes as CO2 increases and eventually levels off. So when extrapolating forward, as the paper was doing, you can’t just extrapolate from prior trends, You have to account for the diminishing effect, which involves an increasing nutrient mismatch – again, a point of the paper.

  8. BBBlue says:

    Preview of things to come: The first drought I experienced in California was in 1976-77, when the state’s population was 22 million. No problem, we recovered and normal life continued during the years immediately after. Now, during our current drought, the population is 40 million and a full recovery in terms of water resources is not guaranteed. There is no longer a cushion; unless we get several consecutive winters of above average winter rainfall, water resources will continue to decline.

    Environmental interests have stalled or killed plans for new reservoirs and insist on releasing large amounts of mountain runoff through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta out to the ocean as well as for restoration of fisheries in coastal and inland rivers. San Francisco and LA dominate political power in California, and as long as they have water, they have the luxury of deciding against the development of new water resources and distribution systems.

    For instance, if we did not get the rain we did this past winter, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies San Francisco with most of its water, would be very near the point at which it could not supply those needs, and then all of a sudden, the good people of San Francisco would have to re-think their position on environmental matters. Most of them don’t appreciate where their water comes and how tenuous that supply is; they don’t realize how close they are to disaster.

    My point is that, unfortunately, nothing will change until people feel the pain of their decisions directly. Reason and evidence are of great value, but they are not moving the needle in California; the political influence of well-watered hypocrites holds sway.

    Many of the same points can be made with regard to agriculture. Distributed, small-farm organic production is a luxury, a luxury that has made following a particular ideology possible. Politicians do not have the courage or the knowledge to challenge that ideology, just look at what happened recently with S.2609, so just like water in California, food production is likely to remain vulnerable to political and ideological whims until starvation and the political and civil unrest it causes directly affects decision makers.

  9. daedalus2u says:

    Another approach would be synthetic food, produced by artificial electrochemical synthesis from photovoltaics. The efficiency of energy capture by photovoltaics is much higher than the efficiency of energy capture by photosynthesis. The same land area can generate more energy through photovoltaics than it can by growing crops.

    There are bacteria that can generate biomass from CO2 and hydrogen, or CO2 and electricity. Insects or worms could be fed on the bacteria, then chickens could be fed on the worms and insects.

    Humans only need ~ 100 watts to sustain physiology. That implies that fully synthetic food would require less than a few kw per person.

    If you used wind power, you wouldn’t even need solar panels and agricultural land could be allowed to revert to wild land.

    If we increase solar and wind power enough, it will become economic to do this. If peak power is met with wind and solar, then off-peak power is essentially zero cost. Making fuel, or food with it from captured CO2 would make a lot of sense.

  10. Daedalus2u, can you point me to someone working on this?

  11. Ivan Grozny says:

    Steve Novela,
    that’s just one paper. I was giving the estimates and findings from a comprehensive review of literature. It is ironic that you, of all people, would single out one anomalous paper and claim that its contrarian findings are the whole truth.

    “Most of the CO2 fertilization effect is in the tropics, not in the farm belt. In the farm belt the effect is small and mitigated by warming.”

    There is zero evidence that warming per se would decrease agricultural productivity anywhere. Regional climate models are embarrassingly bad, much worse than the global ones.

    “When dealing with crops, that are already pushing the limits of production, the CO2 fertilization effect causes an imbalance with other needed nutrients, like nitrogen. That was the point made in the current paper – you can’t just increase one nutrient and expect it will be beneficial.”

    That’s what I meant when I emphasized that CO2 fertilization per se does not prove everything is fine, because there are other negative effects. But ,you wanted to ignore fertilization outright, not even mentioning it! How big that omission is the best examply is the calculation Obama administration made of social cost of carbon as a basis for the EPA administrative rules for CO2 mitigation. If they just included the effects of fertilization in the model, without changing anything else, the negative externality of CO2 would have come close to zero. They omitted it completely!!!

    “The CO2 fertilization effect diminishes as CO2 increases and eventually levels off.”

    Exactly, Just like global warming caused by CO2 diminishes and eventually levels off as the concentration increases. The relationship between the increasing concentrations of CO2 and warming is decidedly logarithmic. We already had experienced 2/3 of the radiative forcing of doubling the CO2 although the concentration had gone up by much less than 2/3 of doubling.

  12. Ivan – massive misrepresentation.

    First, I did not link to a “paper” meaning a published study. It was a commentary that provided a convenient summary of the issue, and that is what I said – a summary. It is also not a contrarian our outlier view. I searched on the topic and here is the first neutral scientific paper I found:
    http://www.fao.org/docrep/w5183e/w5183e06.htm

    It agrees with the paper I am discussing in this blog post. Rising CO2 has a diminishing effect because of mismatch with photosynthesis and nitrogen. In some crops it may even decrease yield. We will need to genetically modify crops to take maximal advantage of rising CO2 and increase crop yields. That won’t happen on its own.

    Now, the paper you cited was not a peer-reviewed systematic review, as you presented it. This is a self-published paper by an anti-global warming ideological group, and incidentally is comprised of a father and his two sons. It is completely disingenuous of you to present a propaganda piece as if it were a peer-reviewed systematic review and indicative of the consensus scientific opinion.

    Finally, it is not the consensus opinion that rising CO2 will reach an equilibrium point where as CO2 continues to rise temperature will not. That makes no sense. See Venus.

  13. BillyJoe7 says:

    Position statement on Climate Change by Ivan’s cherry picked organisation “Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change”

    “There is little doubt the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere has risen significantly over the past 100 to 150 years from humanity’s use of fossil fuels and that the Earth has warmed slightly over the same period; but there is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused primarily by the rise in carbon dioxide. Moreover, real world data provide no compelling evidence to suggest that the ongoing rise in the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere will lead to significant global warming or changes in Earth’s climate”

    Pure climate denialism.

    They even use a cherry picked graph supplied by a climate scientist who is well known of his climate denialism and repeated errors and cherry picking of the evidence.

  14. Ivan Grozny says:

    Steve Novella,
    Craig Idso is a leading expert in CO2 fertilization, with hundreds of published papers in the area, and he reviews hundreds of published studies in the paper I posted.

    CO2 impact on temperature is logarithmic. That does not mean, as you misinterpreted it, that at some point an equilibrium will be reached at which CO2 will stop to influence the global temperature. It will not. But the impact will be smaller and smaller.

    The Venus analogy is a typical blog-level uniformed alarmist talking point about “runaway greenhouse effect” that nobody even among the IPCC “consensus” scientists (save for a few freaks here and there) takes seriously.

    “Rising CO2 has a diminishing effect because of mismatch with photosynthesis and nitrogen. In some crops it may even decrease yield. We will need to genetically modify crops to take maximal advantage of rising CO2 and increase crop yields. That won’t happen on its own.”

    Yes, I agree with that. those are negative effects of increased CO2 concentration, but they are counterbalanced by CO fertilization that you did not mention at all. That’s the problem. I don’t disagree with you that GMO crops have to be an important part of future food production, I just think that your ignoring of the positive environmental effects of increased CO2 makes your entire position unnecessarily alarmist.

    And btw it is incorrect, as you said before, that CO2 fertilization is mostly limited to the tropical areas. All plants are affected roughly equally including the typical temperate zone foodstuffs such as potato, wheat or “central European” fruits like apples and pears. CO2 fertilization in the last 50 years increased the biomass of these plants by 40-50%.

  15. BillyJoe7 says:

    “CO2 impact on temperature is logarithmic”

    The only important fact as far as climate change is concerned is that, for a doubling of CO2 above pre-industrial levels, the global temperature will increase by a median of 3 degrees C. What happens beyond that will be catastrophic climate change, so it’s as moot point that a further doubling will be required to increase global temperatures by another 3 degrees C. We need to stop it exceeding 2 degrees C to avoid drastic change. That is the consensus. The rest is climate denial.

    Also, “CO fertilization” is quite a bit more complicated than you pretend. But of course, the simple version satisfies your climate denialism.

  16. BillyJoe7 says:

    BTW, this is also a cherry pick:

    “CO2 impact on temperature is logarithmic”

    But…CARBON EMMISSIONS impact on temperature is practically LINEAR.
    And…CARBON EMMISSIONS are increasing EXPONENTIALLY.

    So the actual state of affairs is the exact opposite of what is implied by Ivan’s climate denying cherry pick.

  17. Ivan – I did not say he wasn’t a scientist. You presented him as a representative of the consensus opinion of scientists, when clearly he is the outlier. That makes his review suspect, all the more because it is self-published and not peer-reviewed. Nothing you said changes that, and you had the stones to suggest I was misrepresenting the science.

    Sorry if I misunderstood your CO2 argument, but BJ7 already pointed out why it is moot. What matters is – how much CO2 are we producing, how much temperature rise will that create, and what are the overall effects of that temp rise.

    Your focusing on CO2 fertilization is deliberately missing the point. The paper I was discussing was exactly about the relationship between rising CO2 and plant growth. They point out, and other scientists agree, that increasing CO2 does not have a simple relationship with plant growth because plants are not adapted to higher CO2 (or temperatures) and therefore the effect is not only not linear, it may even be paradoxical. Further, previous increases in plant growth are irrelevant to the discussion, which was entirely about how food production will change going forward.

    In any case, the CO2 fertilization effect does appear to be very complex, depending on crop, on type of photosynthesis, on growing conditions, and are offset by rising temperature. Of particular note, there does not appear to be any significant benefit for corn, and wheat actually has worse protein production. There is an increase in rice, but it is more than offset by increases in temperature. Soy has increased on average about 5% in the last 30 years attributable to CO2. So the overall effect on the four major staple crops is not great.

    The core point of the paper remains valid – we need to adapt plants to higher temperature and changing nutrition ratios going forward, otherwise yields will actually decrease as temperatures rise.

  18. BBBlue says:

    “Is organic farming sustainable? 5 carbon footprint challenges”, The Genetic Literacy Project http://bit.ly/22YGnLG

  19. tder2012 says:

    Well written, thanks. I believe I also heard it said (by The Economist?) we will need to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have in the previous 10,000 years.

    Also “Ammonia is a vital source of nitrogen fertilizer. Perhaps half of all nitrogen delivered to crops comes from synthetic ammonia. About 80% of all the nitrogen in our bodies comes from synthetic ammonia. Without it, the global population would be halved” A new, innovative way to produce ammonia? https://medium.com/@johndpmorgan/a-montreal-protocol-for-ammonia-23f4ba5a5184#.4wy6v9uon

  20. BillyJoe7 says:

    SN: “Ivan – I did not say he wasn’t a scientist. You presented him as a representative of the consensus opinion of scientists, when clearly he is the outlier”

    Clearly.

    The following is from Wikipedia:

    “Craig D. Idso is the founder, former president and current chairman of the board of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change….An outspoken global warming denier known for claiming that rising CO2 levels will have mainly positive environmental effects…He is the former Director of Environmental Science at Peabody Energy,and a science adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute…Idso is a lead author of the reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a project sponsored by the Heartland Institute. An unauthorized release of documents indicate Idso received $11,600 per month in 2012 from the Heartland Institute.”

    In case you don’t know about these organisations, here again from Wikipedia:

    The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_the_Study_of_Carbon_Dioxide_and_Global_Change

    “The Center was founded and is run by Craig D. Idso, along with Sherwood B. Idso, his father, and Keith E. Idso, his brother…The Center sharply disputes the consensus scientific opinion on climate change shown in IPCC assessment reports, and believes that global warming will be beneficial to mankind…according to IRS records, the ExxonMobil Foundation provided a grant of $15,000 to the center in 2000. Another report states that ExxonMobil has funded an additional $55,000 to the centre”

    Peabody Energy:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peabody_Energy

    “Peabody Energy Corporation (NYSE: BTU), is the largest private-sector coal company in the world.[4] Its primary business consists of the mining, sale and distribution of coal”

    The Heartland Institute:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Heartland_Institute

    “In the 1990s, the Heartland Institute worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question or deny the health risks of secondhand smoke and to lobby against smoking bans, noting that “Heartland’s activities…reach back into the 1990s when … working with Philip Morris…. Philip Morris also used Heartland to distribute reports that they (Philip Morris) had commissioned… In 1997, Philip Morris paid $50,000 to the Heartland Institute to support its activities.” In the decade after 2000, the Heartland Institute became a leading supporter of climate change denial. It rejects the scientific consensus on global warming, disputes that human activity is driving the warming, and says that policies to fight it would be damaging to the economy.”

    This is Ivan’s cherry pick!

  21. BillyJoe7 says:

    Science and Public Policy Institute:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Public_Policy_Institute

    The Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) is a public policy organization which promotes climate change denial…chief policy adviser is Christopher Monckton…Willie Soon was at one time the chief science advisor…On its website SPPI does not detail the sources of its funding. The New York Times listed the fossil-fuel company Exxon-Mobil as one of its funders.”

    I assume readers are familiar with Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.

  22. MaryM says:

    There was a talk recently about the “C4 photosynthesis” project. It was aimed at a more general audience, so although it’s nerdy, I think it was accessible:

    https://medium.com/the-long-now-foundation/revolutionary-rice-f0ed0dfbab33#

  23. ghulse says:

    “Sorry, global warming deniers, but rapidly changing the environment is probably not a good thing.”

    I’ve never liked the term “deniers” in this context, not for the least that it’s contradictory. There’s a wide range of opinions on climate change, but I think you’ll find that the strongest reactions have to do with proposed political solutions rather than the basic facts of anthropomorphic warming. While it’s a silly argument to say that a little warming isn’t all bad, you can hardly describe those making the argument as “deniers.” They’re not denying the basic premise of climate change, but rather the seriousness of climate change. I’m being pedantic, but there it is.

  24. Willy says:

    ghulse: I agree that many oppose the political solutions, but I read the Wall Street Journal regularly and a very large number of regular posters there think the entire AGW thing is a total hoax. Sadly, there are also many WSJ readers who think evolution is a total fraud. I was shocked to learn that many who read one of the nation’s supposedly premier newspapers are so ignorant. The again, Trump is popular with many, so…???

  25. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    “I’m being pedantic”

    Actually, you’re being naive.
    Climate change deniers have been dragged through 5 stages of denial:

    1) There’s no warming
    2) There’s warming but it’s not anthropogenic.
    3) There’s warming, it’s anhropogenic, but it’s good.
    4) There’s warming, it’s anthropogenic, but not serious.
    5) There’s warming, it’s antropogenic, and if it’s serious there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.

    Most at present are at stage 3 or 4.
    (Our friend Ivan, who as usual has exited the stage after dropping his pile of nonsense, is in stage 3)

    It is true that what drives the denial is commonly political ideology.

  26. ghulse says:

    BillyJoe7

    “Actually, you’re being naive.”

    The point, which you’re missing spectacularly, is that such broad labels are generally so vague as to be useless. I do enjoy your five subcategories of climate denial though. I’m sure you know that in the real world there are a wide range of opinions on climate change and they all can’t be neatly boxed in. As Kinsey said, “the world is not to be divided into sheep and goats . . . The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

    Moreover, the use of a label such as “denier” has highly negative connotations that effectively squelches any kind of debate. Is a climate “denier” the same in your mind as a holocaust denier? Some highly informed scientists might easily be categorized in your subcategories 4 or 5 above, but you’ve already labeled them as a “denier” so why bother listening to their rationale?

    Novella used “denier” here merely as shorthand to end his paragraph, but frequently the use of “denier” in this context only reveals one’s ideological stance towards climate change. George Orwell wrote a famous essay that examines the connection between political orthodoxies and debasement of language. He argues that concreteness and clarity are far preferred over vague and highly charged words and terms. The word “denier” is a very clear example of this kind of debasement.

  27. daedalus2u says:

    ghulse, your assertion:

    ” Some highly informed scientists might easily be categorized in your subcategories 4 or 5 above, but you’ve already labeled them as a “denier” so why bother listening to their rationale?”

    is easily tested. Find one and link to their argument(s).

    Of course, you can’t be because there aren’t any.

    No “highly informed scientist” can be in those categories because there is no way that facts can be spun into those conclusions.

    Someone ignorant could have those conclusions.

    Someone who is not a scientist could have those conclusions.

    Someone who is grossly misinformed could have those conclusions.

    There simply is no fair and intellectually honest way to look at “facts” and conclude 4 or 5.

    That you assert that is possible, means either you are lying, or you are ignorant of the facts yourself.

  28. ghulse says:

    daedalus2: “Of course, you can’t be because there aren’t any.”

    Really? Ever heard of Freeman Dyson?

    https://e360.yale.edu/digest/with-freeman-dyson-reluctant-global-warming-skeptic/1880/

    https://www.edge.org/conversation/freeman_dyson-heretical-thoughts-about-science-and-society

    Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Dr. Ivar Giaever, who sees pronouncements of dangerous human-driven warming as more religious than scientific.

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/the-nobel-divide-and-the-climate-divide/?_r=0

    Or Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish-based scientist who argues that the current approach to global warming is misguided and that the costs of drastic, short-term action are too high.

    The fact is that each of these arguments must be addressed on their own merits, rather than smothered by oversimplistic and negatively-charged labels. (See Orwell’s Politics and English Language essay that I mentioned earlier.) Indeed, I believe Freeman Dyson’s ideas about the favorable rate of exchange between carbon in the atmosphere and carbon in the soil have been partly debunked. All ideas are fair game in the public arena. And if you look at the IPCC’s annual reports over the years you will find an evolving and more nuanced—and less alarmist—stance towards climate science because the more we know about climate science the more inappropriate it is to use such broad strokes. A dialogue does still take place despite the media’s obsession with the lunatic fringe, which is also why Donald Trump gets so much media attention.

    Borrowing from BillyJoe’s #4 above:

    4) There’s warming, it’s anthropogenic, but not serious.

    The “not serious” part is an opinion or judgment that must be dissected individually rather than dismissed out of hand. So if you’re going to presume to lump a vast range of opinions, some informed and some uninformed, into categories of “denialism” you’re only hobbling your own thought process. You’re also cherry-picking the other side’s foibles because you’re too ideologically entrenched to see your own.

  29. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    For your information…
    A climate denier is a person who denies the consensus of climate scientists on climate change; they do so by cherry picking a few outliers amongst the vast majority of the research that led to that consensus; and they continue to do so no matter how many times their errors are pointed out to them.

    Ivan is a classic case.
    He dumps his climate denialism here and, after a brief exchange, leaves with all the relevant questions left unanswered, only to reappear next time climate change is mentioned to repeat the whole performance yet again.

    Despite your insistence, and inspite of your Kinsey and Orwell quotes (for the life of me I will never understand why anyone thinks that quoting someone constitutes an argument!), climate deniers exist and the label is far from useless. It is an entirely apt description. Yes, it has highly negative connotations (that’s the actual point!) but, no, it does not squelch debate, because there is no debate to start with. Climate scientists base their consensus on ALL the facts. Climate deniers cherry pick and quote mine and obfuscate, and they create doubt and exaggerate uncertainty.
    These people exist whether you like it or not.

    And by the way…

    Freeman Dyson – physicist
    Ivar Giaever – physicist
    Bjorn Lomborg – political scientist

    Not a single climate scientist amongst your references, so congratulations.
    (And I’m not saying you couldn’t find one, just that you haven’t).
    But the opinions of these particular people on climate change are worthless.

  30. daedalus2u says:

    As BJ7 said, someone without the expertise to understand the field is not a “scientist” in the field. Being a “scientist” in one field doesn’t give you understanding in a different field.

    A scientist in one field is not necessarily a “highly informed scientist” in another field.

    The most important trait of a “highly informed scientist” is knowing the limits of their knowledge.

    You are not going to find a “highly informed scientist” in the field of climate science who does not agree with the broad consensus of the field, unless they have spent enough time to become very highly informed, and are able to refute essentially all of the arguments in the field with better data and analysis than what was used to generate them. If they had that, then the field would move to accommodate their analysis (which has not happened with AGW).

  31. ghulse says:

    My original point has to do with semantics, which is why quoting Orwell’s famous essay is relevant. The use of language is all I’m interested in, not to get dragged down into the vagaries of climate science. It’s quite possible I would be considered a “denier” in some circles, but what exactly does that tell you? Nothing. Regardless, we are talking past one another at this point.

    I do understand that a scientist in one field is not an expert in another, but neither does that automatically refute the arguments the three scientists make. No one here seems inclined to actually read the links I posted and say where you disagree. All three make valid points.

    I’m not really moved by the science consensus argument. That’s not how science works. And there are climate scientists who don’t agree entirely with the consensus (whatever that means), and for what that’s worth. The problem is that many of the proposed solutions are political, a realm highly influenced by emotions, which is why people can’t come together on this issue. Most of us know very little about climate science, yet we pick sides anyway with only a hazy understanding of the complexities of the issue. The polarization of the issues probably makes this a much more contentious issue than it needs to be.

    I think it’s also important to recognize that many if not most of the scientists who make up this consensus are specialists in one area or another. That doesn’t make them experts on climate science which probably encompasses many diverse scientific disciplines. I doubt that many scientists out there have a firm grasp on the big picture.

    I’ll end with a mini mind experiment. If a village of 100 people discover that the big dam above their town is about to give away, I think you could probably expect about 10 people will dismiss the danger outright, 10 people will freak out and say it’s time to evacuate immediately, and the remaining 80 townspeople will react somewhere between the two extremes and work to find solutions. The problem with 24-hour news channels and media saturation is that an abnormal amount of attention is paid to those fringe positions—the deniers and alarmists. It gives us a very skewed perception of reality. There are deniers, surely, and they are dragging their feet, but in the end, my concern has to do with our use of language. Again, George Orwell makes a stunning case for why the debasement of language matters. Which is why I mentioned him in the first place.

  32. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    “It’s quite possible I would be considered a “denier” in some circles, but what exactly does that tell you?”

    To paraphrase what I said previously, if you are a climate denier (and your selection of so-called experts points strongly in this direction), then that tells us that you…”deny the consensus of climate scientists on climate change; that you do so, and can only do so, by cherry picking a few outliers amongst the vast majority of the research that led to that consensus; and that you will continue to do so no matter how many times your errors are pointed out to you”. So it tells us quite a bit about you.

    “I do understand that a scientist in one field is not an expert in another, but neither does that automatically refute the arguments the three scientists make. No one here seems inclined to actually read the links I posted and say where you disagree”

    Well, let me choose your first so-called expert, Freeman Dyson:
    I don’t actually need to refute what he says because he does it admirably himself. Here are some excerpts from an interview:

    http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2151

    “I am not so much interested in global warming…To me it is a very small part of my life. I don’t claim to be an expert. I never did. I simply find that a lot of these claims that experts are making are absurd. Not that I know better, but I know a few things. My objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much…I was involved in climate studies seriously about 30 years ago…I got out of the field then…I am not an expert, and that’s not going to change. I am not going to make myself an expert. What I do think I have is a better judgment…I am fairly confident about my judgment, and I doubt whether that will change.”

    It’s pretty much lost on Freeman Dyson, but I hope you at least can see the irony of someone who is a self-proclaimed non-expert, who is not even much interested in global warming, not much over the technical details, and for whom climate change is a very small part of his life presuming to tell climate change experts who are intensely interested in climate change, who live and breathe climate change every day of their entire working lives and who are very much over the technical details, that they are wrong!…because he’s confident about his own judgement!!!

    For good measure, he adds this bit of nonsense:

    Climate change is good because…”First of all, it is mainly in the Arctic. Secondly, it’s mainly in the winter rather than summer. And thirdly, it’s mainly in the night rather than at the daytime. In all three respects, the warming is happening where it is cold, not where it is hot” and “people in Greenland love it”.

    Naivete born of self-proclaimed ignorance.

    There’s more but this post is already too long.

  33. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    The rest of your post is straight out of the climate denier lexicon, so welcome to the club:

    “I’m not really moved by the science consensus argument. That’s not how science works.”
    False. You are simply exposing your ignorance about how science works.

    “there are climate scientists who don’t agree entirely with the consensus”
    So what’s more likely, that the vast majority of climate scientists or the few outliers are correct.

    “The problem is that many of the proposed solutions are political”
    That has nothing to do with the denial of the science of climate change.

    “Most of us know very little about climate science, yet we pick sides anyway”
    Well, I’m going with the consensus of climate change experts, how about you?

    “I doubt that many scientists out there have a firm grasp on the big picture”
    But you and Freeman Dyson do, don’t you?
    To quote Freeman Dyson again:
    “I think the difference between me and most of the experts is that I think I have a much wider view of the whole subject”
    Give me a break.

  34. BillyJoe7 says:

    …and it appears to me your Orwell-inspired language debasement argument is simply a way to deny your denial of climate denialism.

  35. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    “Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Dr. Ivar Giaever, who sees pronouncements of dangerous human-driven warming as more religious than scientific.
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/the-nobel-divide-and-the-climate-divide/?_r=0

    Here is the relevant quote:

    “I am a skeptic … Global warming has become a new religion … I am Norwegian, should I really worry about a little bit of warming? I am unfortunately becoming an old man. We have heard many similar warnings about the acid rain 30 years ago and the ozone hole 10 years ago or deforestation but the humanity is still around. The ozone hole width has peaked in 1993 … Moreover, global warming has become a new religion. We frequently hear about the number of scientists who support it. But the number is not important: only whether they are correct is important. We don’t really know what the actual effect on the global temperature is. There are better ways to spend the money…”

    Let’s ignore the stupidity of his comments on acid rain and the ozone layer!

    But I’d never heard of Ivar Giaever in relation to climate change and, it seems, for good reason.
    Here are some relevant quotes from a link in your link which actually provides the context of the particular quote from Ivar Giaever in your link:

    http://issuepedia.org/Ivar_Giaever/climate

    He introduced the above by saying:

    First of all, I didn’t want to be on this panel.

    And why didn’t he want to be on the panel?
    Try this:

    “http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1973/giaever-bio.html
    Giaever’s Nobel Prize biography page, which includes no statements at all about climate, and from which it seems clear that he has had absolutely no known involvement in the field of climate research”

    He is a physicist with no known involvement in climate change!

  36. BillyJoe7 says:

    For some reason part of the quote from the link in ghulse’s link appear in my above post:

    But to summarise Ivar Giaever’s contribution to climate change:

    “First of all, I didn’t want to be on this panel”
    And…
    “I did a little research on google to prepare for this panel”

    Team this up with:

    Giaever’s Nobel Prize biography page…contains no statements at all about climate
    …and from which it seems clear that…
    …he has had absolutely no known involvement in the field of climate research

    Is anyone else feeling as underwhelmed as I feel?

  37. ghulse says:

    Well, good job, I stand corrected. We could have a Google battle and continue to cherry-pick scientists to support our own positions. That’s what these kinds of discussions amount to. I would go out on a limb and say these random scientists I picked, probably have made some valid points, but I really don’t want to spend any time on it. I concede that part of my argument, which has nothing to do with my original semantics argument. Let’s just agree to disagree and move on.

    “…and it appears to me your Orwell-inspired language debasement argument is simply a way to deny your denial of climate denialism.”
    BillyJoe7

    For what it’s worth, I think climate change is a very grave issue along with numerous other environmental issues that come from a burgeoning human population and runaway consumerism. I don’t believe governmental policy changes will ever amount to much in the grand scheme of things. I think it will take a revolution in the way we choose to live our lives. In other words, be more like Thoreau than Gore.

    Not that my personal opinion means anything because I’m just a guy on the internet, as are you. All of this has nothing to do with my original point, which is that the use of belittling and dismissive language on both sides only serves to further polarize the issue. Take it or leave it.

  38. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    That’s probably the most dishonest post I’ve ever read on this blog.

  39. daedalus2u says:

    Those of us who know and understand a lot about climate change, know that it has not been refuted by any climate change denialist talking points.

    The position of the climate change deniers is like the position of young Earth Creationists. No amount of factual information or analysis is going to change their position because the positions were not arrived at through facts and logical analysis.

    In the case of YECs, it was arrived at though religious teachings and faith, in the case of climate change deniers, it was arrived at because wealthy people paid them to arrive at that belief.

  40. ccbowers says:

    “In the case of YECs, it was arrived at though religious teachings and faith, in the case of climate change deniers, it was arrived at because wealthy people paid them to arrive at that belief.”

    If climate change denialists all had to be paid to arrive at their beliefs, we wouldn’t have heard of the term. Only the top 1% of the top 1% get paid to deny. 😉

  41. ghulse says:

    BillyJoe7,

    “That’s probably the most dishonest post I’ve ever read on this blog.”

    Why is it dishonest to concede an argument I was never trying to make? I admit to doing a half-assed job of Googling a few scientists who have issues with climate change. My original point had to do with semantics and it was sidetracked into a conversation about climate change. I would guess that we would agree with the basic facts of climate science, but without going into specifics, I really don’t know what we’re arguing about. I simply refuse to work with your labels and preconceptions.

    I come to this thread as a former journalist and a current college English instructor. I often use Orwell’s essay in freshman English class to discuss language, its uses and misuses in rhetoric writing. It’s very easy to find examples of language abuse by politicians, for example. Aristotle made a study of rhetoric strategies that include “pathos”—an emotional appeal that is sometimes used to manipulate the audience. In academic writing, of course, pathos should be used very sparingly. It’s not appropriate in elevated discourse.

    My freshman students probably have never thought about language in this way, that some words have negative connotations and some have positive connotations, and that the words you use set the tone for your rhetoric. I’d like to think that people, especially those who are advocates of change to reduc greenhouse gases, would understand that using the word “denier” sets a very negative tone that will serve only to put those who are not sure about the issue or who are genuinely skeptical on the defense. More importantly, as I’ve already stated, the word’s very vagueness casts a wide net of aspersion over some who deserve the label and some who probably don’t.

    It’s not a once size fits all situation. The world isn’t to be divided into “deniers” and “alarmists.”

    FYI, the Associated Press last year made a conscious decision to stop using the word “denier” due to its pejorative associations. It uses the word “doubter” instead for what that’s worth. There are times when “denier” is perfectly appropriate, especially when you are making broad statements about climate science. Unfortunately, the word is frequently used in ad hominem mode to attack an opponent’s motives or character rather than to argue the specific policy or position they’re making. Some get lumped as “deniers” simply asking probing questions.

    I have now spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to articulate this basic point. You may accuse me of being intellectually dishonest, but from my perspective, the arrogance and hostility and sanctimony and sheer bullheadedness on display here is astonishing even for an online forum.

  42. steve12 says:

    Ghulse:

    “I’d like to think that people, especially those who are advocates of change to reduc greenhouse gases, would understand that using the word “denier” sets a very negative tone that will serve only to put those who are not sure about the issue or who are genuinely skeptical on the defense.”

    So then we should never use “denier”, right?

  43. mumadadd says:

    ghulse,

    I get your point – there are connotations to the word ‘denier’ that aren’t always fair. It’s definitely possible to simply be ignorant on the matter and have only encountered biased sources of information. ‘Denier’ tends to imply that wilful and devious tactics are being employed — at least it does to me, though that’s obviously subjective.

  44. ghulse says:

    “Steve12
    “So then we should never use “denier”, right?”

    No, there are plenty of deniers out there and if the word fits, use it. However, I would suggest if you’re using the word only to broadly attack an entire demographic, without specifying the ideas that are actually in conflict with science, maybe question your own motives. The science speaks for itself for those who bother to dive in. It doesn’t need a cheering section. In the end, are we out to fan the flames or to try to engage in dialogue?

    By the way, this started out only as a minor quibble to Steven Novella’s use of “denier” in his article. In hindsight, I don’t really have a problem with how he uses it. My comments were pedantic and relatively innocuous. I’m very surprised at the reaction by a couple of posters here.

  45. ghulse says:

    Mumadadd,
    “I get your point – there are connotations to the word ‘denier’ that aren’t always fair. It’s definitely possible to simply be ignorant on the matter and have only encountered biased sources of information. ‘Denier’ tends to imply that wilful and devious tactics are being employed — at least it does to me, though that’s obviously subjective.”

    Very well said, Mumadadd.

    I’d say there’s actually a lot of agreement on the basic facts of climate science. Even the energy companies have started to acknowledge that fossil fuels are very likely contributing to climate change. I’d say where much of the disagreement comes into play is in how we address it politically. There are no easy solutions. The science is very complex and not well understood by a majority of our citizens. This leaves a lot of room for bickering, and it doesn’t help that we have a viral strain of anti-rationalism attaching itself to right-wing politics these days. But I still think there’s a lot of room for meaningful dialogue.

  46. steve12 says:

    Ghulse:

    I’m not sure you’re using denier consistently, but I understand your point that denier is pejorative, and calling people pejorative things does not make the sympathetic to your point.

    I do think, however, that using ‘denier’ for some people (those claiming to be in the know) is actually essential in a fight where false equivalences are employed. It’s essential to let the public know: this is not a squabble among experts. Some are embracing the evidence while others are denying it.

    An aside – I’m not talking about the debate around the details. That is a qualitatively different matter altogether.

  47. BillyJoe7 says:

    steve12,

    “I understand your point that denier is pejorative, and calling people pejorative things does not make them sympathetic to your point”

    Likewise there is no evidence that molly coddling them makes any difference to their denialism either. They call themselves “climate sceptics” and ghulse wants to call them “climate doubters”. But scepticism and doubt are features of real scientists. I’m not conceding them these molly coddling terms. If they deny the science of climate change they are climate deniers. Period.

  48. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    It seems to me you’ve conceded nearly everything but you still want to appear to have made a point.

    But here’s your dishonesty:

    You offered up three links. Like everyone else here, I ignored those links. We’re pretty used to posters sending us on wild goose chases while they do very little work themselves. However, then you came back and challenged us to refute the contents of your links. I therefore assumed that they represented your best arguments. As a result I spent considerable time and effort reading those links and the links within the links. Now it seems you simply did a half-assed google search and pretty well chose three references at random. It appears you didn’t even bother to read those links, otherwise you would surely have deleted them. If that isn’t dishonest I don’t know what is.

    Sure you conceded your argument, but then what did you say?
    This is what you said:

    “We could have a Google battle and continue to cherry-pick scientists to support our own positions”

    But you’re the only one whose been engaged in cherry picking scientists to support your position. I’ve simply been supporting the consensus view of the world’s climate scientists, which is the exact opposite of cherry picking.
    And then you added:

    “I would go out on a limb and say these random scientists I picked, probably have made some valid points, but I really don’t want to spend any time on it”

    Honestly? I’ve essentially destroyed your first two cherry picked scientists and you defend them because somewhere sometime that probably said something valid about climate change. And, if they did once say something valid about climate change, I can no longer call them climate deniers?
    And then you said:

    “Let’s just agree to disagree and move on”

    So you concede, but you don’t concede.
    You want to persuade us not to use the term “climate denier” and you choose two examples which should persuade everyone here that that is exactly what we should do.

    There’s more, but that will do for now.

  49. steve12 says:

    BJ7:

    “Likewise there is no evidence that molly coddling them makes any difference to their denialism either. ”

    Well then by your own admission we should be agnostic as to the most effective methods of persuasion for the general public, no?

    Bottom line for me is that we must persuade the average person living in industrial societies, and I think it’s a fair point that we must give consideration to how we convey that message. Whether one considers this “molly coddling” is irrelevant; what works?

    I have no more evidence than you, but it seems reasonable to call self-styled experts deniers. I certainly will continue to use this term for them….

  50. daedalus2u says:

    We do have evidence that trying to engage deniers in honest debate doesn’t work. They do the Gish Gallop. What ever point is made, they never concede, they simply move the goal posts and try another line of attack. When that one fails too, they choose another, and another, and another, until they are back where they started and expect that everyone will have forgotten that they are rehashing already disproven arguments.

    Deniers can’t be engaged in honest debate because they fundamentally are not honest. They are not interested (or capable) of having an honest debate.

  51. steve12 says:

    daedalus:

    I completely agree, but I think the jury is still out on addressing members of the general public, not self-styled “experts”.

    Is calling them “deniers” a good idea? Honestly I don’t think it probably matters very much, but I do think we need to persuade the average citizen of industrialized nations who don’t understand what’s happening.

  52. daedalus2u says:

    If a member of the general public doesn’t know anything about global warming and pretends they are an expert, they are a denier.

    Denying that they are ignorant of the facts and reasoning behind global warming is still being in denial.

  53. steve12 says:

    Daedalus:

    Ok. You’re locked into the denotation of the word and missing you’re missing the larger point.

    We can’t throw up our hands simply because we’re right and pretend that changing minds doesn’t matter. To that extent, I think ghulse has a point regardless of how much else he may have said that I disagree with.

  54. daedalus2u says:

    If someone is so ignorant that they are unaware of their ignorance and are unwilling to learn anything, it doesn’t matter what they are called.

    If a decision hasn’t been made by facts and logic, trying to change it with facts and logic isn’t going to work.

  55. ghulse says:

    BillyJoe7
    “So you concede, but you don’t concede.”

    I was responding to Daedalus’ statement that no informed scientist could possibly deduce that climate science is a serious problem. My response was an error in judgment because we’re dealing with your oversimplistic categories in the first place. I actually agree with Daedalus, but only with caveats. I would argue that there’s a huge gray area of people who are uncertain what to think about climate science. It’s an immensely complex field of study and we’re subject to a lot of contentious noise from both sides.

    Looking at Freeman Dyson’s (2009) interview, I would agree that he’s not the go-to person to learn about climate science. But is there nothing at all the man said that’s worth discussing? For example, isn’t there a lot of global warming propaganda that glosses over the technical details? Isn’t there a systematic bias in the way things are reported? Isn’t there an intolerant attitude towards those who disagree? Has some of earth’s warming (and rising sea level) been going on even before the industrial revolution? So isn’t it true that we don’t know how much of the current warming trend is due to human activities? Do we understand the extent of the ocean’s capacity to buffer climate change?

    One can easily acknowledge that human emissions have contributed to warming and still ask these kinds of questions. It’s not at all certain what we can do to slow or stop warming. How we should react to the threat of climate change is wide open to debate.

    Dyson had made some statements that were obviously false and this created quite a sensation because he’s such a renowned scientist. But at the time of this interview (2009), he had backed off some of his earlier statements, which indicates to me he’s still skeptical, but not ideologically entrenched in his position. So in your opinion, is Dyson a “denier” or is he simply misinformed?

    Also, the man was 85 years old at the time of this interview. Should we take that into account? Is it entirely his fault that his comments were so widely broadcast and became so controversial? I think these factors should be taken into account before passing judgment.

  56. steve12 says:

    Daedalus:

    “If someone is so ignorant that they are unaware of their ignorance and are unwilling to learn anything, it doesn’t matter what they are called.
    If a decision hasn’t been made by facts and logic, trying to change it with facts and logic isn’t going to work.”

    So you’re saying that we should pay no mind to persuading people to change their minds re: one of the greatest problems of our time, because if they don’t understand by now they never will?

    I’m glad more people didn’t have this attitude over the course of human history, or we would not be having this conversation right now.

  57. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    ghulse: “Let’s just agree to disagree and move on”
    BillyJoe: “So you concede, but you don’t concede.”
    ghulse: “I was responding to Daedalus’ statement…”

    I don’t think so. Your comment containing the first quote above came immediately after five consecutive comments posted by myself.

    “Looking at Freeman Dyson’s (2009) interview, I would agree that he’s not the go-to person to learn about climate science. But is there nothing at all the man said that’s worth discussing?”

    You are joking, right?
    Do I need to repeat Freeman Dyson’s self-assessment:
    “I am not so much interested in global warming…To me it is a very small part of my life. I don’t claim to be an expert. I never did. I simply find that a lot of these claims that experts are making are absurd. Not that I know better, but I know a few things. My objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much…I was involved in climate studies seriously about 30 years ago…I got out of the field then…I am not an expert, and that’s not going to change. I am not going to make myself an expert”

    “So in your opinion, is Dyson a “denier” or is he simply misinformed?”

    Read the above quote again.
    He has no expertise on climate change, yet he proclaims that a lot of the claims the actual experts are making are absurd. That makes him BOTH misinformed (or uninformed) AND a denier. You don’t get off being a climate change denier by being ignorant about climate change.

    “Also, the man was 85 years old at the time of this interview. Should we take that into account? Is it entirely his fault that his comments were so widely broadcast and became so controversial? I think these factors should be taken into account before passing judgment”

    WHAT?

  58. ghulse says:

    BillyJoe, it’s pretty clear that you and I aren’t going to find common ground and I’m fine with that. There’s no point in beating a dead horse. From my perspective, you seem a little too eager to place moral judgement on those who don’t see eye to eye with you on the issue of climate change.

    I remember a Skeptic’s guide podcast from a few years ago (Episode #411 – June 1st, 2013) where Novella and company interviewed Scott Thurman, who directed the documentary film, The Revisionaries. While shooting the film, Thurman had a chance to meet Don Mcleroy, the Texas Creationist who was trying to change science textbooks to include Intelligent Design (as an “alternative” to evolution). Thurman expected to really dislike Mcleroy for being so anti-science. But after spending some time with the creationist, Thurman came to really like him. Thurman said he was struck by McLeroy’s sincerity and his genuine efforts to understand evolution.

    The important lesson, for me, is that evolution remains an unintuitive and foreign concept for people like McLeroy and, indeed, for a portion of the population. A little empathy goes a long way. The very definition of ad hominem is to attack the person, not the idea being presented. We’re well beyond using the word “denier” here. There’s a tone of intolerance we see all too frequently on the internet these days and it comes across in spades in your posts.

    There’s evidence that our political beliefs are wired at least to some extent (see Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind). If this is true, it follows that people will react to climate change in ways that correspond to their political temperament. And, indeed, this is exactly how it plays out in the real world. Personally, I see nothing in the interview that shows that Freeman Dyson is being intellectually dishonest or disingenuous. He’s simply saying what he believes and for some reason it makes you livid.

    Again, much of climate change brouhaha plays out along political lines. I believe you’re lumping it all together as settled science, but this is simply not the case.

  59. ghulse says:

    By the way, here’s a clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing Don Mcleroy. See how you can engage a (shudder!) creationist in open dialogue without being judgmental and condescending. Mcleroy is never mocked and, yet, Colbert confronts Mcleroy’s ideas very effectively.

    http://www.cc.com/video-clips/14wyxm/the-colbert-report-don-mcleroy

  60. BillyJoe7 says:

    ghulse,

    “From my perspective, you seem a little too eager to place moral judgement on those who don’t see eye to eye with you on the issue of climate change”

    Moral judgement?
    I’m simply calling a climate denier a climate denier!
    And not because they don’t see eye to eye with me, but because they deny what the experts in climate change are telling them.

    “There’s a tone of intolerance we see all too frequently on the internet these days and it comes across in spades in your posts”

    Yeah, I should tolerate someone who knows nothing about climate change, and intends to remain that way, saying that what actual experts – who spend their lives living and breathing climate change – say is absurd.

    I have nothing personal against Freeman Dyson – apparently he was a skilled quantum physicist who, in the opinion of many quantum physicists, deserved but never received, a Nobel Prize.
    However, by his own admission, he has no expertise on climate change, yet presumes to tell the actual experts on climate change that what they are saying about climate change is absurd.
    Let me repeat, he is denying what the experts on climate change are saying, therefore, by definition, he is a climate change denier.
    That is not an “ad hominen” attack on Freeman Dyson, it is simply stating the facts.

    On the other hand, your little paragraph about Freeman Dyson at the end of your second last post is more in line with an “ad hominem” than anything I have said about him.

    My own first reaction to climate change was that it was a load of nonsense.
    I was a climate change denier!
    My second reaction was to find out what it was all about.
    I have, and have never had, any political axe to grind.

    “I believe you’re lumping it all together as settled science, but this is simply not the case”

    A belief based on what?
    How can anything I have said lead you to believe that I believe the science of climate change is settled?
    Science is never settled.
    However, that does not mean that anything goes.
    The climate change deniers are not denying the parts of the science of climate change that are unsettled or controversial, they are denying what the world’s climate change scientists believe – based on ALL the evidence – is very likely to be true with a confidence approaching 95%!

    As for Don McLeroy, who cares how affable he is.
    He is dead wrong that’s all that matters.
    Yes, in an interview is would certainly be wise to take that into account.
    Seems to me Colbert took exactly the right course: be affable back – so as not to alienate viewers – but skewer him all the same.
    I assume the interviewers on the SGU podcast did likewise.
    But this is not a lesson on how to treat EVERYone spreading anti-science nonsense.
    I remember an extremely billigerent David Silverman taking a popular interviewer to the cleaners.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6Hw9oQMFrs

    In my opinion, his belligerent attacking attitude was spot on.
    Horses for courses.

  61. Bill Openthalt says:

    ghulse —

    There are many aspects to AGW:

    1. Does human activity (especially belching out huge quantities of CO2) affect the climate? The answer is an unequivocal yes.

    2. Does human activity increase or decrease the overall temperature of the planet? Based on what humans do, the answer is clearly that it increases the overall temperature.

    3. Is global warming (caused by human or non-human factors) going to have negative effects on Earth’s ability to sustain large human populations? Here the answer is less clear-cut — we know the current situation, what kind and how much food we can and do produce, but we don’t know enough about a warmer Earth to be sure it could not sustain the same number of humans as today. Neither can we say that it will be able to do so. As far as dangerous atmospheric activity (storms, etc.) is concerned, it is plausible that more energy will result in more (and more violent) activity. Ascribing every large downpour, every change in weather pattern, all flooding to AGW (as the media are wont to do) is stupid, but quite often these phenomena are caused by other human activities (such as subsidence caused by pumping ground water, or earthquakes caused by mining activities, or local changes in weather patterns caused by deforestation and agriculture.)

    4. Are the solutions proposed by mixed government/scientific panels such as the IPCC guaranteed to work? In other words, will the world be OK when we implement them, and will it be a disaster when we don’t? The honest answer is: “we don’t know”, but that doesn’t mean that reducing CO2 emissions as much as possible is a bad idea. The fact remains that certain “sustainable” alternatives, such as solar panels and wind turbines, now have companies backing them that are as influential as oil companies, and there is no reason to assume the former will be more “ethical” in their promotion of their industry than the latter. The same can be said about CAM companies, or “Big Organic” :). The current ideologically based rejection of nuclear energy (where we are stuck with technologies dating back to the 1950ies) is (in my humble opinion) a cause for grave concern.

    5. Would it be a problem if in 100 years time, there would be far fewer humans on the planet? Obviously not(*). The moral problem we face is to ensure the transition is not the result of mass starvation, huge wars, or other human-made calamities. The current refugee crisis shows that this is not going to be an easy task.

    6. Does tacking climate change require strong, invasive governments (which is what, I gather, motivates the rejection of AGW by political conservatives (in the USA sense))? I don’t know, but changing habits through anything else than the natural replacement of older generations with younger ones usually requires ruffling quite a lot of feathers.

    (*) Personally, I don’t feel it would be a problem if there were no humans. But that’s another discussion.

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