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Climate Hustle

Climate Science Denial Explained: Tactics of Denial

Posted on 17 April 2018 by DPiepgrass

Continued from Part 1

What they decline to understand

Thousands of climate scientists are working on all kinds of interesting subjects, from glaciology to oceanography to ecology to atmospheric physics. Some pseudo-skeptics don't understand that and seem to have no inkling of what climate scientists actually do.

Others, however, do understand that there's a large and sometimes-maybe-legitimate scientific endeavor going on, and they are happy to learn about some of that stuff, as long as they don't have to accept that human emissions cause warming.


While the land (red) has warmed faster than the ocean surface (blue), sea surface temperatures have the most impact on the global average because oceans cover 71% of earth’s surface. If global warming were caused by internal variability in the oceans (in other words, if the ocean surface warmed up because less cold deep water were being exchanged with it), then sea surfaces should warm as fast as the land. And if global warming were caused by the sun, days would warm faster than nights; in fact the opposite is true. Besides, solar output is measurable and has been decreasing. It is likely that warming in the 1920s and 1930s was caused largely by internal variability, and cooling in the 1950s, 60s and 70s has been attributed largely to internal variability plus aerosol emissions that happened before environmental regulations were introduced to reduce smog. Unlike CO2, aerosols disappear quickly from the atmosphere when emissions stop. So as our air got cleaner, the effect of CO2 became dominant.

Other things they're reluctant to accept include "global warming is dangerous" and "the problem can be solved" (and if you ask me, it isn't even that hard anymore).

The 5 characteristics

Whether the topic is climate change, lung cancer’s link to smoking, vaccines & autism, AIDS or MSG, denial of scientific findings relies on a set of techniques that can be summed up by the acronym FLICC:

Fake experts: climate science is huge and complex field, as you can see from IPCC reports that need 4,000 pages merely to summarize the state of the field. No expert knows everything about it, as the field has numerous specializations. While many articles on denial blogs are written by “scientists” (such as computer scientists or geologists), most articles are not written by contrarian climate scientists, and contrarians themselves are not experts in most of the subspecialties they criticize. Pseudo-skeptics trust people with little or no credentials in the field, and may even think they themselves are experts after reading a pseudo-skeptic book or two. So when TV networks put Bill Nye on the screen to face off against an AGW pseudo-skeptic, other pseudo-skeptics may point out that Bill Nye is not a climate scientist — while cheering on the other guy, who is not a climate scientist either.

Magnified Minority: Though 3% of experienced climate scientists disagree with the consensus, media often give pseudo-skeptics 50% screen time. There is another small minority of scientists, and perhaps the occasional climatologist, who believe there will be much more warming than typically thought — we might call these “alarmists”. But some media treats the consensus position itself as “alarmist”, so instead of pitting “contrarians” against “alarmists”, it’s “contrarians” versus “mainstream scientists whom we call alarmists to discredit them”.

Logical fallacies: Most pseudo-skeptic beliefs are based on logical errors and/or an absence of knowledge and context. Most myths about climate change can be described in terms of a few fallacies (see below).

Impossible expectations: demanding more precision and more perfect information than climate science can realistically deliver. For example, J.S. Sawyer estimated in 1972 that by the year 2000, atmospheric CO2 levels would rise about 25% compared to 1969 and that global temperatures would rise 0.6°C. Temperatures did in fact rise slightly more than 0.6°C by the time CO2 rose 25%, but it took until after 2010 for this to happen; I assume this is because early estimates of the rate at which carbon sinks (oceans and vegetation) absorb CO2 were too low. Most people would see this as a remarkably accurate prediction, especially since the temperature record in 1972 showed no hints that temperatures were about to rise. Pseudo-skeptics, however, seize upon the imperfection of the prediction as ‘another example’ of why we can’t trust climate science. Similarly, the 1995 IPCC projections (unlike the 1990 and 2000 ones) substantially underestimated the amount of warming that would occur by 2016. Upon learning this, a pseudo-skeptic I spoke with saw it as more evidence of bad science. (“so you’d disagree with anyone who calls the IPCC alarmist?” I asked. “Alarmists don’t underestimate.” He ignored the question.)

Cherry picking: cherry picking is another logical fallacy, but pseudo-skeptics tend to use it far more than the others. For example, the pseudo-skeptic says correctly that the antarctic is gaining sea ice, that one study (controversially) says it’s gaining land ice, and that specific parts of Greenland are gaining ice. But they avoid the bigger picture: the water around Antarctica has warmed up, it may be losing land ice, the arctic is quickly losing ice, Greenland as a whole has been losing ice at an accelerating pace for about 13 years, and far more glaciers are losing ice than gaining ice. They also cherry-pick predictions from individualclimatologists that turned out to be inaccurate, while ignoring predictions from contrarians that were more wrong (past contrarians predicted imminent cooling. Since that didn’t happen, remaining contrarians tend to imply it’s impossible to predict climate — a concept that will allow denial to continue forever, no matter what happens).

Conspiracy theories: last but not least, pseudo-skeptics need a way to explain why most climate scientists came to the “wrong” conclusion, so conspiratorial thinking fills in the blanks. I’ve seen claims of conspiracy or corruption many times, but always with a striking lack of detail. I’ve never encountered a complete story: why it happened, when it happened, who did it (specific people), and how it was pulled off. The best they can do is misunderstand a handful of leaked emails. This makes sense if the idea of conspiracy, or corruption, or a vast global network of incompetent scientists, is all just a backdrop — a curtain hastily installed to cover up the consensus so it can be ignored. But there is another interpretation for this lack of detail. Perhaps the idea of conspiracy or corruption is actually the primary belief held by most pseudo-skeptics, but because there is so little direct evidence for it, pseudo-skeptics are forced to rely on indirect evidence in the form of scientific findings that are “flawed” according to black-belts in FLICC-fu.

“Conspiracy theories turn out to be unusually hard to undermine or dislodge; they have a self-sealing quality, rendering them particularly immune to challenge.” - Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures
“the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered” - Dead and Alive … Contradictory Conspiracy Theories

Here are the main logical fallacies:

  • Red Herring: a minor detail used to mislead or derail a discussion. For example, pseudo-skeptics may point out that CO2 is a “trace” gas (less than 0.1% atmospheric concentration). They can admit that all plant life would die without CO2, yet claim that a trace gas can’t possibly have a noticeable effect on climate. This is a red herring and an example of the “argument from incredulity”. Of course, there are many examples of small things making a clear difference: microscopic windshield coatings to reduce glare, tiny pits that increase airplane fuel efficiency, fluoride in water. Another example: CO2 dissolved in water is carbonic acid, and causes the ocean’s pH to fall toward the “acid” side of the pH scale. We call this “ocean acidification”. However, ocean water is on the alkaline (non-acid) side of the pH scale, so pseudo-skeptics distract by questioning the intellect of people who use the word “acidification”. In short, if sea horses start dying, it’s okay because they’re not really horses!
  • Misrepresentation (straw man or half-truth): misstating scientific predictions or findings. For example, pseudo-skeptics may misrepresent the 2nd law of thermodynamics to “prove” that the greenhouse effect can’t be real. Or they pretend that scientists are certain about precisely how much warming CO2 will cause, and then attack a certainty that doesn’t exist. Or they misrepresent how scientists reached their conclusions, to demonstrate a “circular reasoning” that doesn’t exist. Or they quote an erroneous news article that misstated a scientific prediction. They might even find a prediction that says “by 2050” and call it “failed” because it hasn’t happened yet. The list goes on and on.
  • Jumping to conclusions: when you really want something to be true, it’s easy to ignore details that contradict your conclusion. For instance, the urban heat island effect may raise some temperature readings due to urbanization. Also, satellite records interpreted by UAH show less warming than other records. So they jump to the conclusion that warming has been small. However, almost the same warming can be seen based on rural temperature stations and rural records alone; and weather balloons and high-resolution proxy records also show similar warming. In fact, ocean records are the main factor in global average temperatures, since they make up 71% of Earth’s surface. As for satellites, the same satellite records interpreted by RSS show significantly more warming than UAH. Why? Satellites don’t measure temperature, and the data is very tricky to interpret. Satellites show day-to-day differences reliably, but the readings drift in multiple ways as years and decades pass. Both UAH and RSS have repeatedly changed how they compensate for drift, which in turn changed their temperature trends retroactively.
  • False dichotomy: incorrectly assuming there are only two possibilities, then showing one of the possibilities is wrong to “prove” the other. The most common false dichotomy is to point out that CO2 lagged temperature before humans started burning fossil fuels.

The 3 Pillars

The “3 Pillars model” views denial from the more strategic perspective of “how can we create denial?”

  1. Use disinformation to show people it’s “bad science”
  2. Claim the bad science is driven by radical ideology and leads to undesirable social consequences (even though conservative climate change solutions exist)
  3. Demand equal time in the media

The three pillars are related to the FLICC model like so:

  1. Logical fallacies / Cherry picking / Impossible expectations
  2. Conspiracy theories
  3. Magnified minority / Fake experts.

Denial Divergence

A study by Verheggen et al. (2014) shows that contrarians don’t agree about what, if not CO2, causes the observed warming.

More than one answer was allowed. On average, those disagreeing with the IPCC gave 2.45 reasons why, yet not one of these answers broke the 50% mark, i.e. there is no consensus among contrarians. And while “natural variability” was the most common answer, it is also pretty vague; many factors go into “natural variability”. Climatologists will tell you that “natural variability” goes up and down — not just up. Source: PBL NEAA. Question 3c (Figure 6) in the original Verheggen study also suggests that contrarians do not agree on what, if not CO2, causes global warming.

Denial may seem like a single unified movement, but individual pseudo-skeptics often have substantially different beliefs from each other.

This gives outsiders the impression that pseudo-skeptics are full of crap. Since the scientific consensus originally formed about 38 years ago, if there were any viable alternative to the mainstream theory, they’ve had more than ample time to find it and rally around it.

Those on the inside probably see the situation quite differently. My guess is that on the pseudo-skeptic hub WattsUpWithThat, these differences play out as arguments, which give pseudo-skeptics faith that they are “scientific” because they are having a “scientific debate”. This debate is not about whether humans cause a lot of warming, since they agree the answer is no — but more about which of the contrarian ideas is best.

Next time: The Denial Personality

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Comments

Comments 1 to 31:

  1. Techniques like cherrypicking, red herring arguments and fake experts are obviously trickery to me, however the denialists seem to embrace all this. They must know at some level that its all trickery, or perhaps they come to believe only the cherrypicked element is real, and everything else is fake. They seem to believe agw is some sort of political conspiracy so only sceptical research can be trusted, from commentary I have hear from our local climate denialist media personalities.

    The denialists have created a totally false, but internally self justifying little world detached from reality or having to apply the normal tools of logical analysis.

    The climate science denialists clearly feel strongly about the issue so perhaps logical fallacies are simply treated as tools or a means to an end.
    The denialists are mostly conservative people from various polls, and you clearly see these identities in comments in the media. However not all conservatives are denialists, and not all conservative views are wrong obviously.

    If you listen to media commentary, climate denialists are people who often hate environmentalists. They describe environmentalists as being hippies, academic elitists and communists who want to take away peoples "freedoms" which is of course a very paranoid and distorted picture. You see this in media commentary all the time. Conservatives dont like change and individualism, so this all freaks them out.

    Winning, highest possible profitability, and image is very important to them, and anything that threatens this is seen as the enemy. This is not unique to conservatives, but its very evident that conservatives are most reluctant to embrace any change that could even slightly threaten this. You see it in organisations like The Heartland Institute, The Koch Brothers, and talk back radio.

    So denialism of the science is mostly all about political ideology. Occams Razor.

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  2. "if the ocean surface warmed up because less cold deep water were being exchanged with it), then sea surfaces should warm as fast as the land. And if global warming were caused by the sun, days would warm faster than nights; in fact the opposite is true." 

    Is this actually correct? 

    It's easy to test the effect of the sun on diurnal temperature range, becuse we can easily compare summer and winter data, and globally it appeaars that diurnal range decreases in summer - presumably due to increased water vapor from evaporation. In other words, any mechanism that increases earth's surface temperature will result in increased humidity and a reduced diurnal temperature range.       

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  3. Art,

    Yes it is true.  The minimum temperature at night has increased more than the hottest temperature during the day.  It has also increased more in winter than in summer (both predicted by Arhennius in 1896).  If the sun increased in heat the summer would warm faster than the winter.

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  4. Nights warming faster than days. This is related to greenhouse warming, because of the way the atmospheres layers change at night according to phys.org here.

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  5. Michael@3, Nijel@4, I don't dispute what either of you are saying, but why would a stronger sun result in a greater rise in daytime max temperatures than nighttime min temperatures?  After all, a higher average temperature will result in greater evaporation - which means more vapor in the atmosphere. IOW, enhanced greenhouse.   

    I know it's not directly related to the actual topic being presented, and it's not my intention to take discussion off topic.  

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  6. Let's use the relativity of wrong to compare a climate change "conspiracy" perpetrated by scientists with a climate change denial conspiracy perpetrated by people associated with the fossil fuel sector.

    1. In the first case this would have to be a very long running conspiracy dating back to the early days of modern science when it was first realized that the Earth's surface was warmer than it should be if it was just radiating its black body radiation driectly into space - that was in the late 1600s. By the 1820s Joseph Fourier has calculated by how much the Earth was being wamred by this unknown process. By the 1850s John Tyndall had identified what was almost certainly the mechanism, carbon dioxide and water vapour in the atmosphere that he clearly demonstrated to the London Royal Society trapped heat. By the 1890s Svante Arrhenius did the thousands of calculations by hand that were required to determine climate sensitivity - what happens to average global temperature if you double atmospheric CO2. Results that are "suspiciously" still within modern margin of error. All this before the development of very powerful theoretical tools to understand how nature behaves at the smallest level where this process would be going on.

    Now we have the next step in the science "conspiracy" with the introduction of quantum mechanics and a much deeper understanding of why more complex molecules like H2O and CO2 absorbs heat and N2 and O2 don't. Confirming the science that already stretched back two centuries. And all subsequent science on climate change has been based on this solid theoretical and experimental foundation.

    If there is a scientific conspiracy regarding climate change it is very old and suspiciously self-confirming by using the scientific process that gives us most of modern technology and therefore modern society itself.

    If the science of climate change is a fraud then so is all the rest of science which is based in the same fundamental theories in which case society stops working and falls apart... we're still here. Great, that's evidence that the science of climate change has a very high degree of confidence.

    2. Case two, is climate change denial a fraud and if so who is behind it. Where oh where would we ever find parties with almost unlimited funding who might want to deny the valid science of climate change no matter the consistent data for centuries.

    We know that those running Exxon had a very good idea of the science 40 years ago and decided to deny it.

    Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago

    We also know with a high degree of confidence that some of the same "scientists" that went to work with the tobacco industry to deny health risks also transferred the same techniques developed to do that to denying climate change.

    The denial industry

    We also know that the Royal Society specifically warned Exxon to stop funding climate change denial in 2006.

    Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial

    And even though on the surface it seems like it did stop outright funding of denial groups it had set up, the evidence is now that a complex network has been created to use "dark money" to keep funding climate change denial.

    "Dark Money" Funds Climate Change Denial Effort

    So comparing the two "conspiracies" lets see how they fit in the relativity of wrong.

    - A conspiracy of scientists is highly unlikely because it totally lacks a motive. All the individuals associated with the field going back centuries were applying the latest knowledge in the best manner available. And their result are still in close agreement with science in general without which modern society wouldn't exist.

    Very unlikely that there is a scientific conspiracy behind human created climate change.

    2. Denial of the science appeared suddenly in the late 1970s when individuals running a corporation that would soon cease to exist if the latest science guided policy decided to deny that science no matter the cost. They later used techniques developed by the tobacco industry which has since been sued successly many times for doing so.

    There is a long, well documented money trail from the fossil fuel sector to the denial movement. Which means deniers are not true skeptics in any sense, they are paid shills. When presented with evidence of their own complicity in a 40 year old fraud they totally ignore it and go into a complex display of the techniques of denial as listed above. Once again first created by the tobacco lobby to convince members of each new generation to contribute "replacement" smokers as the older ones died off much earlier than they would have otherwise.

    End result.

    - No evidence at all the scientific theory of human forced climate change has been intentionally forged at any point.

    - All the evidence point to denial being entirely a fraudulent exercise to distort and deny the valid science in exactly the same manner the tobacco lobby did using some of the very same players. See Fred Seitz and Fred Singer for two examples of this.

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  7. Art Vandelay,

    I do not have a peer reviewed explaination for your question.

    I understand that if the sun was stronger it would deliver more energy during the day and heat it up.  Since it is hotter, more energy would radiate into space at night so the night time temperature would not increase as much as during the day.  (Night time temperatures would increase, just not as much).

    With more CO2, the temperature would increase because energy from the sun would radiate to space more slowly.  This would have a larger effect at night because night time cooling would be a lot slower.  Nigelj's reference appears to be slightly different from mine, his is more authorative.

    Spencer Weart's book The history of Global Warming source would have this information.

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  8. Art Vandelay @6

    "After all, a higher average temperature will result in greater evaporation - which means more vapor in the atmosphere."

    Yeah I was wondering this exact thing myself, and I dont know the text book answer. However here's my answer as an alternative to M Sweet.  If the sun went through a period of enhanced activity causing a warming effect and the water vapour feedback, day time temperatures are increasing because of both direct influence of the sun 'and' the water vapour greenhouse effect.  This is going to lead to more rise of temperatures during the day than at night because at night the only factor is the greenhouse effect. 

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  9. Doug_C @6

    Well argued. The idea that climate science is a conspiracy doesn't make sense to me either. Too many people have been involved to keep such a secret. It's as absurd as the twin towers conspiracy theories, or moon landing conspiracy.

    Of course the denialists would argue bizarre things that all the early research was fake, and its all an elaborate plot by the one world illuminati socialist globalist conspiracy to enslave humans for god knows what crazy reason. 

    Better to apply occams razor. The simplest explanations are usually correct. Scientists were looking at the climate and trying to explain things, nothing more or less than this.

    Apply Occams Razor to the climate denialists and its tempting to say they are simply ignorant low intelligence people, but this doesn't stand scrutiny, because the denialists include higher than average intelligence, so the next plausible and simple motive is vested interests and political dislike of government regulations and programmes needed to help fix the problem.

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  10. Conspiracy theorist: "I believe in hypothesis A" (eg climate change isnt happening)  [belief is based on preferences routed in values and identity]

    Rationalist: "Here is data proving the contrary"

    CT: "There is a conspiracy to hide the real data" [cant change the belief so only alternative is disbelieve the data]

    Virtually all conspiracy theories dont make sense. They are held by people for whom the rationalist framework is a foreign country.

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  11. Nijelj@9, I think you're on the right track with that reasoning. Living in conservative heartland I meet many people who are labelled  'deniers' but in actual fact many do openly acknowledge the existence of climate change, along with the possibility of potential severe consequences. However, they resist voting for political parties that advocate more radical solutions, primarily because those parties lean further to the left than a conservative is prepared to go, but also due to the negative consequences already experienced from transitioning to intermittent renewables, which in Australia has seen higher power prices and reduced reliability / more outages in some states and regions.  In Australia, our governing Liberal Party is actually the most conservative party, and offers less ambitious targets and solutions than Labor or The Greens, but it seems almost certain now that Labor will win gov't next year, and possibly with a Greens alliance, and if it does will definitely implement its policy of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and with more ambitious targets going forward. 

    To a large extent, Labor's success or failure will depend on energy prices and reliability, as well as the overall impact on the economy. Overly ambitious targets that risk energy affordabilty and / or reliability, with a flow-on economic impact will create a large voter backlash and a rapid return to a more conservative government with a more conservative climate change policy.

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  12. Art Vandelay @11

    I tend to confine my comments to what I think is driving denialism of the science. We have a whole separate but related issue of peoples concerns about renewable energy, and I agree its reasonable for people to be concerned about reliability and costs (we in Auckland NZ have just had a huge record setting power cut due to an unusually intense low pressure system and its frustrating. It took out numerous power lines).

    However I think the reasons for wind farm problems of reliability in Australia appear related to a political fight on how the electricity system as a whole is designed at a conceptual and market level and how the states share resources, as opposed to the technology of wind farms themselves.

    I know you also had a disastrous storm that caused wind power to be taken off line, but this was due largely to the failure of transmission lines and would have happened with a purely fossil fuel based system. Some software problem with the wind farms did contribute to the problem, and hopefully people appreciate this will sometimes happen with new technology, and the problem was quickly fixed. But clearly too many of these won't be tolerated.

    Increasing electricty prices have a range of causes mostly due to a a failure to invest in enough new generation and issues with transmission lines costs. Renewable electricity itself only accounts for about 16% of increase in prices. I remembered reading this, and found this article below: 

    www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-25/the-truth-about-soaring-power-prices/8979860

    But the bottom line is its not the renewable electricity causing most of the problems. Its politics. And industry lobby groups and conservative leaning political think tank groups falsely blame all the problems on renewable energy ( as described in the article I linked)  and the end result is a very confused and mislead public.

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  13. nigelj@12, yes all understood. I'm across the detail of the problems here with wind and pv solar etc, and grid reliability issues which are not directly attributed to renewable energy but more the lack of despatchable base load power. So it's an indirect relationship more than a direct one, but people really don't care about the how's or why's. All that matters is that the power is always working, and with a retail price that's stable and affordable.  As we transition to more intermittent renewables there will be many challenges. Politics in this country is interesting because the states themselves control their own energy supplies, and until recently there's been no national energy plan. 

    I mention all of this because I don't believe that a majority of conservative heartland denies climate change, but whether it does or doesn't probably doesn't matter that much anyway. Regardless of political orientation, people won't be hostile to renewable energy if it's able to effectively match traditional sources for price and reliability. If the solution to climate change is renewable energy, as the experts say, then it's simply a matter of selling the benefits of renewable energy. Fwiw, conservative areas in the major cities have all led the way for PV solar installations, so the evidence suggests that conservatives are definitely willing to embrace renewable energy. They already have.         

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  14. Art Vandelay @13, thanks for the info. on Australia.  I realised you probably knew most of the material I posted. I posted it more for the benefit of anyone else interested as well. Same goes for some of the following.

    The nature of renewable energy means more sharing of resources by the States which suggests a national plan is now appropriate, or alternatively one national lines company perhaps. Britain has sidestepped the political problems and regional control by putting energy planning in the hands of a non partisan body separate from government. They have not had the same level of cost and relaibility  problems as Australia probably as a result. They are also doing better than New Zealand.

    "I mention all of this because I don't believe that a majority of conservative heartland denies climate change, but whether it does or doesn't probably doesn't matter that much anyway"

    I hear you and its a interesting point. I assume you really mean agw climate change. It's complicated, and peoples beliefs might even change almost from day to day depending on who they listen to, and of course you get gradations of belief, for example yes humans are warming the climate, but less than the IPCC predict. But I think this is all still denial of the issue in the end.

    Perhaps more imprtantly is people like Trump and Scott Pruitt and media personalities like Bill O'reilley and other authority fugures claim the science is a fraud and conservative people appear to be very influenced by authority figures whatever they believe internally. Liberals are more argumentative and less likely to follow authority figures (for good or bad). 

    interestingly polls back up what you say on renewable energy. Conservatives are more receptive to this, than to climate science theory. This in turn suggests they might accept the science more than they say when polled, but dont want to admit they accept the science to their peers. 

    I agree part of this is selling the benefits of renewable energy, and I accept conservatives embrace renewable energy to some extent. But you have a couple of problems still in the way of all this.  Firstly the conservative leadership certainly doesn't accept renewable energy. The White House stand firmly opposed to renewables despite their rhetoric, and is even reported to be about to use cold war legislation to enable it to give direct government support to coal. The Republican congress is still luke warm on renewable energy. And as I mentioned authoity figures are important to conservatives. In other words the conservative leadership is not helping as much as it could, even if people on the ground make efforts.

    The Democrat politicians are more supportive of renewables, but not as much as they could be either. It needs much stronger efforts and this will in turn build confidence with ordinary folk.

    And a good acceptance of the science and risks impacts of climate change on humanity will be good motivations to adopt renewable energy even if it does cost slightly more or alternatively requires some small state subsidy. So its important to improve acceptance of the science as much as possible.

    Acceptance of the science has improved in America over the last 20 years although slowly. 

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  15. nijelj@14, Just to add that I was really only speaking for conservatives in Australia, who are more libertarian than conservatives in the USA. The situation in NZ is no doubt similar.  Conservatives in Australia largely fall within the upper middle class and are more likely to be self employed or employed within senior mangament positions in medeum to large enterprises. Not surprisingly, Australia's conservatives mostly believe in small government too, and from observations they look far less to government for leadership than is the case with the progressive class, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  But ultimately it's resistance to change that defines a conservative.  That doesn't mean that change isn't possible though. When evidence is clear and compelling that change is for the better a conservative will embrace change.   

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  16. nigelj @9

    Climate change denial is approaching the point of having to rewrite fundamental scientific theories that have been demonstrated over and over to have very high confidence. It's ridiculous to the point of having to claim that the same quantum theories that allow semi-cnductor transistors to operate in such a way as to enable all modern electronics suddenly break down when they are applied to describing why carbon dioxide is able to absorb heat when molecular nitrogen and oxygen aren't.

    It requires far more complexity to make the deniers case work than it does the science of human forced climate change. Which isn't separate at all from the main body of scientific knowledge and discovery.

    It is only mindless repetition paid for at a massive level that allows denial any visibility at all.

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  17. Doug_C @6 From rationalism I learned the concept of steelmanning: rather than defeat a weak form of your opponent's argument, as you've done, try to find a better argument than your opponents themselves use and defeat that instead. But it's hard to even find a fleshed-out conspiracy theory of climate science; everything I've seen is extremely vague.

    But if I was going to invent a conspiracy theory of climate science, it obviously wouldn't assume that the conspiracy started in the 19th century. One might instead assume that somehow the 19th century scientists were wrong, or that 1960s and 1970s scientists studying global warming were wrong, and that scientists who discovered this wrongness were somehow censored. This is more like what real climate conspiracy theorists do - they might point to an obscure paper that climate scientists consider to be scientifically inaccurate/nonsensical/incompetent, a paper that says humans don't cause warming, and they say "behold the proof that climate science is a sham! Media and governments are suppressing the truth!" We could then steelman this as some sort of, uh, institutional bias created secretly at some point in the 1980s to teach budding scientists false beliefs. I find this more plausible than a conspiracy stretching back to the 19th century, but it remains vague and relies on the idea of scientists being too dumb to notice they've been duped. (I find it hard to steelman it though, maybe due to the fact that this is my first attempt and my heart isn't really in it..)

    I'd argue against the conspiracy theory with three points. First, a conspiracy needs to have a goal. So what's their goal? The solution to global warming, obviously, is to replace fossil fuels with clean energy like nuclear, solar and wind, while increasing energy efficiency of our technology. So... why would someone create the world's greatest hoax if it just encourages clean energy? Wouldn't it be easier to make ordinary arguments like (1) clean energy can give us energy independence, (2) air pollution caused largely by fossil fuels kills millions of people per year and clean energy doesn't, (3) energy costs less if we use less of it, and (4) fossil fuels reserves will run out anyway so we may as well replace them before a crisis arises?

    Second, what good is a conspiracy that convinces 97% of climate scientists but only convinces 60% of the general public 35 years (or whatever) after the conspiracy started? What good is a conspiracy that doesn't convince politicians to pass a carbon tax? Clearly the conspirators picked the wrong target - if this evil plan were going to work it would have to win over lawmakers, not scientists.

    Third, who is easier to fool, scientists or the general public? The conspiracy theory would have you believe that thousands of scientists who specifically study climate were gullible enough to believe conspirators' disinformation, while the general public (conservatives anyway) were smart enough to see right through it.

    Of course, as you say, the idea that certain oil companies promote disinformation makes considerably more sense.

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  18. Doug_C @6 From rationalism I learned the concept of steelmanning: rather than defeat a very weak form of your opponent's argument, as you've done, try to find a better argument than your opponents themselves use and defeat that instead. But it's hard to even find a fleshed-out conspiracy theory of climate science; everything I've seen is extremely vague.

    But obviously, if I was going to invent a conspiracy theory of climate science, it wouldn't assume that the conspiracy started in the 19th century. One might instead assume that somehow the 19th century scientists made an honest mistake, or that 19th century scientists were mostly right but that 1960s and 1970s scientists made a mistake about the climate sensitivity, and that scientists who discovered this wrongness were somehow censored. This is more like what real climate conspiracy theorists do - they might point to some obscure paper that says humans don't cause warming, and they say "behold the proof that climate science is a sham! Media and governments are suppressing the truth!" (there are a number of these, and mainstream scientists, of course, consider them to be variously inaccurate / nonsensical / incompetent.) We could take this argument and steelman it as some sort of, let's say, institutional bias created secretly at some point in the 1980s to teach budding scientists false beliefs. I find this more plausible than a conspiracy stretching back to the 19th century, but it remains vague and relies on the idea of scientists being too dumb to notice they've been duped. (I find it hard to steelman this, maybe due to the fact that this is my first attempt at steelmanning and my heart isn't really in it.)

    I'd argue against the conspiracy theory with three points. First, a conspiracy needs to have a goal. So what's their goal? Obviously, the solution to global warming is to replace fossil fuels with clean energy like nuclear, solar and wind, while increasing energy efficiency of our technology. So... why would someone create the world's greatest hoax just to encourage clean energy? Wouldn't it be easier to ignore the climate completely and make arguments like (1) air pollution caused largely by fossil fuels kills millions of people per year and clean energy doesn't, (2) clean energy can give us energy independence, (3) energy costs less if we use less of it, and (4) fossil fuels reserves will run out anyway so we may as well replace them before a crisis arises?

    Second, what good is a conspiracy that convinces 97% of climate scientists but only convinces 60% of the general public 35 years (or whatever) after the conspiracy started? What good is a conspiracy that doesn't convince politicians to pass a carbon tax? Clearly the conspirators picked the wrong target - for this evil plan to work it must win over lawmakers, not scientists.

    Third, who is easier to fool, scientists or the general public? The conspiracy theory would have you believe that thousands of scientists who specifically study climate were dumb enough to believe conspirators' disinformation, while the general public (conservatives anyway) were smart enough to see right through it.

    Of course, as you say, the idea that certain oil companies promote disinformation makes considerably more sense.

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  19. The steelman strategy is intriguing and very useful. However the climate conspiracy theory I have heard is fairly specific, namely that climate change was invented by the UN to further their socialist goals to globalise and control the world from the UN and redistribute wealth.

    The Paris accord does involve helping poor countries with renewable energy projects. The email leak played into the conspiracy theory.This all gets the conspiracy theorests all excited, and no matter how much proof you provide that the emails revealed nothing wrong, the denialists don't listen, because they don't want to listen and learn. Or at least it's slow progress convincing people, but worth the effort.

    This conspiracy like others is all utter garbage of course. I mean its seriously moronic. I'm reluctant to even discuss it and publicise the issue, but I'm relying on the fact most people can probably see it for what it is, ridiculous. It falls over because countries give aid to poor countries anyway and for numerous other reasons. But the trouble is it all creates doubt and confusion with the public, which is the goal of the people really pulling the strings on all this, namely the heads of certain companies and political think tanks.

    Most people probably realise its far more likely the oil and transport companies deliberately spread doubt about the science.

    Imho in the end physical reality will increasingly show conspiracies and climate pseudoscience are both nonsense. I have noticed more people talking about extreme weather the last couple of years. Thats a good sign.

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  20. nijelj@8, I found a study of DTR here.. LINK 

    Although only valid for continental USA it does show that diurnal temperature range in summer is falling more rapidly than in winter. Unfortunately, analysis of this is not included in this study.  

    However, I think the answer to why maximum temperatures would increase faster than minimum temperatures if incoming solar radiation is increased, is due to the delayed vapor response. If incoming solar energy underwent a positive step change the daily maximum temperatures (t max) would initially rise faster than minimum temperatures (t min), but that situation would reverse over time as atmospheric water vapor increased to a new equilibrium value.  OTOH, increasing CO2 will act to reduce outgoing LWR, not incoming SWR, so will act greatest on nighttime minimum temperature, reducing diurnal temperature redange (DTR). 

    However, from the continental USA data in the linked study it's interesting to see that the t-max - t-min trend is greatest during summer. not winter. Perhaps this is due to reduced cloud cover during winter and / or changes to weather system movements related to climate change.   Here in Australia there was a sudden reversal in the DTR trend around 1999, and since then the DTR has actually been increasing, Daytime temps are now increasing faster than nighttime temps. I'm not sure why this isn't being examined, being so exceptional.   

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened link

  21. nigelj@19,

    There are 'concerns' about global leadership collectively acting with tax money from the more fortunate to sustainably help the less fortunate be at least basically decently fortunate in their life.

    One example of concern is that responsible global leadership actions to improve the future for all of humanity, reducing the harm done to the future of humanity, would undeniably reduce the ability of the most fortunate to perceive themselves as being superior to Others. The ability of some people to appear to be superior, appear to be the bigger winners, would be reduced by their wealth being more significantly taxed to increase the well-being/health of the poorest.

    Another example is that people who are only wealthier because they continue to benefit significantly from the burning of fossil fuels would actually lose so much perceived opportunity for wealth that they would only be very rich, not super-rich, relative to others. Of course, only the less fortunate should be benefiting from that type of activity, an unsustainable and understandably harmful one -> And only as a brief transition to sustainable better ways of living -> And only in situations where burning fossil fuels actually makes sense as a transition step for the less fortunate toward that better living.

    And Einstein, among many others, have pointed out the benefit for humanity of the reduction of the freedom of people to believe whatever they want and do as they please for their Private Interest. Related Einstein quotes are:

    "Only a life lived for others is a life worth while." (Youth, 1932)

    "The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which (they) have attained liberation from the self." (My World Picture, 1934)

    "This is the problem: Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war? ... As one immune from nationalist bias, I personally see a simple way of dealing with the superficial (i.e., administrative) aspect of the problem: the setting up by international consent of a legislative and judicial body to settle every conflict arising between nations. ... Thus I am led to my first axiom: the quest of international security involves the unconditional surrender by every nation, in a certain measure, of its liberty of action, its sovereignty that is to say, and it is clear beyond all doubt that no other road can lead to such security." (to Dr. Freud (q.v.), July 30, 1932)

    A natural extension of the last quote is that for humanity to develop a sustainable better future the wealthiest must all give up their liberty to believe what they want to do as they please. And the legitimacy of the wealthiest should also be measured by their efforts to properly raise awareness and better understanding among the general population.

    What is obvious is that the developed socioeconomic-political systems tempt people to be more selfish rather than being altruistic. That leads to increased popularity and profitability of harmful unsustainable beliefs and activity making it more difficult to correct developments that become understood to be unsustainable and damaging. And it can lead (has led) to corporate or regional political leadership that fights for self-interests that are contrary to sustainably advancing all of humanity to a better future by claiming the sovereign right to be secretive or claim whatever they want to excuse doing as they please.

    Responsibly self-limiting behaviour and considerately assisting the less fortunate in pursuit of sustainable improvements for the future of humanity is contrary to the developed Private Interests of many people, particularly people who have developed desires to appear to be superior to others any way they can get away with. Significant corrective motivation will be required to get them to behave better. Global leadership (by the majority of the wealthiest and regional political winners) effectively doing that is what is required. It must be a serious concern for everyone, including being a serious threat to the understandably less deserving among the powerful and wealthy, the ones who are undeserving of their impressions of superiority.

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  22. DPiepgrass @17

    I think the scientific process does that quite well over time. If something is not verifiable it is eventually discarded.

    But there is always room left for improvement within the scientific process or it stops being science at some point and becomes dogma. This is the vulnerability that climate change denial specifically targets and to a degree acts like a virus turning healthy cells into factories for making more viruses. At least in the minds of many in the public, and I've also seen statements by some valid researchers that this continuing wave of denial also affects their perception of the evidence.

    Given that denial has been going on at an increasing level for over 4 decades we can see that this has been a very successful approach for the denial campaign which make sense because it was designed from the start by scientists like Fred Seitz who was a past president if the National Academy of Sciences and Fred Singer who also had a productive career in science before moving into the field of fossil fuel lobbyist.

    Skepticism must remain at the core of science for it to remain an effective method of progressing our understanding of the natural world. But true skepticism must be clearly defined, hence resources like this one.

    So far the overwhelming evidence is that the science behind human forced climate change is the result of true skeptical examination of all the evidence.

    Denial is not an examination of any evidence at all, it is a systematic approach to casting doubt on all of that evidence. It starts with an immutable assumption then forces all the data to fit that assumption, no matter how corrupted it must become.

    And not only is climate change denial corrupting the data on climate it is also destroying public confidence in science itself. Attacking the evidence on human created climate change is not enough, there has also been an intentional attack on science itself going back decades.

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  23. Art Vandelay @20, I think you would be right about the sun and the delayed water vapour response.

    However you said "OTOH, increasing CO2 will act to reduce outgoing LWR, not incoming SWR, so will act greatest on nighttime minimum temperature, reducing diurnal temperature redange". I'm not sure about this, because heat emitted from the ground is same day and night. I think the explanation is more related to my post @4 where the science article said  at night time the layers of the atmosphere compress at night (they didn't say why but presumably it's because  more C02 is near ground level at night being heavier and not subject to much convection) and thus more warming at night than at day.  

    I agree about your cloud cover comments. The reversal in Australia could be temporary or due to local conditions.

    However I don't have an atmospheric physics degree, so I'm not 100% sure of this material. I stand to be corrected by someone with better knowledge.

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  24. OPOF @21

    "What is obvious is that the developed socioeconomic-political systems tempt people to be more selfish rather than being altruistic. "

    Yes I agree, but its important for people to realise its not because the current economic system is fundamentally wrong in principle, its because of the way people interpret it. Economic theory encourages people acting in their "enlightened self interest" on the basis that profitability "will benefit all" in a happy kind of effect and this appears to create wealth over history, at least in the provision of certain types of goods such as consumer goods. We all know that heavily centralised control and ownership can create stagnant economic systems.

    Unfortunately this is not true of the provision of all goods, because some are better provided by the state.

    And the profit motive and self interest is interpreted by some people to mean that anything is permissible, when it clearly isn't. The point of self interest is to encourage innovation and decentralised decision making, not to permit harmful behaviours or legitimise greed or reckless decision making.

    It is also sometimes interpreted to mean service to others, charity and altruism are worthless, or second rate, when they aren't.

    And its interpreted to mean that the community and / or government should have no control over the behaviour of business or individuals or the provision of important public goods. Such things evolved for good reasons, and are not mutually exclusive with making a dollar or enlightened self interest.

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  25. Doug_C @22

    Yes it's important to always try to improve things. Individual scientists sometimes make mistakes or have bias etc, however  the scientific method by its very nature discourages bias and promotes quality and accuracy because it forces people to look at data, causation, experiment even if the results hurt certain beliefs or gut instincts. Peer review and competition between scientists help expose bad science and bias. Its a good system, but can always be fine tuned to be better.

    Another issue with climate denial is the use of dirty tricks, logical fallacies, misleading and deceitful rhetoric and worse. In comparison, climate scientists stress accuracy, scientific argument, nuanced argument, honesty, admission of areass of uncertainty, replicability, data etc. This is all fundamental to the scientific method, so cannot be compromised and they would be flayed alive by the public if caught cheating anyway. It's therefore not a level playing field, because the same standards are not applied to the denial side of the debate.

    It's analogous to drug cheating in sports. One side plays dirty. Unfortunately with scientific debates theres no referee to ensure both sides play fair.  One hopes the public see this,  and make allowances in their thinking, and  this is why I support more being done to highlight the trickery in denialists arguments, as John Cook is doing. It won't convince the hard core denialists, but it will convince middle ground open minded people.  

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  26. nigelj@24,

    “Economic theory encourages people acting in their "enlightened self interest" on the basis that profitability "will benefit all" in a happy kind of effect and this appears to create wealth over history, at least in the provision of certain types of goods such as consumer goods.”

    is not as accurate a presentation as:

    “Economic theories of the beneficial developments that will be achieved through things like a free-market and free-society rely on, or require, all participants (or at least the vast majority of the significant participants), to honestly and diligently pursue maximum awareness and understanding of what is really going on and act to sustainably improve things for the future of all humanity. It also requires any member of humanity who has developed Private Interests contrary to that type of sustainable collective improvement to be quickly identified and corrected, something that is more important to apply to those who have become wealthier or more influential.”

    As an engineer with an MBA I try to focus on the actual results that are being achieved, which can be very different from the perceptions developed by participants in the system. And I am very aware that addressing harmful undesirable results requires a good understanding of why the results occurred before attempting to correct things.

    This is an ethical or moral matter requiring the best explanation for what is observed (abductive reasoning).

    For any system to be sustainably successful all actions need to be guided by a good ethical or moral objective.

    The vast majority of the developed socioeconomic-political systems can be seen to have failed to encourage ethical and moral development that would sustainably improve the future for all of humanity (developing, encouraging and defending things that prompt ethical people to be concerned about what has developed); failing to discourage unsustainable or harmful activity (even communist systems can be seen to have failed that way).

    I have been paying attention that way through many decades based in a region of the planet that 'developed a powerful collective desire to benefit from the global burning of fossil fuels' (Alberta, Canada). And I have tried to be as aware as I can be of what happened around the world regarding the burning of fossil fuels. I have been particularly interested in the people/system responses to the emergent truth of the unacceptable consequences of that activity. Thanks to SkS, I understand that began at the time of Arrhenius in the 1800's. By the 1980's the unacceptability of already fortunate people trying to become even more fortunate as a result of expanded or extended global burning of fossil fuels was undeniable (since then the further strengthening of understanding was delayed by the developed popularity and profitability of that activity and by the deliberate efforts of wealthy powerful people who did not want that understanding to be better understood).

    The required system corrections to get ethical/moral system responses to the developed climate science understanding includes admitting the importance of restricting freedoms. Changing the socioeconomic-political systems to effectively correct incorrect beliefs (not allowing people to believe whatever they wish), and restrict freedoms of actions (not allowing people to pursue whatever their developed Personal Interests are regardless of regional popularity or profitability) are essential system corrections (for more issues than climate science).

    So my current developed understanding (always a work in progress) is that “an ethical/moral development of a sustainable better future for all of humanity” requires rigorous monitoring and aggressive correction applied to all of the wealthiest and most influential, all of the Biggest Winners. There needs to be higher expectations of Good Behaviour from the richer and more powerful, best achieved by peer pressures. At the other end of the spectrum, the poorest can be excused for understandably unethical behaviour because they have more pressing survival motivations and should not be expected to know better, but should be helped to live better and learn to be ethical.

    A system that does not include that correction of the Winners and assistance for the less fortunate will struggle to achieve the desired outcome, no matter what level of understanding is developed among the general population. The clear difference between the leadership actions in places like the USA and the understanding among the general population is proof of the failure of the system to have the Winners actually leading in the proper ethical/moral direction, including failing to meaningfully sustainably assist the less fortunate to better living. And a significantly lower and significantly delayed public acceptance of the developed scientific emergent truth can easily be seen to be the result of the undeserving among the Winners not being effectively 'corrected' in the related socioeconomic political system.

    People driven by concerns about 'their perceptions of privilege as fossil fuel burners or being able to profit from that activity' are a significant part of the climate science awareness and understanding challenge. There is a similar finding regarding Trump supporters recently reported in the NY Times. The awareness of the unacceptability of what has developed and the required corrections that are being exposed by climate science mean that a loss of stature relative to others is a serious consideration. And the resistance of people to 'being corrected' is a major factor in the reluctance of the general population to accept the constantly improving awareness and understanding of climate science, a lot of people can sense that they have a lot to lose. They can understand that they deserve to lose, but they did not develop thinking that way.

    Sean Carroll's “The Big Picture” apolitically presents the currently developed robust understanding of what is going on. And it reinforces that my current developed understanding is aligned with the collective best explanations of reality. People start with hereditary or genetic characteristics and develop their character based on the environment and experiences they grow up in. People can change their minds, but they can be powerfully motivated by the environment or 'socioeconomic-political system' they are in.

    Beliefs about how people should behave (considerately helpful to the future of humanity) in a free-market or free-society are not the reality of what develops if people are freer to believe whatever they want and do as they please. The reality is that people do not develop those ways of thinking and acting in the current developed systems (almost all of them - Singapore and The Cook Islands appear to be rare examples of outliers in that regard). It can be seen that the systems of competition generally encourage the opposite attitudes and actions to develop. They develop zero-sum game attitudes in pursuit of perceptions of being superior to others that actually produce negative-sum results, rather than developing the Positive-sum potential of collaborative healthy competition to most effectively develop sustainable improvements for all of humanity.

    Any perceptions of wealth developed those zero-sum (actually negative-sum) ways are usually unethically obtained, and are not actually sustainable.

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  27. The link to the NY Times article I referred to in the 4th last para of my comment @26.

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  28. OPOF @27, Singapore is a successful economy, and I'm interested to hear they have good business ethics. They are a very strict rule bound society, maybe a little too authoritarian in leadership  for me. I think it's probably a need to unify diverse cultures on a tiny island with limited resources.

    Scandinavia is a successful market economy, or mixed model economy that achieves reasonably fair outcomes and has decent business ethics on the whole within a more democratic framework. They are not perfect societies, but are a good socio economic  model to emulate, and outcomes tend to be good in those societies.

    I read the New York Times article just the other day. It's very compelling, but Trumps blue collar supporters won't get any help from Trumps policies. They have been used as pawns in his self glorifying plans.

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  29. This article from Vox  is good on Trumps supporters and whats happening with the Republican Party.  

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  30. nigelj,

    A major incorrect development of the developed socioeconomic-political systems is the way people in the systems/environments are tempted to develop to be less caring and behave less ethically regarding the development of a sustainable better future for all of humanity (Tribalism or any sub-set Us-Firstism; as presented in the NY Times item I referred to). The systems tempt people to care more about their Private Interest in obtaining personal benefit in their lifetime (even the socialist and communist ones can do that).

    The most significant development related to that incorrect development of attitudes and actions is misleading marketing.

    Susan Cain's “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” highlights cultural historian Warren Susman's identification of the shift from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality that began in the 1800s. The terms that were impressive for Character were: Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden deeds, Honour, Reputation, Morals, Manners, Integrity. The terms that were impressive for Personality are: Magnetic,Fascinating,Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful, Energetic.

    The advancement of emotion/desire related advertising results in a decline of effectiveness of reason based advertising. Well prepared misleading claims will be more successful than efforts to more fully inform and educate the population in a socioeconomic-political environment where people are encouraged to consider their self-interest to be more important that helping to advance all of humanity to a sustainable better future.

    That combination of:

    • encouraging people to desire to compete to appear to be superior relative to others, rather than competing to substantively be more helpful than others
    • with more freedom of the winners of competition to behave less ethically
    • and the ability to get away with efforts against raising awareness and better understanding of the corrections required to develop sustainable advancements for all of humanity

    is a serious threat to the future of humanity, and not just regarding climate science.

    The development of socioeconomic-political environments/systems like that, with their self-perpetuating promotion/advertising leading to increasing incorrect development and resistance to correction, must be called what it is, not be defended because of created appearances of progress or prosperity that are not truly sustainable.

    The solutions/corrections can be understood to require the understanding of the importance of limits on freedoms of belief and actions to get Substantive Ethical Character to be what is admired, to return to the track of Enlightenment that Personality driven socioeconomic-political systems have departed so drastically from.

    Singapore's success included some rather authoritarian rule by a rather benevolent dictator restricting freedoms forcefully. I recall how smoking in theatres was ended. The fine imposed was huge, and the smoking stopped immediately. A similar solution was imposed to end the mess of chewing gum on sidewalks, no chewing gum allowed.

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  31. OPOF @30, I think theres much to admire about Singapore. I think western countries could have tougher fines for smoking in the wrong places, littering etc. In fact sometimes the fines are there in western countries, but they just aren't enforced, and thats half the problem. People play the system  and think its soft.

    While I'm not a believer in locking every criminal up for life - that sort of mentality- you do need some consistency of enforcement of rules and maximums do need to be handed out regularly, for the law to be respected.

    However I think Singapores drug policy is excessive. 

    It's the tough challenge of having sufficient strong laws and enforcing them, without becoming an over regulated, authoritarian police state that starts to intrude on peoples social lives etc. Its a balancing act. However it's quite possible to get laws right if they are based on science and evidence of real and significant harm, as opposed to emotion and more arbitrary judgements like apartheid laws, anti homosexuality, or trivial laws.

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