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The Australian quantum theory of climate denial

Posted on 2 May 2014 by dana1981

I've previously written about the five stages of climate denial. Climate contrarians were exhibiting all five stages leading up to the release of the latest IPCC report in ideologically biased media outlets like Rupert Murdoch's The Australian.

Recently, John Cook (himself an Australian, at the University of Queensland) proposed the Quantum Theory of Climate Denial.

"There are various states of climate denial, with some states contradicting others. For example, some believe global warming is not happening. Others believe global warming is happening but is not caused by humans. Others believe humans are causing global warming but that the impacts won't be bad.

Now, it's perfectly understandable for a community of people to hold mutually inconsistent beliefs. But can one person hold three inconsistent beliefs at the same time? Can a person argue that global warming is not happening, then smoothly transition to arguing that global warming is happening but is caused by something else?

They can, and they do ... It can be explained by the "quantum theory of climate denial." This theory holds that climate deniers exist in a fuzzy quantum state of denial, simultaneously rejecting many or all aspects of climate science."

The Quantum Theory of Climate Denial.  Created by John Cook The Quantum Theory of Climate Denial. Created by John Cook

Psychologically this can be easily explained, because climate denial is based not on science, but rather on ideology. This denial is caused by a desire to maintain the status quo and/or an opposition to the policies needed to solve the climate problem. Pseudoscientific arguments are only needed as a means to justify those ideological positions.

If the problem doesn't exist, or if it's not our fault, or if it's nothing to worry about, then we can maintain the status quo. Any of these arguments will suffice to justify opposition to climate solutions, so even though they're contradictory, those who deny climate realities for ideological reasons can deploy any of these positions at any time.

Murdoch's The Australian is a prime example, having in recent months run stories claiming that global warming isn't happening, is happening but isn't due to carbon dioxide emissions, and is happening, is due to carbon dioxide, but isn't anything to worry about. Two of those articles were written by Bjorn Lomborg, a favorite of The Australian. Just a few days ago, the newspaper published another Lomborg piece, this one blaming virtually all of the world's problems on renewable energy. Fossil fuels are lovely – status quo it is!

The editorial was full of misleading, unsubstantiated arguments. In essence, 'renewable energy is too expensive and receives too many subsidies, whereas fossil fuels are great for the poor because they're cheap.' Just look at China, suggests Lomborg – if you can see it through the smog-filled air that's causing 1.2 million premature deaths per year.

The editorial complained about the billions of dollars in wind and solar energy subsidies, neglecting the approximately $1.5 trillion in annual fossil fuel subsidies. It claimed that high energy prices are worse for people in poor countries than global warming impacts. Yet a report from Lomborg's own organization found that climate change has already been hurting the economies of poorer nations for many decades. Those countries happen to be the most vulnerable to climate damages.

The editorial also complained that Australia's carbon tax has caused energy prices to rise, making it difficult for low-income households to pay their energy bills. The solution to that problem is a simple one – make the tax revenue neutral. While energy prices will still rise in that scenario, the costs to households will be offset when the resulting revenue is returned to the taxpayers.

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Comments 1 to 17:

  1. I love this. Congratulations to John for bringing the intellectual incoherence of so much circular argumentation and tactical avoidance deployed by the vast majority of climate change 'contrarians':  Those who so stubbornly refuse to recognise that they have been duped by the 'astroturfing' of the fossil fuel lobby, itself a strategy developed by the tobacco industry, which has been a matter of public record since at least 1998.

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  2. My apologies, line 1in #1shoud read as follows:

    "...for bringing into sharp focus the..."

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  3. Another indefensible tactic of the likes of Lomborg is attempting to justify today's generation of fortunate people benefiting from the creation of problems for future generations by financial evaluations showing that the "net effect is almost balanced".

    Lomborg and others calculate what they beleive would be the "cost of lost benefit by today's most fortunate reducing their benefits obtained from burning of fossil fuels" against what they believe would be the "costs faced by future generation due to the impacts of today's burning up of the non-renewable resource". They can easily overestimate and underestimate this evaluation to suit their motivation. And they never require the group today that is benefiting to be the ones to spend the required money to address the future costs they create the need for.

    They also do a "trick" called "Net-present-value" adjustments to reduce the cost of future troubles compared to their current day costs. Though a net-present-value evaluation can be sensible when a person is deciding what personal action they will take when they face the future consequences, it is not sensible, or decent, to do when different people are on the benefit and consequence side.

    Now reflect on what they are really doing. They are trying to say it is OK for them and others like them to benefit as long as the troubles they think they create for others are less severe than the benefit they think they would lose out on if they didn't create those trouble others have to deal with. It is like saying it is OK for me to make $100 as long as I think that the harm I do to you is less than $100, and you have absolutely no say in what I choose to do or how I figure out what is fair and balanced.

    What they also do is restrict the evaluation to excess CO2 in the atmosphere. There are many other harmful impacts of burning fossil fuels they "leave out of their evaluation" because they will claim they are just "evaluating" the climate science issue. The full facts of the matter need to be evaluated including all the other impacts from activities related to burning fossil fuels. And the fact that benefiting from burning fossil fuels is a limited opportunity that people have already been fighting over for decades needs to be included in the evaluation of what is going and waht changes are required.

    All things considered, all of the most fortunate have to adapt to life without benefiting from burning of fossil fuels, and help the less fortunate deveop to that sustainable better future for all. Allowing any of the already fortunate to have the potential advantage of benefiting from unsustainable and damaging actions is "Unsustainable and Damaging".

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  4. The article rightly points out that the climate denier/sceptic’s arguments in the media are not consistent. It also points out that their arguments are more ideological (and political) than scientific. When the arguments (ideological v. scientific) are compared side by side then it is much easier for someone who is just seeking information to believe the ideological (and conspiratorial and sensationalist) argument than the scientific argument. This is because understanding the scientific argument requires a certain level of scientific knowledge that they may not possess and they need to be sympathetic to the process of scientific reasoning. It is because of this that some sceptics/deniers tend to portray the "we have a problem" argument as something akin to a religion. As a result they dogmatically state that they don't believe in anthropogenic global warming. However, someone who advocates the "we have a problem" argument tends to do so from an actual scientific understanding of the issue, which is not in any way religious. So the debate is also between faith based ideology and reasoned and verifiable science.

    As for expecting any positive action on climate change, don’t hold your breath. Historically, it has taken around 10 years to a generation for some new technological paradigm to infiltrate society. It took that long for cars, aeroplanes, jets and computer technology to become more widespread as prices reduced because the better off had something new to play with or could make some money. Unfortunately, action on climate change is not something trendy that the well off seem to want to embrace. It is just too easy to dig up and burn fossil fuels, and since it can also make a lot money, don’t expect anything to happen real soon. This is a bit worrying considering the simple math of dividing the known recoverable reserves of oil globally divided by the current global consumption rate (with all the CO2 that this implies) yields a figure of about 50 years. This simple fact alone questions the long term viability of operating aircraft and cars amongst other things. This means that a huge social change is coming and it will happen within the lifetime of our children even if the world doesn’t act on AGW and climate change by investing in newer less polluting technologies to reduce emissions.

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  5. Martin Lack@2,

    No need for correction, @1 is understandable without.

    Thanks for the NYT archive. It's 16yold now but sadly, reads like it was published yesterday (just replace Clinton with Obama which is realy not much or a replacement), so US made absolute zero progress on AGW mitigation during that time. Especially the sentence:

    A proposed media-relations budget of $600,000, [...], using as many as 20 ''respected climate scientists'' recruited expressly ''to inject credible science and scientific accountability into the global climate debate, thereby raising questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom.' ''

    is a stark reminder, that so called "climate skepticism" has ideological roots and has nothing to do with science.

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  6. Martin:

    Get real - and join the scientific debate, which will never be a yes or no, but a series of scenarios probabilities and uncertainties which I personally believe 80% of the public would agree with if they were portrayed in a logical and balanced manner using all the evidence.

    In other words,  the IPCC process and reports

    I'll take Martin's words as an endorsement of the IPCC. To do otherwise would be disrespectful.

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  7. Doug @6,

    I believe your comment is regarding MartinG's comment @38 on the earlier Quantum Theory story. And in that comment string, the part you quoted has been appropriately snipped by the moderator.

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  8. #5 @chriskoz:  I am glad you understood #1.  However, even if people could have guessed what I meant to say, my second sentence is grammatically incomplete without the missing words.  (But, hey, what does language and grammar matter?)

    #7 @One Planet Only Forever:  Thanks for clearing that up (I for one was very confused).

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  9. Oh, I get it. There are quantum states of denial, just as there are quantum states of gaseous CO2 vibration modes. Like a collection of CO2 molecules, with increasing pressure and temperature, these states can broaden into bands of denial. Even a single CO2 molecule can hold multiple vibration modes. In fact it must hold all of the possible modes … until the instant of observation!

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  10. Another indefensible tactic of climate science denialists is using the label "CAGW" as some sort of bludgeon for ridiculing serious experts.  I've put together a collection of the growing weather related catastrophies that are linked to an energized global climate system that I hope you don't mind me sharing.

    Saturday, May 3, 2014

    Judith Curry's cynical game: "CAGW Memeplex"

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  11. Hi John,

    Do you know the problems we have in Germany with "Erneuerbare Energien"(green energy)?

    Electricity costs for consumers are rising. industrial companies that use a lot of electricity are being given more and more tax breaks.

    Some people can no longer pay the price for electricity. Those problem are real in Germany.

    Best regartds,


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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Excessive white space deleted. 

  12. Just to return to the main topic, the phenomenon of polarization provides a nice extension of the metaphor of "quantum denial".  Consider a beam of randomly polarized light striking filter 1, which passes only horizontally polarized light. If we then apply to the light that passes filter 1) a filter (2) that passes only vertically polarized light, no light at all will pass through.  But if we then add a filter between 1 and 2 that passes light polarized at 45 degrees, some light actually passes through all three.  Something like this seems to happen with deniers as well-- having entered the "it's not happening" state, they are often reluctant to shift to the "it's the sun" state immediately. But if we add an intermediary state (perhaps "CO2 absorption is saturated"), then "it's the sun" becomes comfortably available as a subsequent state. So contradicting yourself is fine, so long as there at least one intermediate statement occurs that isn't directly contradictory to either the starting statement or the final statement. 

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  13. mancan18 #4 synthetic oil can be manufactured from coal at a ratio of 1:3.

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  14. Hi John,

    I wrote about the EEG (green energy law) of Germany and the related problems.

    Today in an ecologic TV-show (Planet E) they discuss about the problems with wind energy destroying important eco-systems (woods). 

    Here is the link:

    I hope it's ok to post links here.

    I guess that 99% of the german and european population want green energy. But we need to think before we act. We had the problems with bio-fuel and now with wind energy. Probably german nukes will not be shut down as planned. But we all hope to find a better way.

    Nothing is just black or white. We don't have the same political bias as in the US. But above all in Germany there live very agressive "eco-fighters". When 99% of the population want a cleaner world, fighting is not the solution imho.

    Best regards

    Mich (and sorry for the extra spaces)

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  15. @moderator:

    This thread dropped from 46 comments to 14. I'm wondering if you are having technical difficulties?

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Comments not pertaining to the subject of the OP of this thread were removed.

  16. Klapper @15, it is worthwhile noting that of the 32 posts deleted, eight were by me, four each by Michael Sweet and KR, three by chriskoz, and one each by Roger D, Mal Adapted and GrindupBaker; making a total of twenty two (68.75%) by those accepting the science of climate change.  The deletions, therefore, have been far harsher on those supporters than on anyone else.  You (four posts) and Poster (four posts) are of course welcome to reraise the issues being discussed on other more appropriate threads.  Therefore, while inconvenient, these deletions are not censorship.  Jetfuel (2 posts), however, should probably not bother given that his post was both original and then respammed, was pure sloganeering.

    Frankly, I would think Poster would be very happy to have what must have been very embarassing posts for him deleted from the record so that this moderation decision has done the "skeptics" a favour.

    The moral from this is stray from the comments policy (by being off topic) at your own peril.

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  17. @ 16, those numbers could almost support a psychological profile of some sort.

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