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Climate change science comeback strategies: 'In it for the money'

Posted on 7 November 2018 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Karin Kirk

Conversation graphicImage by Karin Kirk.

When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. It’s an age-old tactic and an easy way to energize opposition while distracting from the real issue at hand.

With climate change, ad-hominem attacks on scientists are intended to shake public trust in the scientific evidence that underpin the whole issue. After all, who could be more villainous than the world’s climate scientists? Does one really think this group of bicycle-riding, organic-cotton-wearing PhDs might be pulling off a skillfully-coordinated global conspiracy, one involving 100 years of research from hundreds of scientists all over the world?

The notion of scientists-as-conspiracists seems preposterous – but for those who have never met a practicing scientist, are unfamiliar with the scientific process, and are emotionally invested in the idea that humans aren’t changing the climate, maybe it does seem plausible that climate scientists are stealthily, greedily, falsifying their reports to score the next big grant.

Ergo, this common complaint from those alleging climate scientists are “in it for the money”:

Most climate science is being paid for to prove a hypothesis, not disprove it. Scientists are getting funding to prove a result based on a single variable. And, guess what? Of course they’re going to prove it to keep getting paid. Scientists are told, “Take a million bucks, and prove global warming is a result of manmade CO2.” That’s what’s happening in climate science, and it’s not the way science is supposed to work.

This is a modified version of a comment on a science news Facebook page.

Such sentiments are reliable laugh lines at professional scientific conferences, but given how pervasive they are, they’re not funny at all. Nonetheless, they can spur some good questions. How do research grants work? Why won’t this myth die? And where’s the real financial lever in the climate change debate?

Read on to see how three experts in science and communication unpack this misconception and clear the air.

Strategy #1 – Correct the science

For a glimpse into the life of a research scientist, let’s first turn to Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech. As a top-notch atmospheric scientist, evangelical Christian, and adept communicator, Hayhoe offers an unusually well rounded outlook. She’s a frequent spokesperson for building awareness about climate change.

First, Hayhoe personalizes the message by sharing her perspective as a scientist.

One of the most frequent objections I hear is, “you scientists are just in it for the money.”

What many people don’t realize, though, is that most of us could easily have chosen a different field – like astrophysics, where I began my education – where we’d make exactly the same money. Or, we could use our skills in industry, working for a fossil fuel company (I interned at Exxon during my master’s degree and published several papers with Exxon scientists), and earn easily ten times what we do now. If I wanted to make more money, there are a lot of ways smart people with technical skills could do that without putting up with the harassment climate scientists receive every day.

Then she adds the facts: money from research grants isn’t making people rich. It just covers basic costs, sometimes just barely.

None of the research money I receive goes into my personal pocket; instead, it’s used to pay graduate students the princely sum of about $25k per year and around $2,000 a pop to publish our research papers.

Hayhoe doesn’t let her feathers get ruffled by the assertion. “Their question or objection deserves respect,” she says. But, she asserts, it’s important to “show that we have a clear and rational answer to this objection.”

Strategy #2 – Expose the myth, misinformation, or fallacy

Wonder why some of these climate myths stick around forever, despite their being wrong? That’s because they’re designed with a strong understanding of how human brains hang onto information. These messages offer the precise fodder their intended audience wants to hear (irrespective of whether the information is true or not), and they are “sticky.” That is, they are short, simple, and easy to remember and repeat. Repeatable messages beget even more repeating, and pretty soon the refrain seems so familiar that it must be true. Interests opposed to action on climate change have spent nearly $3 billion on disinformation campaigns, plus over $2 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions in just 10 years, according to investigations by InsideClimate News. That kind of cash buys some well-designed and well-distributed messaging.

John Cook and the volunteers at Skeptical Science have written a handy guide to debunking climate myths. Their responses are short, sweet, and easy to remember.

“The golden rule of debunking is to fight sticky myths with stickier facts,” says Cook. “In other words, it’s not enough to show that a myth is wrong. We also need to dislodge it with a factual replacement.”

Applying that idea to the topic at hand, Cook points out, “If the myth is that scientists are motivated by money, we need to dislodge that myth by explaining what really motivates scientists.”

Scientists don’t get funding to prove what we already know – their job is to push our boundaries of knowledge. Science also makes incredibly valuable contributions to society – helping us build a safer, healthier world.

Motivation cartoon 1


Motivation cartoon 2

Funding for scientific research doesn’t go into scientists’ pockets. It goes into the operational costs of research programs. If climate scientists were truly interested in money, they have other more lucrative options.

“This is an ideal opportunity to explain how science really works,” offers Cook, pointing to a silver lining in mythbusting – it opens the floor for sharing better information.

Strategy #3 – Engage in dialogue

Karin Tamerius, of SMART Politics, offers her take on this myth. She begins by indicating agreement with the commenter and asking a question to kick off a dialog. Tamerius points out that asking “gotcha” style questions is unlikely to promote dialogue. Instead, she takes a few steps back, to the point where there’s a potential opening for a less controversial avenue that can be explored together.

“You are absolutely right that money can corrupt science. That’s one of the reasons I try to get my information from a wide variety of sources. Which science sources do you think are most trustworthy?”

As she considers her next step, Tamerius takes stock of the underlying concern of the commenter, “This person seems wary of scientific sources,” she observes. Much of the debate on any issue nowadays involves rote repetition of messages coming from one’s preferred camp, and Tamerius strives to get beyond that. “I’m trying to encourage the other person to reflect on where they get their information. My hope is to turn that skeptical spotlight back on their own sources of information.”

As for where the conversation might lead, Tamerius strives for both parties’ being “able to talk about how to tell ‘good’ science from ‘junk’ science,” she says. “Ideally, we would walk away from the conversation with a few reliable scientific sources we can agree on.”

Want to try your hand at being radically civil? SMART Politics hosts a Facebook groupthat runs practice discussions touching on different themes and topics.

Strategy #4 – Be persuasive

When it comes to changing minds, it takes a blend of solid facts, an appreciation for the concerns of your audience, and a compelling delivery. For this multi-pronged approach, we return to Katharine Hayhoe. While some scientists report their research results and leave it at that, others wade directly into the public conversation. Hayhoe has nearly 54,000 Twitter followers, and her Global Weirding video series illustrates key elements of persuasion.

To grapple with the influences of money in climate science, Hayhoe doesn’t shy away from exposing the real financial forces in play – corporate powers that, for decades, have attempted to derail the climate change conversation.

Let’s look at who really has the most to lose when it comes to weaning ourselves off the old, dirty ways of getting energy. … Take the 10 richest corporations in the world. Eight of them depend partially or even totally on the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels for their bottom line. Yes, 80% of the richest corporations in the world have everything to lose from giving up fossil fuels.

So yes, I absolutely agree: let’s follow the money. I think we can see where it leads!

Lastly, Hayhoe offers solutions, with a blend of inspiration, optimism, and patriotism.

But let’s also consider this: we are currently undergoing as big a transition as we did when we went from horse-drawn buggies to the Model T Ford. Globally, renewable energy investment has outstripped fossil fuel investment since 2014. And China and India know this. They’re not investing in fossil fuels. They’re shutting down coal-fired plants and flooding coal mines and covering them in solar panels.

The money of the future IS in green energy. We are being left behind. Did you know that China already leads the world in wind and solar energy production? Are you okay with that?

One of Hayhoe’s hallmarks is her optimism about clean energy solutions. Paradoxically, concern for a low-carbon economy is what drove fossil fuel interests to cast doubt on the science of climate change in the first place. But as it turns out, most people actually like the idea of clean energy. Few would advocate for a life with more pollution.

“Acknowledge their objection, respect it, answer it, but then turn the conversation to the real issue: solutions,” advises Hayhoe. “As long as we can agree on the solutions, what’s the problem?”

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Good but too wordy and defensive. How about this:

    The accusation is scientists are only in it for the money. Just reply "Of course scientists do their job for the money. Everyone needs to earn a living. Whats wrong with that?

    Next accusation is they exaggerate the problem to get attention and research grants. No. Too much chance of being caught and humiliated by egotistical colleagues. Scientists play safe.

    Another answer: Multiple studies and temperature data sets are used to help uncover mistakes and exaggerations. Science self regulates.

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  2. When people choose doctors they often talk about their experience, where they work (e.g., Mayo Clinic), how many of a particular type of operation they've done, etc. I don't ever remember somebody saying they would not trust a doctor because he/she was in it for the money.

    Perhaps we should help people apply the same standard to choosing which scientists to trust.

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  3. I recommend a focus on John Cook's point about science (not just climate science). "... helping us build a safer, healthier world." That directly connects to the importance of achieving, and improving, all of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the Climate Action Goal since achieving that goal makes it easier to achieve the other goals.

    I try to make the point that the purpose of science is to help by improving awareness and understanding of what is really going on. I also extend the point about helpfulness to applying that improved knowledge to act locally now (what everyone constantly does) to help sustainably improve, not harm, the future of humanity (local and global humanity, now and into the distant future). The SDGs are a good guide to helpful local actions.

    That leads to understanding that all of that helpfulness is under the umbrella of Altruism. It leads to understanding that serious problems for humanity can develop if altruism does not govern the development of awareness and understanding and the application of that knowledge.

    That leads to appreciating that there are many examples of things only getting better when altruism governs and limits human activity. There is a long and continuing history of pursuers of altruism having to step in to try to correct and clean up the damaging developments of less altruistic (more selfish) people. And their efforts can be seen to face powerful resistance to the understood required corrections (because what has developed is popular and profitable, and people do not like to be corrected regarding something they have developed a liking for).

    The point is the importance of sustainable advancement of humanity produced by efforts to improve awareness and understanding of what is really going on, and applying that improved knowledge to act locally now (what everyone constantly does) to help sustainably improve, not harm, the future of humanity (local and global humanity, now and into the distant future).

    And that argument then opens the discussion up to awareness and understanding of the unacceptability of 'other ways people try to personally benefit'. Which leads to the appreciation that free market capitalism really needs external governance to limit what develops. There will always be people trying to unjustifiably Win more personal benefit or perceptions of superiority. And getting away with behaving less acceptably can be a significant competitive advantage for as long as it can be gotten away with.

    And the few climate scientists favoured by the likes of the fossil fuel cabal who make up poor excuses in an attempt to discredit the climate science consensus can clearly be understood to be more like 'those type of people - in it for the money or the unjustified personal impressions of superiority'.

    I suggest the following pithy pitches, which apply to almost any important issue.

    The Future of Humanity is in Question - Altruism is the Answer
    Altruism! What is it Good For? - The Future of Humanity

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  4. Another way to address the claim that climate scientists are 'in it for the money' is to point out that the improved awareness and understanding of climate science was not developed by the people who benefited the most from fossil fuel burning wanting to understand if they should continue to try to benefit from the activity.

    Pursuers of personal benefit are understandably reluctant to investigate the acceptability of the actions they hope to benefit from. That is primitive human nature.

    Socially responsible modern humans be willing to pursue Good Reasons and strive to learn how to avoid harming others and try to effectively help others. They will try to understand what is going on without a bias for personal benefit.

    Good scientists will be socially responsible by default. They will simply try to develop the best explanation and understanding of what is going on, regardless of the potential for personal benefits.

    As mentioned in the OP, less responsible scientists will be able to make more money in ways other than altruistically performing Good Helpful Climate Science work. They can be observed to be the "spokes-people" favoured by less altruistically (more selfishly) motivated people (people in it for the personal benefit).

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  5. A good, powerful argument can be made that the world would benefit from more altruism (and cooperation and egalitarian spirit) both morally, economically, socially and environmentally. Looking outwards and helping others diffuses tensions, builds peace, builds economies, and helps people deal with environmental issues.

    In fact I would contend the world has become a little more altruistic over the last century as international linkages have improved, open trade has helped dragged poor countries out of poverty and beneffited rich countries as well, and science has exposed that racism is nonsensical and is based on a house of cards. The books Enlightenment Now and The Moral Arc discuss some of the evidence.

    One thing standing in the way of more progress is humanities huge conflict between instinct and intellect, with instincts giving us a way of responding quickly to problems, but tending to be sometimes unreliable and leading to hatred, fear, selfishness and bigotry, and dismissal of hard scientific evidence on environmental matters. We have a sort of dual nature.

    We need to encourage more intellect, but its difficult when an entire political group relies so much on gut instincts and core beliefs and is anti science and agreed facts, and makes up its own reality. How do we change that?

    I don't think theres anything wrong with competition or ego "per se" but it needs to be disciplined within a framework of cooperation and agreed restraints, or civilisation will face economic and environmental collapse as unrestrained personal ambition of some powerful and wealthy business people on the world stage erodes the very fundamentals of life on earth by promoting anti government, libertarian,  and anti environmental agendas. In other words, its not scientists who are the problem. 

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  6. I'm sure that most on this site will have seen the excellent videos by potholer54 on YouTube, but if you have not he (Peter Hadfield, a respected ex-BBC science correspondent) is well worth watching as he debunks all the usual suspects in humorous, non-confrontational ways.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Activated link.

  7. nigelj,
    I used the term “Good scientist” rather than the generic term “Scientist” in my comment@4, for good reason.

    Some scientists deserve to be ridiculed for being “elites and experts mainly in it for the money”. And some scientists need to be corrected for being “elites and experts who choose to pursue unsustainable and harmful activities”. The problem is the generic use of that criticism for all “Elites and Experts”.

    It is important to differentiate The Altruistically Governed from The Others, in all categories, not just scientists. And the “in it for the money” attack on climate science is a perfect opening to improve awareness and understanding about Egoism and Altruism.

    Unrestrained Egoist competition will result in combative efforts to personally perceive the 'self' to be superior relative to others. History is full of examples of that. And recent psychological research explains the reasons that happens. I have many good reasons to consider “The Enigma of Reason” to be a very good book on the subject. It has helped me improve my awareness and understanding of what is going on and how to help others improve their awareness and understanding.

    Altruism is the key term. Egoism may be all there really is. Altruistically governed Egoism would then be the only kind of altruism. And that helpful understanding is what needs to be developed.

    Altruistically governed Egoist competition would be - striving to sustainably help others with improved awareness and understanding of what is really going on and the application of that knowledge to develop sustainable better ways of living - Trying to be the best you can be that way.

    Very powerful poor excuses (unjustifiable reasons) for unsustainable harmful pursuits are:

    • the activity can potentially be, or is, popular and/or profitable
    • a person's Ego, self-perception, gets a boosted sense of superiority relative to others if the activity is successful (for as long as it can be successfully gotten away with).

    A lack of altruistic governing can develop:

    • Progressives who consider any New Thing Good, rather than the required Altruistic Conservative limiting of those New Things to sustainable helpful developments.
    • Conservatives who try to defend and protect unsustainable and harmful developed activities and beliefs, rather than the required Altruistic Progressive correction of those unsustainable and harmful developments.

    And Moderates is also not a helpful term. A compromising Conservative-Progressive Moderate can be the best or the worse:

    • They can conservatively defend existing unsustainable harmful activity and progressively push for new unsustainable harmful developments -Worst
    • Or they can altruistically pursue sustainable development and correction of unacceptable developments - Best

    What can be seen to be occurring is a battle that includes battles between the Moderates. Egoist driven Moderates vs. Altruism governed Moderates. And for the benefit of the future of humanity, the Altruists, not just compromising moderates, clearly need to be governing all Others.

    Some institutions of experts and elites (Political groups, Universities, Businesses) are setting themselves up for having no sustainable future. They are deliberately headed in the wrong directions, away from sustainable development. They have been taken over by egoist selfishness that pushes against altruistic objectives. They are trying to pursue research that will 'make money without limiting those pursuits to sustainably helpful ventures'. They are 'the harmful experts and elites that people do need to be warned about', and many of them are scientists.

    Research that identifies the harmful results of developments that people want to benefit from is very important research. And leadership in business and politics that supports that type of research and effectively acts to correct incorrect developments is required for humanity to advance. That is the Understanding of Enlightenment that needs to be developed.

    What is clearly required is the development of larger worldviews - awareness of, and focus on, the global future of humanity. Serious problems can be seen to develop as a result of incorrectly governed or directed small worldviews - promotion of local individual interests now (including research by scientists at Universities).

    It is almost certain that all there is is the collective of 'local individual actions now' (well explained by Sean Carroll in “The Big Picture”). What is required is Leadership ensuring that those local individual actions are governed by the pursuit of sustainable improvements for the global future of humanity (ungoverned capitalism clearly does not develop that result, it develops the understanding of the need for it to be altruistically responsibly governed, limited and corrected).

    People like Pinker seem to have have misunderstood what has been happening. They claim that great things are happening as long as they see evidence of Good Things. Their mistake is the failure to recognize that people developing problems in a system is a problem with 'the system'. And the system is more problematic when it develops resistance to the correction of the developed problems (and resistance to identifying the need to correct the system). Such systems develop problems that can only be corrected by the influence of people who are not immersed in the ways of thinking that are developed by the system.

    People, like Pinker does in “Enlightenment Now”, miss the fact that unsustainable and harmful developed activity is seldom self-corrected within the systems they want to defend. And the corrections that did get imposed on the results of the system did not effectively limit the harm done and fully correct the harm done.

    Pinker does promote a thing called Effective Altruism. But I suspect he is too enamoured by the potential for “Technological Development” to provide “The Solutions”. The advancement of humanity requires altruistic governed improved awareness and understanding, not New Technology that altruism and improving awareness and understanding has to try to limit and correct the impacts of 'after the fact'.

    The burning of fossil fuels is clearly an example of how damaging a New Technology can become, how powerfully it can resist altruistic correction.

    Improving awareness and understanding of Who is really 'in it for the money' is very important.

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  8. OPOF @7, yes its important to acknowledge up front that some scientists ( a rather small number I think)  are probably in it for the money, and I would add some may not have the greatest personal integrity. Its important to acknowldege simple facts, because to claim all scientists have noble motive is absurd and easily shot down. The article failed to acknowldge this clearly enough.

    I feel its always important to get the facts up front, or it will be an never ending and absurd argument about whether scientists are good or bad as a group .

    However the way science is remunerated suggests the vast majority of research scientists would not be in it for the money, they could earn more in other occupations or working for the private sector, and the way science is done is designed to pick up on errors and cheating. So even if a few scientists are "bad eggs" it won't detract from the findings of large studies like the IPCC studies.

    Nobody can show me a better approach to how we do things. Put up or shut up!

    It also needs to be pointed out that sceptical climate change studies are also carried out and it can be equally argued that some of their authors may be in it for the money, and given they are renumerated by wealthy fossil fuel companies, they may be more in it for the money than other scientists... 

    Pinkers book has good data on progress humans have made, and that was my point really. I agree his interpretation of the issues misses the target at times. I'm also a bit cautious that its possible to start celebrating the progress we have made, and it can become an excuse for arguing we have made enough progress and can stop, if you know what I mean. However his book has value because  it's important to point out that the progressive era since the 1950s has not actually lead to moral decay as some have argued, quite the reverse if you use objective measures or morality, rates of crime etc, although theres still a long way to go. 

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  9. nigelj,

    As an engineer I learned to seek 'good reasons for improved awareness and understanding and the application of that knowledge'. I had to learn to avoid being easily impressed. Sales representatives are always coming up with ways of pitching their products in ways that make their product look as good as possible. As a responsible engineer I had to be able to see through that and ask the questions the promoter did not want to have to address. I, and other engineers, develop the ability to identify people who are 'in it for the money' to do our jobs well.

    Pinker appears to be a promoter doing worse than “missing” some understanding related to his presentations of history of progress, partly because he is a promoter of the belief that created problems will have a technological development 'solution'. He misses the reality that technological developments create problems that need solutions. And many of the beneficiaries of the activity that resulted in the problems do not suffer the consequences of, or have to fully rapidly correct, the problems.

    Very tellingly, Pinker does not explain why the USA has not progressed as much as others relative to its amount of wealth increase. He simply notes that that is what the numbers show because it cannot be overlooked.

    Pinker also side-steps the reality that environmental impacts are not being neutralized by the wealthier nations, or people who benefit from activity that results in the impacts. Others have to try to limit and correct the impacts (and those others include future generations). And the negative impacts are typically more extreme in areas that the more fortunate people do not have to care about. And that same pattern can be seen to be happening in developing nations. The negative environmental impacts of the ways that the wealthiest enjoy their lives are addressed to minimize the impact on the wealthiest - the ones who are most 'in it for the money'.

    Pinker also subscribes to the common misunderstanding that leads to beliefs that the World Bank measures of poverty are legitimate measures of sustainable improvement of living conditions. The most glaring flaw in that evaluation is the lack of assessment of whether the measured perception of improvement is actually sustainable. The unsustainability of perceptions of 'progress' due to unsustainable activity, like the burning of fossil fuels, is not part of the evaluations. And many of the negative impacts of climate change are unlikely to show up in that type of evaluation of “progress”.

    The evaluation of progress regarding reducing poverty is also flawed by the incorrect presumption that earning $3 a day in a city with dirty air, dirty water, questionable food, and violence is better than self-sufficient communal rural living with cleaner air, cleaner water, and adequate food (a hard but decent life that the likes of the World Bank measure at $0 a day living). And the negative value of displacement of people from that $0 a day type of life by economic actions that displace them into city slums, or negatively impact their water, air and food quality in their $0 a day living, is not measured by the likes of the World Bank evaluations (Pinker also presents every move to the city as a desired step by the ones making the move).

    This is not something that is difficult to understand. But it can be difficult to quantify. And it is easy to mask the understanding with a misunderstanding based on measurements that can be claimed to be comprehensive because they are values that can easily be quantified.

    Difficulty monetizing or otherwise 'quantifying' something does not mean that it is irrelevant. A great example of that point is that the key consideration of 'sustainability' has no monetary value and can be very difficult to quantify (and does not really need to be quantified - an activity either is or isn't sustainable, no matter how popular or profitable it is).

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  10. OPOF @9,

    I think its important to have an accurate picture of the world, and neither be fooled to think that everything is getting worse or be deluded that everything is getting better. Its more nuanced. Books like Pinkers help as long as people read them critically and don't rely on just one source of information like his book.

    I think Pinker has a libertarian leaning. I certainly don't take his book at face value, and  he makes excuses for inequality and is a little hyped in his tone and I agree with your points. But its still a good read and has some good data that is sound enough.There are far worse than Pinker, try reading The 12 rules for living book.

    The book the Moral Arc is similar to Pinkers book, but is better imho, and more neutral in tone somehow and focussed more just on history. Pinkers book has more of an ideological flavour.

    Yes whether poverty has really reduced is debatable, but plenty of things have improved, eg deaths from famine have decreased.

    I think yes urbanisation has downsides, but its a separate issue from poverty as such. Rural lives have improved and sometimes simple technologies can halp hugely, like a small solar panel or health clinic. But I think you are right that improvements in poverty reducation can be exaggerated and crude numbers dont tell the whole story.

    You have to wonder how urban slum living, or some shoe box apartment is any better than rural living. But as poor people move into a middle class lifestyle things do improve.

    Our government is introducing an alternative measure for economic growth that takes wider values into account including happiness, environment and social data. This is the way we need to go.

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  11. Alternative measure for economic growth: The NZ well being budget.

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  12. nigelj,

    Our thoughts do substantially align.

    I agree with sustainable urbanization. I agree that cities that sustainably minimize the energy needs for a person to live and limit/minimize the negative impacts of that life on the future of global humanity is progress. My point is about the unsustainability and unacceptability of people being forced from sustainable rural living that is counted as $0 a day living, into living in an urban area earning $3 a day with poorer quality of air, water and food (and more violence) being considered to be above the threshold of poverty (incorrectly considered to be a significant improvement over that sustainable $0 a day life).

    The new NZ measures of progress are a big step in the sustainable direction. But I sense that sustainability will be compromised for 'perceptions of getting richer relative to other nations'. That is inevitable as long as globally there are richer people who still can get away with staying or becoming richer in unsustainable ways.

    The key understanding is 'sustainability'. And that awareness and understanding is contrary to the interests of almost everyone who is 'in it for the money or wanting other personal benefits'.

    Sustainability means:

    • not using up non-renewable resources (burning fossil fuels is not sustainable by that measure)
    • not using renewable resources at a rate exceeding their renewal (for anyone arguing that fossil fuels are renewable as new vegetation is buried and converted into fossil fuels, the current rate of fossil fuel burning is not sustainable).
    • not creating harmful impacts on others, and future generations are the largest group of others (there are many harmful consequences of fossil fuels, not just the future impacts of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and related impacts in the oceans).

    Altruism governing and limiting egoism is almost certain to be required for the development of sustainable improvements for humanity, especially improvements of conditions for the poorest. Any perceptions of improvement for a person that relies on burning of fossil fuels is not sustainable. That unsustainability of developed perceptions probably applies to all of the 'popular' evaluations of improvement/progress to date, not just Pinker's.

    The production of the robustly defensible Sustainable Development Goals is evidence of the emergent understanding that the current systems fail to develop sustainable improvements, a true Enlightenment that Altruism needs to govern and limit Egoism.

    The Enlightenment of improved awareness and understanding of the necessity of sustainability of human activity shatters many developed illusions of grandeur and superiority. And much of the resistance to accepting the improved awareness and understanding of climate science is related to attempts to maintain unsustainable developed illusions.

    Climate science unintentionally exposes the harmful unsustainability of developed illusions of human progress. And the negative reactions to climate science, and the required corrections of what has developed that climate science identifies, is additional evidence that there are serious errors in the developed socioeconomic-political systems (almost all of them - not just free-for-all capitalism).

    That improved awareness and understanding can be seen to have resulted in people 'in it for the money, or wanting other developed personal desires and preferences' to have to Unite with other people (greedy and intolerant are general categories that cover most of these people), to maximize their chances of Winning the ability to resist being corrected, to continue to get away with understandably unsustainable activities. They conservatively defend existing unsustainable harmful activity and progressively push for new unsustainable harmful developments - what I referred to in a previous comment as the Worst way people could behave.

    Hopefully the new NZ measure of progress will accurately evaluate the sustainability of what develops. GDP clearly excludes that evaluation.

    Sustainability is actually a very important consideration for anyone who wants 'continuing economic growth'. The lack of sustainability shows up as corrections of GDP (and many other measures of the merit or value of human activities). The current developed global economy is in serious need of correction to mitigate the magnitude of a future corrections.

    Popularity and profitability also side-step an evaluation of sustainability. Getting the evaluation of sustainability to govern thoughts and actions is challenged by the primitive human nature of desiring personal benefit, magnified by misleading marketing appeals that tempt people to have smaller worldviews (personal interest in the moment or near future rather than caring about helping, or avoiding harming, globally into the future).

    Modern human brains have the ability to reason. That allows people to rationally evaluate the merits of different plans into the future. And that ability to understand how to plan for sustainable improvement into the distant future is the real root of Enlightenment (and is a fundamental basis of good engineering), not “faith in the ability of future generations to come up with new technological developments that will fully correct for the incorrect unsustainable things that have developed”.

    The ability to plan into the distant future is the ability to develop sustainable improvements for global humanity. It is the understanding that local actions contrary to developing a sustainable better future for global humanity are damaging unacceptable activities, no matter how popular or profitable they are perceived to be 'locally' at any moment (particularly moments like election days).

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  13. I poked around the internet, and found few places where one could discuss climate issues. It is like Trump and anti-Trump but even more decisive. One site I registered at, but never left a post. I just wanted to use their internal search to find content with some grain of reality. If you post there and claim any of the facts one can find at etc. you are immediately labeled a "parrot." So this message is going to be difficult to spread, as those willing to discuss any actual detail (light, CO2, reflections, IR, etc) the layman convinced of climate change really does not want more detail and the denialist is impossible to engage.

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  14. SkS prides itself in backing its debunking with published science. You could always post links to the science papers instead of the SkS post and ask for peer-reviewed research to back denier assertions. That said, someone who is vested in denial isnt capable of critical thought. However, demonstrating substance over flim-flam is helpful for curious enquirers.

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