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Reflections on the politics of climate change

Posted on 2 June 2017 by John Abraham

The science of climate change is clear. Scientists know that the Earth is warming and that humans are the reason. We also know that the Earth will continue to warm in the future; however, we can do something about it. We can dramatically change the trajectory.

If the science is so clear, why are there still so many people that don’t accept it? Why are there so many people who try to deny the evidence? Well, the why is something I will try handling in my next post. Here, I want to describe where things are, as I see them. Mind you, this is only my perspective, living in the USA, working on climate science and climate communication on a daily basis.

For various reasons, acceptance of climate science breaks down along ideological lines. First, a majority of people in every state in the US believes, for instance, that the Paris Accord is a good thing, that the USA should participate. It turns out, however, that there is higher acceptance of climate science and acceptance of the importance of action on the coasts (California, Oregon, Washington, New York, etc.). 

There are exceptions to this rule but I am generalizing. It also turns out that the more liberal your politics are, the more likely you are to accept the science and the solutions. With respect to politics, the results are stunning. Vast majorities of Democratic and independent voters are supportive. Interestingly, small majorities of even conservative Republicans are supportive.

There are other correlations. For instance, the more religious, particularly conservatively religious someone is, the more likely they are to doubt or deny the science. But again, this is a generalization and it has exceptions. In fact, some religious leaders have become climate-action leaders. Perhaps the best example is Pope Francis. Now, I am not saying that conservatives are not as intelligent as liberals, I am just pointing out that certain political and religious ideologies correspond to viewpoints on science.

The correlations don’t end here. A hugely important work on the underlying motivations of people who deny the reality of climate change was performed by Dr. Naomi Oreskes in her book (and accompanying movie) Merchants of Doubt. One of her central conclusions is that the denial of human-caused climate change is driven by peoples’ distrust of the government and of government solutions to a problem, particularly when the solutions may impinge on personal freedoms. 

While there is a clear relation between a scientist’s knowledge of climate change and their understanding of the human influence, such a relation is not apparent in the general public. So, if you look far and wide to find a scientist who claims humans are not a major influence on climate, it is very likely that scientist is not very knowledgeable about the topic, does not work in the area very much, or has a history of faulty research. 

Conversely, the scientists who accept the consensus view are more likely to publish more, do more research and just know more. However, if you talk to people on the street, this view breaks down. I see this in my own interactions with people. I often run across general audience members who have a pretty good grasp of the science but they discount the effects. Or, people who know very little about the science but they fully accept it. What is most astonishing to me is where this all leaves us. Donald Trump has announced that America will withdraw from the Paris climate treaty. My view is, it would be better for us to leave the agreement so we cannot sabotage it from the inside. But, only time will tell.

But back to where this leaves us. We have a situation in the USA and around the world where certain countries and certain political groups have inextricably aligned themselves with one or another side of this issue. For instance, in the USA, denial of human-caused climate change has become a litmus test for Republican candidates. The same is true in other countries. This is a real tragedy because Republicans don’t want to pollute the planet. They don’t want to screw things up for our future generations. But, their wholesale denial of the reality of climate change is doing just that.

From a political standpoint, if we think about the silly things President Trump is doing and how it will affect the world, the one thing he may be most remembered for is his climate inaction. Climate change will have very long lasting consequences that we will be dealing with long after he is gone. Long after other issues like immigration, the economy, debt, jobs, terrorism, or new words like “covfefe” have passed from our minds, the implications of our climate effect will linger. Frankly, no challenge we are facing (except perhaps a potential nuclear war) presents the consequences that climate change does. 

And this, sadly, will be the legacy of conservatives in my country. As we wake up to more severe weather, more droughts, heat waves, rising seas, severe storms, the world will remember that these issues could have been solved long ago but for an ideology and tribalism. It will be the job of scientists, historians, and the media to continually remind people of this. Climate change could have been solved. Those who will be blamed will certainly claim “But I didn’t cause this climate change. You cannot blame this on me!” But we can and we have to. People need to be accountable for their actions. If you are someone who has stood in the path of climate action, you own the results.

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Comments 1 to 32:

  1. John,

    Climate change is real, it is measured, it is factual. But that CO2 is the main cause is more or less a matter of "opinion". It is however an opinion based on theoretical arguments (e.g. Radiative forcing) and data drive models. But there is no such thing as a causal experiment, so causality is still weak from an academic point of view. Although I admire the very extensive and data driven IPCC models there are still too much unknowns to be quit sure that CO2 is the main cause of the warming measured over the past few decades. For example, extremely important greenhouse variables such as cloud formation and humidity are not measured well enough to include in the models and also higher order effects are largely unknown. Furthermore, there is no such thing as THE temperature. Developments of surface temperature, ocean temperature and higher atmosphere temperature might differ and might even show different signs. So, although I "believe" CO2 is a driver I am far from sure when it comes to the magnitude of its effect on temperature as well as its long term effects. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Fact-free sloganeering snipped.

  2. Very well said.

    However one criticism, you say "My view is, it would be better for us to leave the agreement so we cannot sabotage it from the inside. But, only time will tell."

    Well I thought that initially as well, but America can be pretty obstructionist outside the agreement , maybe even more vocal and critical, and could structure policies to try to sabotage countries within the agreement who are setting a good climate example. I just struggle to see any overall up side to America leaving the agreement.

    I think you are right in your summary of reasons for climate denial and how this often relates to politics and social groups. However I think there are also a range of reasons for climate denial that I have observed with various people, and some do operate more at an individual level as well: Sometimes its just lack of knowledge about the science, (as opposed to ideology) and clearly oil companies have vested business interests regardless of the politics of the people involved, and we mostly all have automobilies, so its not unreasonable to want to be convinced that renewable energy is viable. I think the case is proven on the science and renewable energy, and people will come around to this with a little time and explanations.

    But there are also reasons for climate denial to do with clear political and ideological dimensions and associated groups that seem to be paramount in the debate, and very divisive and entrenched. This is obvious when you read peoples comments and talk to people, as well as the surveys you mention. It's basically a suspicion of excessive government powers, and divides liberals and conservatives.

    Liberals and conservatives are probably equally intelligent. Any big difference would have been identified by now, and if there is some small difference, it doesn't really get us anywhere dwelling on that.

    But liberals and conservatives do see the world differently, and I have seen published science claiming this is at a deep possibly genetic level or brain hardwiring level, (but that people are also able to change their world view to some reasonable extent, at least on an intellectual level). Here are a couple of sources:


    Clearly observations tell us liberals are more open to change, accepting of government rules on business and environmental matters, and acceptance of people who are different. I personaly think liberals also have very flexible world views based more around pragmatism and evidence. Conservatives are clearly more traditionalists, cautious about people who are different, and very sceptical about government rules in respect of environment and business. I have personally observed that conservatives are very "belief focussed".

    But when you think about it that way, do you not see merit in both world views? This suggests we are forced towards a middle ground. I think it becomes a case of whether either ideology is getting irrational, or extreme, or damaging. For example government rules often make sense, yet can sometimes become excessive and petty. Yet the suspicion of government rules can become a huge roadblock to things that are desperately and obviously required, like reducing emissions.

    The worst thing is happening. In America liberals and conservatives are finding the issues complex to resolve, and dividing into two warring, emotive tribes that over simplify the issues, when what is really needed is more of a consensus that happened earlier last century.

    Reducing emissions relates more to the tragedy of the commons problem. This is mainstream economc theory. I would have thought conservatives would accept this means there are solid grounds for action on climate change related to some government level measures.

    Unfortunately many conservatives in America are clearly hunkering down in a bunker mentality, where certain beliefs on a range of matters have now become non negotiable. However this is more evident in government perhaps than the population as a whole, and as pointed out many republicans are concerned about climate change.

    But the republican politicians are certainly very one sided and mainly sceptical about climate science, and its becoming an entrenced belief (money in politics is probably a factor here as well) but they are also very firmly of a mind on various social and economic "beliefs".  But beliefs are beliefs only, and are not at the same level as scientific laws or truth.

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  3. I submit that Linkelau @1 is hugely off topic.

    And the heat absorbing properties of C02 are not derived simply from theoretical speculation, and definitely not from modelling the future. They are derived from laboratory experiments:

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  4. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Why so many white evangelicals in Trump’s base are deeply skeptical of climate change by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Acts of Faith, Washington Post, June 2, 2017

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  5. Dear NigelJ, thanks for your comments. There is indeed no doubt about Radiative Forcing of CO2, but my doubt is in all the higher order effects it causes and the little we still know about the impact of other important explaining variables, such as cloud formation. 

    I have seen many studies in academics that showed effects of a certain experimental variable in a controlled environment. These effects tended to be very clear. But when implementee in practice, if thousands and thousands of other variables also played a role, the effect found in a controlled environment were not found anymore, or diminished largely.

    I argue my comment is not off topic. It is a reaction to the first sentenses of the post of John Abraham that states "the science of climate change is clear and that humans are the cause of warming". This is a far to simple statement as so much on climate effects still have to be discovered. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] First this is offtopic. Use the search button to find appropriate topics. Second making a pile of unsupported comments is sloganeering. It might be what you believe, but that does not make it true. Arguments from Personal Incredulity have no weight, especially to the better informed. Either back your arguments with evidence or find somewhere else to comment. I suggest a long hard read of the IPCC WG1 report.

  6. Greed is not good for any human society.

    This is clear in the evolution of our human societies, from the expression of it, in every major religion.

    Buddhism,Hinduism,Ba'hai,Muslim,Christian and if I missed yours it is not intentional. All of them and the Atheists as well, all will tell you greed is bad.

    Is this accidental? When one considers the role of religion in ensuring that a society survives, and the survival of that society as an indication of the "correctness" of the religion, one has to consider that the religion "test" is actually pretty telling. They don't agree on much but "greed" is uniformly excoriated as "evil" in every one of them.

    In Christianity it is one of the "seven deadly sins".

    What we can infer from this is that no major society that embraced "greed" as a sacrament, survived long enough for that particular religious belief to make a mark. Which has to suggest that there is some inherent difficulty for a society that needs to work together being comprised of individuals who each put themselves ahead of everyone else. They don't last. The necessary trust is absent. The society disintegrates.

    So when we examine the cult of "free-market fundamentalism" and its exhortations that "greed is good" we can recognize that the people believing that horse-puckey are entirely un-Christian and destructive to the society they claim to be a part of. If they claim Christianity they are hypocrites and if they assert atheism they fail the test of logic. Conveniently for them.

    It is however, this cult that is involved in the bulk of "Climate Denial" and their religion will brook no rights of anyone else being considered as important as their own right to wreck things to extract a few bucks from them. The benefits to others of those things don't matter at all. "Greed is good".

    In no society can such a sick attitude long survive. It either kills the society and dies with its host or the society kills it. Religions are one of the ways society deals with such cancers. Education would be another.

    Part of the issue with climate denial is that the cultists chose greed early. They ignored the science that warned that the headlong rush to get more money might be bad for everyone. The science got stronger and they rejected it. They would rather die than admit error as they know that if they are wrong they have done harm to others, and that is the most perverse aspect of this.

    Their "religion" makes a near fetish of personal responsibility. If they accept the science they HAVE to take responsibility. As humans we never want to perceive ourselves as evil. Yet since the science has been clear, they have made things worse... and to accept it now, and accept their error, they have an even greater "responsibility" to shoulder.

    In that hole they have dug, they can't stop digging. Failed as their response was, they cannot stop using it.

    Which is a lot of why the argument is interminable, the logic absent and the opposition to the science intransigent.

    Greed is bad.

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  7. To the extent that the IPCC WG1 does not include permafrost melt-emissions in their emissions pathway analyses, noting that they have grossly underestimated the carbon cycle feedback from warming soils (non-permafrost), that higher resolution models find a definitive impact from mitigation-scenario aerosol reduction rates on both the ENSO cycle (strongly positive) and Arctic sea ice (+1.5C avg temp), to the extent that the current models utilized in the AR5 project a vibrant September Arctic sea ice extent through 2050 and that a rapidly accelerated sea ice loss is currently observed, and will be greatly exacerbated by global atmospheric circulation changes induced by aerosol emissions reductions mentioned previously, such that Mid-Summer effective-free Arctic sea ice loss is now very likely by 2065 under RCP 6.0 with induced regional warming due to albedo that will be equivalent to a doubling of CO2, with all of its impacts on the Arctic circle, raising regional average temperatures by an additional +8C, to the extent that this is what the CURRENT science is saying (published since Dec. 2012 cutoff date for the IPCC WG1, we were only locking in total societal collapse by pursuing the anemic COP-21 accords and must mobilize into a WWII wartime footing of massive government production/intervention to achieve a net-zero emissions economy within the next 10 years.

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  8. #7 JJA

    Of course!!  The only way to get the American Political Right to mobilize on this is to characterize it as a "war"    ;-)   

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  9. Bjchip @6, I agree greed is not good. You see this reflected even in the writings of even ancient greece and egypt etc. I think we know it instinctively, but at an intellectual level we can observe looking at history that human prosperity requires humans cooperating and working together in group situations, and greed by certain members, and other destructive behavior by individuals, ultimately destabilises the group making prosperity very difficult. 

    Greed and ambition are often conflated. Ambition and the desire to aquire things are intrinsic and healthy, but the desire to covet and take more than is needed becomes greed. Ayn Rand wrote a book "In virtue of selfishness" which promotes the benefits of  following selfish desires but she never really defined what she meant by selfishness. We can all recognise the virtue of humans being free spirits to make a profit doing what they wish, but if this  sometimes becomes destructive or greedy and things break down, and at some point the destructive behaviour of the individual destablises the group.

    Societies usually put limits on greed with simple things like the criminal law, but most societies go beyond this and promote sharing and so on.

    Rand's claim that selfishness has virtue has some merit at one level, but does not obviate the need for limits on behaviour. She has a big problem because if she really believes in the virtue of selfishness, then what is wrong with people who simply steal things? Her simplicty falls down, and leads to anarchy. But she accepts the need for property law, and  once one accepts that society needs laws and rules, this means you need government and have to discuss how far the laws go. If people cause harm to others by either greed or destructive behaviour, this is reason enough for laws, and harm can be done in many ways beyond theft for example  environmental damage. 

    So I also think the free market fundamnentalists have got things wrong. Greed is not good and becomes hatred of government rules, and ultimately anarchic, and the rule of the jungle, at which point society destablises. Given dealing with climate change requires some degree of government input (and I wish it didn't but it does) it has bought the free market libertarian fundamentalists out in full force against climate science itself.

    How does this relate to religion? I think this religious denial of climate science is not fundamental to climate denial. Plenty of religions recognise climate change and that greed is not good. However the evangelical religions are the exception, that are in denial about climate change. I have observed many of these people particularly their leaders are quite materialistic. They appear to interpret the bible as a free pass, take it literally, but dont worry about sin. They appear to believe as long as you believe in Christ you will be saved and that because a good person cannot buy their way to heaven  through good works, there is no point even trying to be good. Most christian religions have the interpretation that humans should actually try to be good.

    In fact if you read John Hartz link, its very interesting and the evangelicals have literally dozens of different reasons to oppose climate science. It's death by a thousand cuts, and this group would be very hard to convince. (Some of the comments posted on the article are very amusing eg JPDiddy).

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  10. Nigelj@9 

    I think the point I am coming to is that the "free market fundamentalism" is in all the ways that matter, a religion.   Nor would I expect an evangelical to deal well with the issue simply because the surrounding environment for that movement is so deep in denial, but I don't think it is deterministic.  We see that evangelicals who DO follow the science and there are no few of them, don't have a problem.  

    What appears to be true of them is that they do not subscribe to that belief in the free-market solving everything.    The ones who expect God to solve every problem for them are less common.   The ones who take stewardship seriously I think, more common.

    "Lord..I pray and I pray and I never win the lotto." and the Lord says "Meet me halfway on this and buy a ticket"  :-)    ...that sort of lazy. 

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  11. bchip @10, yes free market fundamentalism ( sometimes called neo liberalism or the chicago school) is definitely a religion, or very analogous to a religion. I have recently read some of Joseph Stiglitz's books, and all deal with the issue very sensibly, and nice writing style, a rare combination). You are maybe familar with his books,  but I mention it anyway if anyone wants a a really good read.

    I see it this way: Market fundamntalism is a belief system riddled with assumptions. It is not based on fully tested evidence, so is not science. Economics is both science and prescription, and market fundamentalism is based very much on a made up, contentious prescription, full of very dubious assumptions and value judgements many of which just happen to be of financial benefit to the economists who prepare this creed! Ha ha, like low taxes on high income earners. Mana to the Republican Party just what they want to hear. The GFC has proven some of the beliefs of market fundamentalism to be complete trash.

    So with market fundamentalism you have worship of ideas that are not tangibly proven ideas, similar to belief in a god, worship of books on the subject that are often in clear contradiction with evidence in the real world, worship of guru like leaders like Friedman, Rand, Greenspan etc. There is dogma and ritual, yes very much like a religion.

    In fact just for the record, I do believe in largely free markets, but there do need to be some constraints at times, and a sensible country, and sensible government,  helps poor people. Of course I am also promoting what is ultimately a belief, but I can back it with obvious logical reasons, and some hard evidence and consistency of thought. In comparison, market fundamentalism is a bit nutty, and obviously very self interested, and not in a good way, and is unable to deal with changing realities in the real world in a measured way, and ends up just sloganising.

    So its not entirely unexpected that some religious fundamentalists might be attracted to market fundamentalism.

    I agree there are many shades of evangelical christians with different beliefs on climate and economics, so one shouldn't generalise too much, and I have seen this, but the association with climate denial, and certain types of leaders, and materialism is still so strong I just wonder if something in religious fundamentalism or evangelicism is somewhat deterministic. It's certainly a close association. Perhaps it attracts  certain types of personality, but where do the characteristics of the personalities and rules and structure of the belief and chruch start and stop? They are intermingled.

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  12. Regarding the free market mentality, I am reminded of a particular quote: 

    Upton Sinclair — 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'

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  13. I would just add that moderately free markets are good, excessively free markets, deregulation, and extreme privatisation etc is bad.

    By analogy, (since this website loves analogies) morphine or even panadols are great things, but too much and you end up dead. And the change point is quite sudden.

    Just think of the GFC. The causes were partly market deregulation, and greed is good ideologies and how close that got to a terminal disaster. And who bailed out the whole mess, and the missbehaving banks? The long suffering tax payer. That's probably you and me.

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  14. Nigelj@9 

    I think the point I am coming to is that the "free market fundamentalism" is in all the ways that matter, a religion.   Nor would I expect an evangelical to deal well with the issue simply because the surrounding environment for that movement is so deep in denial, but I don't think it is deterministic.  We see that evangelicals who DO follow the science and there are no few of them, don't have a problem.  

    What appears to be true of them is that they do not subscribe to that belief in the free-market solving everything.    The ones who expect God to solve every problem for them are less common.   The ones who take stewardship seriously I think, more common.

    "Lord..I pray and I pray and I never win the lotto." and the Lord says "Meet me halfway on this and buy a ticket"  :-)    ...that sort of lazy. 

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  15. Nigelj@13

    "I would just add that moderately free markets are good, excessively free markets, deregulation, and extreme privatisation etc is bad."

    Yes.   The extremes at both ends must be avoided.  It is noticable that the Rand-ist Capitalism and the Marxist Communism both suffer from the same philosophical malady.  They cannot be implemented by fallible and often unreasonable humans.   The market has a place... but it is not appropriate everyplace.

    Moreover, any real democracy depends on an informed public, and when free-market principles are applied to the news media, that is lost as well.

    The conclusion that there is no "free" suggests itself. 

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  16. bchip @15, yes agreed. 

    Did you read my comment in 11 above on market fundamentalism being a religion?  Tell me very briefly in a couple of words if you think I summed it up ok, if you have the time.

    I will get to my view of how markets relate to the environment and climate change below.

    Markets are certainly worshipped like a religion by some people. Its like some people put markets above all else in life, as some magical answer to everything. I see markets as more of a subset of a greater human enterprise, although a powerful and useful subset. When all is said and done, markets are just people making free agreements with each other. This is valuable and can lead to good decentralised decision making, and is compatible with the idea of competition, but markets clearly dont solve every problem. The market fundamentalists just wont acknowledge this simple fact, so we are on very opposite sides of the fence.

    The extremes of communism, and lassez faire capitalism both dont make any sense to me either. They are both overly simplstic, flawed, knee jerk historical reactions to difficult historical conditions. 

    I like the current conventional, mainstream economic view, because its at least moderatly evidence based, and has an element of commonsense to it as well: Markets (and the private sector in general) work well for many things, but you sometimes have  "market failures" and at that point the government has a role.

    The environment / pollution etc is a classic case where markets dont self regulate, or provide sensible answers and most economists accept this. Therefore government needs to regulate or sometimes provide programmes like conservation estates etc.

    The market, (or private sector) also struggles with provision of a police force, an army, road network planning, social security, and some elements of education and healthcare. These things are normally provided by governments and rightly so in general terms. However I dont think there is a fixed prescription for this, and obviously small countries need greater government provision of services and capital than large countries like the USA.

    But free markets certainly make sense for trade and I dont think a return to protectionism makes sense.

    The market fundamentalists claim government just makes things worse, but the historical evidence says otherwise, on the whole. 

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  17. One  has to be careful even in international trade.   "Free" trade is not easily accomplished between two nations.  I submit that the complexities render it utterly impossible if the number involved is greater than two.

    "....“Qualifications.” Almost each one is currently impossible to meet. For instance, prices of the traded products, wages, and currency rates have to be fully and instantly changeable, so that trade, in fact, becomes barter. Movement of money and technology across borders is prohibited, and so on....."

    Much detail at the link. 

    I don't think we have ever had the sort of free trade that would actually work to benefit both nations, not anywhere, not ever.   The beneficiaries are the multinational corporations that can work both sides of the deal and ship the profits to a third to escape taxes besides.   I expect it can work for nations that are close, have shared borders and cheap transport between them.    

    NZ, where I live now, has a magnificent moat however, and its belief in free-trade is going to kill its really good trade based economy when the price of emitting CO2 starts to get built into the shipping costs.    It doesn't work the same way for all nations. 

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  18. Bchip @17, your link is a long article, and I will definitely read it in detail later.

    Just a brief response: I see comparative advantage theory as different from free trade, in the sense of tariff protection. This was really the point I was making. Comparative advantage theory is also rather debatable and simplistic, having read about half of Porters huge book on the subject. I think countries tend to make their own advantages..

    I would just simplify the issue down to  whether tariffs make sense in todays world, and I'm no longer convinced they do.

    I also happen to live in NZ (Auckland). Small world isn't it! You are possibly an immigrant, so might not know NZs early history. NZ used to have a lot of tariff protection, and the result was high inflation, expensive imports etc. However manufacturing sector wages were good.

    We got rid of those tariffs and inflation dropped, although income inequality increased. I think on balance we are better off as a nation, and inequality can be mitigated with income support (eg working for families). But I admit its hard to be 100% sure either way and there are no magic answers. I do think inequality and poor wages can become a big problem so if we go down the free trade route we have to do all we can to lift wages etc.

    I do think if you do have tariffs, they need to be carefully focussed on just the areas of the economy where there's strong reasons, and not just because that area of the economy shouts loudest.

    Interersting point on CO2 and exports. But that would be a problem whether we had free trade or protectionist trade. Basically NZ is so small we cant be self sufficient, so are really reliant on exports, more so than America. We have to live with that I think.

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  19. Bchip, just adding to my comment right above, I probably sound contradictory. I'm really saying countries obviously have some natural comparative advantages (eg maybe minerals) but can partly create their own comparative advantage, to an extent at least in manufacturing and services,  but tariifs  are maybe no longer the best way to nurture these. There are obviously other mechanisms.

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  20. "This is a real tragedy because Republicans don’t want to pollute the planet. They don’t want to screw things up for our future generations."

    Oh really??? and you have evidence to support this?  Maybe, back in the Days of Richard Nixon, but today most republicans who are wealthy would cheerfully sell their children if it would improve their bottom line.  And clearly they have no problems poisoning other peoples children if they can make a profit in the process.  Or stealing their land through eminent domain.   Just ask Mr. Trump

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Understandable but way over the line. Please ensure your comments comply with our comments policy.

  21. After reading and pondering the OP and comments I offer the following:

    • using Terms without defining the term can result in unfortunate misunderstanding.
    • points about True Libertarians, Good Objectives, and the necessity of Winners to have to prove they deserve to be Winners.

    The term Religion/Religious needs to be clarified when used. The Concise Oxford Dictionary 7th ed. 1982 includes the potential definition “... 3. thing that a person is devoted to or is bound to do”. However, the main definitions of religion relate to spiritual beliefs. Therefore, without defining the intended meaning of the term “religion” it would incorrectly apply to anyone with a Spiritual belief, even though having Spiritual beliefs does not stop a person from accepting better understanding that develops because of things that can actually be reasoned with a basis of observation/sensing/experience (the Pope and so many others are proof of this).

    I suggest that the term Dogma/Dogmatic would be more appropriate (and even that term may require clarification of its intended meaning).

    Every Winner of leadership in business or government should have to prove that they are doing things for Good Reasons, and that they are willing to develop increased awareness and better understanding, even if (especially when) rational experience and observation based arguments are presented to them contrary to their initial Dogmatically (not religiously) Held Beliefs. If they fail to prove that, then they should legally be removed from power and influence.

    The acceptance of what can be “sensed or observed” is an important point. My recent re-read of “On Liberty” makes me pretty certain that John Stuart Mill would expect Libertarians to limit the defence of Liberty of thought/opinion to personal preference opinions (matters without any reason based on observation/sense/experience - matters of personal preference with no potential impact on others if the opinion is expressed or acted on - matters like entertainment preferences or spiritual beliefs including atheism). They would not defend freedom of opinion and action on matters that have reasoned explanations based on observations and experience/experimentation, especially if the reasoning shows that potential harm is being done to others (and future generations are Others).

    However, Mill would blame the society for failing to properly raise and educate such people. To Quote Mill, “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    I believe that the likes of Mill would be even more disappointed in a society that 'allowed members who grow up mere children' to Win competitions for impressions of success and leadership responsibility. They would be appalled that a nation that failed to reliably produce responsible adults had maintained significant global influence even though it had gone so far wrong as to elect those type of people to its Congress for decades, and ultimately elect such a 'grown-up mere child' to be its President.

    My observation is that many 'perceived to be Advanced or Developed nations' also fail to raise mature responsible members of global society. It is a fatal flaw of many Modern societies.

    Aboriginal societies have/had clear transitions into adulthood. The New Adult is made aware of their responsibility to help protect and improve the future of all its members.

    As a Professional Engineer in Canada I was made aware of my obligation to vigilance and constant learning to honour my responsibility to protect the public from potential harm caused by pursuers of profit. My pursuit and application of the best understanding of what is going on means never allowing factors like Cheaper, Quicker or Easier to compromise the achievement of better safer results.

    Humanity has been understood to be a global society for many decades. But it has not yet developed the global ability to ensure that 'members who grow up mere children' do not Win competitions or influence the thoughts and actions of responsible adults. Past generations had regionally established or Faith based rules to live by. They were typically presented in religious/spiritual texts (or passed down through generations verbally). The Old Testament Book of Leviticus is an example. It includes many “rules” that are now better understood and no longer followed, like the rule about the observation of mould in a home requiring a religious leader to inspect the mould, close the home for 7 days, and then reinspect for mould. If the mould remained after the seven days the home was to be demolished. That and many other “Dogmatically Established Rules” that were/are adhered to out of Faith and Fear have been reasonably corrected over time by developed better understanding (meeting with denial and attacks from dogmatic faithful followers).

    Religious followers of almost all the developed faiths/belief systems should be striving to help others, particularly helping the poorest on the planet develop up to a sustainable better life. And they should strive to improve the future for everyone. Those are requirements in almost all of the religious texts, and many aboriginal value systems. They are also expectations of the thoughts and actions of Libertarians.

    Global humanity has collectively developed a current better understanding of the measure of acceptability of the thoughts and actions of responsible adults (Leaders). Responsible adults would help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are reason and experience based. Therefore, they are open to improvement, but only if a better experience based reason is developed.

    The internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals should be accepted as the current best global score card by everyone, the Spiritually inclined as well as atheist inclined.

    Almost every sustainable development goal can be seen to match a requirement in almost every religion, with some new better understanding incorporated like the requirement for women to actually be considered equal to men. And it is clear that they all need tobe achieved, not just a selection of them.

    So the bottom line is that the USA and many other nations have devolved into a damaging and ultimately unsustainable state. The failure of the USA has been evident for a while. The USA has a considerable number of its members growing up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant good motives (more inclined to hold onto dogmatic beliefs). The climate science issue has exposed just how devolved the USA has become (and other nations). Winning leaders of government and leaders of business who have proven they will not be acted on by rational consideration of distant motives have been allowed to remain in their positions of power and influence. The recent winning of the Presidency of the USA by such a person is evidence that things are definitely far from Good in the USA.

    Changing what has developed is clearly beyond what climate science communication can do. But climate science is undeniably the major Touchstone exposing the Changes required for Global Humanity to achieve and improve important reason-based objectives like the Sustainable Development Goals. And everyone including religious minded and Libertarians can understand the importance of meeting those objectives. The people who have grown up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant good motives, need to be helped to change their minds or be kept from having their actions be of any significant consequence.

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  22. One Planet makes some interesting points, and does a fine job not politicising this. There is something true about the spoilt child syndrome evident in some adults, and its associated lack of long term horizons, lack of rationality, and its ego centric nature.

    In my observation certain individuals and groups are very belief focussed, and are taking increasingly entrenched positions. Some people hang onto beliefs, and need them to centre their lives, more so than other people. The problem being beliefs are sometimes found to be wrong or untenable any more, and this can be terrifying. Maybe substitute sustainable development goals, for some of those tired, old beliefs

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  23. Factotum @20, I sympathise but republicans don't really want to pollute the planet. The problem is they don't want to do much about people who do pollute the planet, so the end result is probably the same.

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  24. A follow-up on my comment@21

    Mill's thoughts On Liberty were developed during a time when peer pressure among the successful and influential in England were winning things like the end of slavery. The push by Puritans for power in America, with their dogmatic beliefs in the unacceptability of harmless enjoyment of life through activities like music and dance and consumption of alcohol, was also happening. Mill's thoughts are the thoughts from early 1800's England, a time and place dominated by the Culture of Character.

    As Susan Cain points out in “Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking”, after “On Liberty” was published (but not because the Essay was published), there was a shift of what was considered to be the desired traits of a successful person. Susan Cain's book includes information about the change in America in the late 1800s from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality (potentially influenced as a response to the Puritan push) - both terms are originated/presented by historian Warren Sussman - with the primary perceptions of a successful person, described in books recommending how a person can improve themselves, shifting from “Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden deeds, Honour, Reputation, Morals, Manners, Integrity” to “Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful, Energetic”.

    Though the change of focus about what is perceived to be a successful person has merit as a response to the stifling dogmatism of the Puritans, it also diminished the value of thoughtful reasoned consideration of actions. A result has been the failure to ensure that 'people perceived to be successful were Responsible Adults (rather than people who grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives - Mill's description).

    That can be understood to have been a Bad/Unhelpful change. It resulted in the increased honouring/Winning of Dogmatism (though not the Puritan Dogmatism) and Demagoguery that undeniably needs to be undone.

    The continued reasoned presentation of the constantly improving understanding of climate science is an important part of getting that change to happen. Reason based arguments for all of the other Sustainable Development Goals would also help. And co-supporting and cross-selling those reasons can also be helpful.

    Everyone who has an interest in pursuing any one of the Sustainable Development Goals can be helped to understand that it is essential to understand the reasons behind all of the goals. Only people who play-pretend and self-proclaim they support any of those Goals to try to Win Support will refuse to better understand the importance of changing their minds. Everyone else can see who those trouble-making people are by their resistance to understanding climate science, or any of the other reason based 17 goals. Those people denying climate science also typically denigrate the related actions to have the people who got more wealth by burning more fossil fuels transfer a portion of their wealth to help the less fortunate who suffer consequences of the impacts of the burning of the fossil fuels. They are people who admire Characters without Character who present appealing Made-up (dogmatic) Claims that cannot be defended against Rational Reasoning (leading them to resort to more Dogmatic claims that will appeal to, is further delude, their faithful fearful followers).

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  25. OPOF @24, the puritanical / ascetic sorts of beliefs have been tried so many times and are still being tried, ironically right now by jihadist islamic fundamentalists like ISIS. Most people reject such beliefs as they are so miserable to live with, but they presumably give comfort to certain personality types. But fortunately they appear to be in a minority.

    Of course when systems of belief like puratinism have been tried and failed, theres always a danger of going to the other extreme, which is not always a good thing.

    For example the authoritarian culture of the west in 1950s was probably too repressive, and lead to the more liberal generation of the 1960s and following this, but this generation exhibited its own range of problems. (However this in no way invalidates a basically liberal mindset)

    Another example: The combined western capitalist / socialist  economic structure of the post WW2 period produced some good results, but stagnated and lead to the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s onwards, but this was quite an extreme change, and has developed some severe problems of its own. The good elements of the previous period were all thrown out with the flawed elements.

    Humanity seems to progess in a haphazard fashion, from one extreme to another, often failing to find a sensible balance, when ironically that balance is so obvious to so many of us. I suppose experiment is needed and this involves extremes, but it would be better to try to model these things more on paper, rather than experiment with entire countries and cultures. 

    The culture of character has moved from work and duty to image and glamour, however it's hard for me to see it as an either / or choice to consciously make. Its hard not to conclude that a mix of both seems desirable.

    Of course there is a huge negative, trash side to image and glamour, for me epitomised by the Kardashians. You mentioned the massive and corrosive power of marketing. But Ironically the move to characteristics of image, and glamour etc is seen negatively, but its people like  actors and artists who are loudest in questioning the irresponsibility of corporate behaviour and climate denial! This suggests there is a lot of nuance and complexity going on.

    So what is the ideal global citizen? Well I can't think of better than hard work, maturity, and good character, combined with some pleasure, fashion, and amusements. Its a balancing act, and I see nothing wrong with that. 

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  26. One more follow-up on my follow-up@21 (there will probably be more)

    The advancement of understanding of Marketing was probably a significant factor in the amount and speed of the societal transition to the Culture of Image. There is no doubt that misleading marketing, or appeals other than raising awareness and better understanding, can be very effective in the short-term. That point was made in the first lecture of my MBA Marketing course in the 1980s. The Prof added that misleading marketing was not a long-term success strategy.

    Contrary to the better understanding that had already developed by the 1980s, a lot of product marketing has grown based on making appealing impressions rather than honestly trying to help consumers better understand what they 'purchasing votes' are supporting. And political marketing is over the top on trying to get away with Making-up Impressions (of the candidate and of the opponent).

    The continued development and success of that type of marketing is an indication that a significant number of people are Easily Impressed, especially when personal self-interest perceptions of self-image are played-on.

    The success of Influential Impressions rather than Good Reason will continue as long as a significant portion of the population are willing to be tempted to care more about their personal present than helping to develop a gift of a better life for future generations.

    This Powerful Desire for the Best Possible Personal Present is evident in many financial evaluations related to climate change. It is still considered acceptable for a portion of a current generation to benefit in a way that is understood to be harmful/costing to future generations as long as the amount of harm/cost perceived to be inflicted on future generations is less than the benefit perceived to have to be given up so that the future harm is not created. In fact, discount rates that make future costs appear to be less significant even still applied to those evaluations. One of the supporting points in the Sustainable Development Goals is that the discount rate for such evaluations should be reduced, ideally to zero. That point needs to be corrected to make it clear that it is unacceptable for members of a current generation to create any amount of harm for Others (future generations). Future generations are Others.

    On the climate science point in particular, the future generations get no benefit from the activity that portions of the current generations resist giving up on (economic activity that is unsustainable and damaging has no future value). And the people who do not want to give up on that Better Personal Present Opportunity are easily impressed by any message that appears to confirm that they do not have to change their minds.

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  27. nigelj,

    I agree there is nothing wrong, and lots of merit, in people doing what they enjoy, as you say "... some pleasure, fashion, and amusements", as long as the actions do not create a negative effect for Others (no entertainment or amuzement at the expense of someone else).

    What I will add that when the USA Constitution was written the "pursuit of happiness" was generally understood to be the pursuit of the requirements of an enjoyable life which can be understood to be: clean air, clean water, decent nutritious food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, a variety of amuzement and entertainment, hobbies, sport, ...

    The current belief in the minds of many people, not just in the USA, seems to be that Happiness is 'believing and doing whatever makes You Happy' without being restrained by "rational consideration of distant motives" (ignorant regarding the understanding that a 'personally desired' activity harms Others - future generations are Others).

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  28. nigelj,

    Further clarification. Entertainment that Ridicules the Ridiculous things done by 'people who grow up mere children' does not harm such a grown-up Mere Child.

    That type of entertainment can help raise awareness of the better (rationally justified) understanding of things and reduce the magnitude of Unjustifiable Winning by Grown-up Mere Children. It can also help many people who still have some growing-up to do to understand how best to develop/change their ways of thinking and acting.

    To be most effective such ridiculing enetertainment should stick to the ridiculous statements and actions, not stoop to "unjustified image attacks" like making fun of the colour or syle of a person's hair.

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  29. OPOF @27, yeah fair enough.

    I think the power and brilliance of the American Constitution is that it leaves "the pursuit of happiness" undefined. The idea appears to be to escape the heavy social and political structures of Europe, so any attempt to define happiness would be just more government dictat.

    However its was probably generally interpreted to mean the things you say, and unfortunately over time it has been interpreted to justify any activity at all no matter how damaging this might be to self, other people or the country as a whole. Perhaps this reflects weakening of unspoken community rules and religious ideas, and a replacement code of informal community values is still evolving. The crimnal law can control some forms of harm, but we also need cultural understandings and informal values as well.

    And so the constitution is heavy on rights, but a bit light on responsibilities.

    I think people should decide and pursue their own freedoms as they define them, provided they do not significantly  impinge on the health or safety of others. To me this is the main message distilled down to one sentence, but it could probably be worded better.  It would be good if the constitution had something along those lines.

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  30. OPOF @27, agree totally with that. Trump does act like a spoilt child at times. Immaturity is a big part of the problem. What's worse is society is now at risk of creating a generation of spolit grown up narcissists.

    Having said that I kind of like many of todays young people and it doesn't have to be that way.

    Ridicule has it's place, commonly known as satire! But criticising Trumps hair and his so called tiny hands makes me cringe, and is too petty and personal. Good satire is a bit more subtle.

    But Trump has been very rude and many people see it as payback, and it's the same with the media, he has spent years viciously attacking them beyond what they genuinely deserve, and they see it as payback time, and who can blame them?

    But I'm being rhetorical. Theres no need to really go down to his level and personalise everytrhing in a nasty way.

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  31. The author here has presented a very tendentiuos view on climate change and why people believe in it or not. Like most things in life, nowadays, everyone wants to be reductive - make everything a simple answer, reason or solution - however, the world and the people that inhabit it are extraordinarily complex.  

    As a democrat, a former catholic, and graduate from Columbia, I can tell you that I am skeptical for the following reasons. First, we live in a universe that we barely understand. Scientific beliefs one day are often proven completely wrong years later. Science is constantly discovering: "the more we live, the more we learn... the more we learn, the more we realize the less we know."  Scientists cannot with any certainty predict the course of a hurricane or the weather, for that matter, let alone predict the overall course of our planet's global weather in the future. Computer models show many possible outcomes based on "information we know" but we know LESS than what we actually know, that's why we can't even predict the weather or storms courses accurately. The mystery of life still outweighs science.  Next,  NASA reported in 2008 that Mars and other planets have been heating up since we began recording their temperatures... are humans to blame for this as well? This information is rational and scientific and should be included in our assessment of the earth's climate changesThe earth and universe have been around for 4.5 billion years, going through a vast number of extraordinary climatic events and extinctions and rebirths... scientific man has been around for 400 yrs.  If we reduce this to minutes... if the earth existed for 60 minutes, man's existence is a fraction of a second... to think that we know the earth's cycles or where our solar system is traveling as we speed through the universe... is absurdWith all that said, maybe, maybe, there is a correlation between man and the warming of the planet, it could be part of the reason, or not. 30yrs scientists noted the correlation between high cholesterol and heart disease and told warned people to stop eating eggs, butter and red meat... now science has come out and said "oops, it's more complicated that that," and now eggs and butter are being added back into our diets. Correlations aren't facts...they can be coincidental. Personally, I think that it can't hurt to try to reduce our emissions and be more conscious of our environment, but i do take issue when people try to shove theory down my throat as fact, and demonize or ridicule people if they are skeptical. Skepticism... is good. If we just accepted everything without question - we would never learn or grow.  Is the earth getting warmer... yes. Are we to blame solely? Who the F knows. You don't and neither do I

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  32. Well Chris,

    Interesting smattering of almost every denialist talking point known! You certainly came to the right place though! Because here we have very detailed rebuttles to all of them!

    I will just point you to the most important and what just happens to be last on your list; your claim that we don't know the warming is human caused. The evidence is here. To give you the cheap and easy explanation though, basically follows like this:

    1. By the Natural cycles and natural trends like obital wobbles and solar activity combined with ocean currents, volcanos etc.... We should be cooling
    2. We are warming instead
    3. The factors causing the warming are either directly human caused like CO2 emissions or reinforcing feedback loops we started like water vapor increases and reduced albedo due to melting ice.
    4. Thus you are right. We are not 100% responcible for global warming. The actual % is higher than 100%, because otherwise we would be on the long slow decrease in temperatures towards a gaciation period.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Thank you for attempting to provide appropriate guidance and suggestions for Chris.  The relevant portions of his comment that pertain to this thread have been left; the remainder have been snipped and should be ignored on this thread.  Thanks!

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