Lukewarmers – the third stage of climate denial, gambling on snake eyes

It’s the hottest trend in climate denial. Long gone are the days when people can publicly deny that the planet is warming or that humans are responsible without facing widespread mockery. Those who oppose taking serious action to curb global warming have mostly shifted to Stage 3 in the 5 stages of climate denial.

Each of the 5 stages shares one main characteristic – all can be used to argue against efforts and policies to slow global warming. If the planet isn’t warming, or if we’re not causing it, or if it’s not a problem, or if we can’t solve it, or if it’s too late, in each case there’s no reason to implement climate policies. 

People who favor the status quo will often bounce back and forth between the various stages of climate denial. However, as Stages 1 and 2 have become increasingly untenable, Stage 3 has become more popular.

As a result, so-called “Lukewarmers” have emerged. This group believes that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect, and hence that climate change will proceed slowly enough as to not be a serious concern in the near future. This group has also become known as “Luckwarmers,” because they essentially want to gamble our future on the small chance that the best possible case scenario will come to fruition.

The Luckwarmer Case

It’s akin to rolling dice and betting all of our money that they’ll come up as snake eyes. For the Luckwarmer case to be true, first the climate sensitivity must be close to the lowest end of possible values. This requires rejecting the vast body of evidence suggesting that the climate is in reality quite sensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect.

Second, even if the climate is relatively insensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect, the planet will nevertheless continue to warm if we continue to pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Thus the Luckwarmer case also generally depends on the impacts associated with that climate change being relatively benign. Contrarian climate scientist Judith Curry recently made this case in testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology:

The concern about inaction comes from concern about passing the 2°C ‘danger’ threshold, possibly by mid-century. This concern relies on a very weak assessment that 2°C of warming is actually ‘dangerous’ and that we can believe the climate models (which seem to be running too hot).

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen recently outlined the scientific evidence behind why even 2°C warming is very dangerous for our long-term future. The most vulnerable developing nations agree. Scientific research seems to keep revealing more and more negative impacts associated with further global warming; most recently the likelihood that wheat yields will decrease in a hotter world as demand rises from a growing population.

The claim about climate models running hot is a popular one among Luckwarmers, but observed temperatures are within the range of model simulations, and all signs point toward the reliability of long-term model projections.

The Luckwarmer argument relies on both the climate sensitivity and climate change impacts being about as low as the scientific evidence suggests they could possibly be. But that requires rejecting all the evidence supporting the possibility of the worst case, or even the most likely case scenarios. Each of the dice could come up showing any number from 1 to 6. Betting that they’ll both come up showing 1 is a risky gamble.

Is Stage 3 Denial a Positive Development?

In The Observer, climate scientist Tamsin Edwards recently wrote,

Call me naive – others have – but I choose to see the positive in this lukewarming of the debate. Widespread acceptance that humans do affect climate means we can focus on the genuine open questions in science and policy.

On the one hand, it would be nice not to have to keep debunking myths about the reality of human-caused global warming. On the other hand, Stage 3 denial isn’t all that different from Stages 1 and 2. Ultimately they’re all based on denying some set of inconvenient scientific evidence, they’re all used to oppose policies to curb global warming, and people will bounce back and forth between the various stages of climate denial anyway.

For example, President George W. Bush’s FEMA director, Michael Brown (of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” Hurricane Katrina infamy) recently voiced his Luckwarmer views on Twitter.

This was a combination of Stage 2 and 3 denial, explicitly used to justify opposition to climate policies. The aforementioned Judith Curry has also bounced between Stages 2 and 3, recently voicing doubts about the undeniable physical reality that humans are responsible for the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, writing,

...the mass balance approach is naive zeroth order.

“The mass balance approach” refers to the principle that when we burn fossil fuels and release carbon pollution, that carbon has to go somewhere (based on the fundamental principle of the conservation of mass). Professor Gavin Cawley explains the science nicely in the Denial101x course.

 Denial101x Lecture 3.2.1 – Upsetting the Natural Balance, by Prof. Gavin Cawley.

Since the rate of buildup in the atmosphere is only about half as fast as the rate at which humans are producing carbon pollution, it’s undeniable that we’re causing the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Or at least it should be.

Luckwarmers Usually Oppose Climate Policies

Other examples of Luckwarmers include Matt RidleyNic Lewis, and Bjorn Lomborg. The University of Western Australia has been caught up in a major Luckwarmer controversy, having taken federal funds to set up a center from which Lomborg was expected to argue that the government’s money would be better spent on issues other than curbing global warming. In a sign that even Stage 3 climate denial is starting to become untenable, the resulting uproar forced the university to cancel plans for the center.

Matt Ridley and Nic Lewis are both contributors to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The GWPF advocates against most policies that would significantly cut carbon pollution and slow global warming. Matt Ridley often explicitly advocates for the continued heavy use of fossil fuels.

Is Stage 3 Denial a Negative Development?

Thus it’s hard to make a convincing case that the shift towards Stage 3 climate denial is a positive development. If anything it just gives arguments against climate policies undeserved credibility. For example, The Observer sub-headline read,

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Posted by dana1981 on Wednesday, 13 May, 2015

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