With data interpretation and general circulation models in open dispute, the climate debate has turned decidedly political. And it’s all about messaging in this election year.
Climate activists hurl the pejorative “denier” at their critics—as in Holocaust denier. The more neutral term, skeptic, is avoided since the climate complex contends that the science is settled and the threat existential. “Climate change poses an existential threat to our future,” states Joe Biden, “and we are running out of time to address it.”
In contrast, the skeptics tag the opposition as alarmists. It is not hard to see why.
Consider the book title of “fanatical prophet” Michael Mann, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Fellow scientist Andrew Dessler bluntly predicts mass climate death with survivors destined to live “short, hard lives of poverty.”
For his part, James Hansen, father of the climate alarm, has warned about a “globally catastrophic outcome” and a world “ungovernable” without “fundamentally alter[ing] our energy systems.” In 2006, he stated, “We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.”
And who can forget Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, who warned in the 1980s that as many as a billion people could perish from climate change by 2020. That’s now.
Prima facie alarmism. Except that the guilty will not have any of that.
Mann vs. Alarmism
A recent profile of Michael Mann by Bryan Schatz in California Magazine (UC Berkeley: Summer 2020) portrays one of America’s leading climate alarmists/activists in this light:
Mann said there has been a pretty dramatic move away from denialism toward what he calls “the other Ds.” With outright denial no longer tenable, the “forces of inaction” have turned to delay and deflection. But there’s another D as well, at the opposite extreme from denial, that worries him almost as much: Doomerism.
But gloom-and-doom is what Mann et al. have been peddling as “the cause” since the 1980s. And with the general public unmoved, Mann (and Andrew Dessler) are now pushing for censorship against their critics.
Mann for several years has been trying to have his cake and eat it too. In his Washington Post piece, “Doomsday Scenarios Are As Harmful as Climate Change Denial” (2017), he stated:
Doomist narratives … are now starting to appear in respected, mainstream venues…. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change … [b]ut there is also a danger in overstatement that presents the problem as unsolvable and future outcomes as inevitable. …. Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.
And now Schatz reports in Michael Mann Fought Climate Denial. Now He’s Fighting Climate Doom:
Mann rattled off a list of steps the White House is taking to undo progress on the climate…. Just about the time he was starting to sound like a true doomer himself, however, he brightened. “But I’m convinced that that is not a permanent obstacle.”
Mann tweeted on June 12th when the profile piece was published, which led to this response:
I’m wondering what the difference is between “climate doom”, and realism based on scientific data? Legitimate scientific papers from the 80s and 90s concluded, “we have ten years left to address climate change, before it’s too late”. These weren’t fringe articles, but rather, genuine peer-reviewed papers in recognised scientific journals. So…are these papers suddenly no longer valid? Why is someone who reads these, and concludes that it’s too late, called a “doomer”? Honest question.
Receiving silence, this reader asked Mann: “Where is the answer to my question.” To which I answered:
You busted a troubled narrative. Climate exaggeration has been mainstream for decades, and it is now alarming the alarmists.
Revisiting the tweet on July 5th, these comments appear removed. The other side not only refuses to debate, they do not take tough questions. As Mann stated in another tweet: “All of the noise right now from the climate change denial machine, the bots & trolls, the calls for fake ‘debates’, etc. Ignore it all…. Report, block. Don’t engage.”
I have run into alarm-is-not-alarm before. In a rebuttal to my widely read Forbes piece, “Climate Exaggeration is Backfiring” (2016), Professor Kyle Armour complained:
Yes, one can find examples of when individual scientists or politicians have exaggerated the impacts of climate change. But to present those examples as if they are mainstream views, when they are not, is very misleading.
To which I responded:
I also must ask my critics who profess to dislike scientific exaggeration. Where are you when the big names exaggerate to spew climate alarmism? Where is the real-time rebuttal to Al Gore, John Holdren, Paul Ehrlich, Joe Romm, Rajendra Pachauri, and many others?
The alarmists are tip-toeing on greased wire. Forecasts of impending doom set up a real-world refutation, dissuade the public as repetitive hyperbole, and leave sympathizers demoralized. Adaptation, free-market style, is what is left, practically speaking.
But if the climate rhetoric is toned down, the issue quickly recedes against here-and-now problems, from the coronavirus pandemic to jobs and growth to summer air-conditioning bills.
It’s all confusing. Needless to say, it’s not easy selling “green” against superior arguments and conventional energies.