Sunday, January 11, 2009

WILL OUR CREDIBILITY GO DOWN WITH THE AGW SHIP? The Dangerous Folly of Making and Defending Dogmatic Predictions

In commenting upon an essay that I wrote almost a month before, Peter Salonius quoted my last line:
"As a multiplier of all evils, population growth must be stopped and reversed, and the necessity of that mission does not depend on the veracity of AGW theory. For public enemy Number One is biodiversity loss, and it is the inexorable spread of human monoculture that is its main cause."

“I agree absolutely, and I fear that when the cornucopians understand that the human family may have been taken down the garden path with AGW 'group think' from the IPCC ---- they may suggest that any and all Malthusian, ecological economics, energy depletion and biodiversity concerns may be similar stories perpetrated by scientific sheep.” Peter Salonius

Very well put and exactly the point that Richard Wakefield was trying to make a very long time ago. The credibility of everything we say on a broad front of concerns will be irreparably damaged if AGW is disgraced. Any warning we make will be countered with “Yeah, sure, that is what they said about global warming.”

Just think how much of an albatross Paul Ehrlich’s lost bet with Julian Simon has been for us. Four decades later and we are still having to defend Malthus and Ehrlich for failed predictions. Predictions that we believe were right but just very premature. Every internet debate and every media interview inevitably features an opponent who, with great relish and haughtiness, challenges us with their examples. When we keep crying wolf and the wolf never appears at the appointed hour we not only lose respect but lose an audience, an audience that must be there when the catastrophe finally is upon us. People have become inured to environmental doomsayers, and have developed an impatient fatigue that is ripe for a mood of contemptuous dismissal.

Dr.Craig Chalquist of JFK University was once asked this question: “Do you have any tips for environmental activists? ”He replied, “Yes, don’t frighten or shame the audience, they only tune you out….“….there are plenty of social science studies that demonstrate the ineffectiveness of shock tactics and scaring people who might otherwise be willing to take a deeper look at the growing planetary crisis….People generally respond to attacks on their defenses by going numb and turning away. We can't afford the luxury of that.”

I answered him thusly: So what do I do then? I have a blow horn. I know a fire has broken out in the theatre. Do I just give out a mild whisper in a calm voice urging those present to think about moving to the exits as a lifestyle option? The reviewer said that we cannot afford the “luxury” of turning people away by our scare tactics. The trouble is though, we haven’t the luxury of time. The time it takes for patient explanation. Do we?

He countered: “I hear it a lot, and I feel a similar urgency. After all, it’s my business to stay up on all the latest dreadful environmental news. I’m also a Californian and have seen my state ruined by overdevelopment for more than four decades now. So I get the urgency.

But it’s a psychological fact that for some of the people we try to educate, there is no urgency. You yell through your bullhorn in the theater, people go outside and see no fire, they come back in and kick you out of the theater. That’s what actually happens, with the exception of a few people who take the warning seriously. An even better analogy is a family alone in their livingroom watching TV. They see you on the TV issuing warnings. They change the station.”
(Dr. Chalquist’s website can be found at

In reviewing and recommending David Orrell’s book, “Apollo’s Arrow: The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything”, Buster Welch warned me of the habit of making apocalyptic predictions. Predictions that I feel so tempted to make because I feel the need to shock people out of their somnabulent lethargy before time has run out the clock, if it is not too late already. But in doing so I can be like a hockey coach who initially wins the attention of his team by yelling at them, but when they are subjected to a diet of yelling over time they just tune me out and my initial success is followed by a complete inability to motivate them. I am like Kevin McCarthy in the first version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, where as a small town doctor he becomes aware that his town has been victimized by an extra-terrestial force that replaces humans with exact alien duplicates and that their conquest of humanity will spread with great rapidity. I remember feeling his horror and frustration when he escaped their clutches to warn another town, only to be seen as a raving madman who had to be subdued, medicated and confined to hospital. That was my nightmare as an 8 year old. That is my nightmare now. If I must shout, it had at least better be the truth that I am shouting.

Once again, the critique of AGW that “rocked” Peter’s belief system was found at

Marisa Cohen, who heads an international conservation organization centred at Assisi, Italy, had this to say about AGW and credibility:

Regarding AGW,it has never appeared in all my articles, association pubblicity, projects, because:1) it is irrelevant, even if true: all the issues that were the reason for the environmental concern before the "discovery" of AGW, are still the same, unresolved, because the whole scientific and popular concern is focused on the New Fashion;2) because, if proven false, we, as environmentalists, will become the laughing stock of every cornucopians, politicians, business, media and popular opinion, dismissed as nuts and never to be believed again.That is the worst outcome of the insistence in pubblicising this theory as "scientifically proven".

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