Back on trend

Back on trend.

Well after a hiatus in posting, a pause even in blog posts, here are some views on the flotsam and jetsam encountered while wandering through the twilight zone, the outer limits of the Internet in a futile attempt to avoid the febrile nonsense of the EU referendum debate in the UK and the interminable circus of the Trump.


On the climate front all past measurement records have been broken in the last year or few months. Surface temperatures, ocean heat content, sea level, ice melt and now even the pause in the satellite LT data has ended with the highest temperature reported ever from both groups. And RSS hinting that they have made errors that significantly lowered their recent data.

There is no refuge for those who reject the idea of anthropogenic alteration of the climate to defend as a bastion of climatic stability. However much some would like reality to be static, the exceptionality of all recent measurement records in so many diverse fields denies that hope.

Trying to avoid and distract from the tsunami of topical politics I used the search resource of the net to look at history. Little in the past has been static, and while it does not predict the future, past times show the envelope of the possible. Climate and politics have seen changes, cycles and trends over all timescales from decades to deep time.

There is a risk in watching YouTube documentaries. You may start with an academically rigorous discussion of paleoclimate, or planetary geological cycles on Mars… But the play-next feature may then segue into a more popularist tv documentary using the state of the art graphix of a decade ago to explain the basics. And from there, with what seemed a short nap, you find yourself way down the rabbit hole, beyond the fringe cranks, encountering ten part series refuting the flat Earth as a disc, geocentric universe concept. The latest emergence of this fossil meme seems to owe more to a marketing ploy. Say something controversial and claim your 15sec of Twitter fame. Maybe even get a name-check and response from a popular talk show guest.

But deep in the depths of the net are very old human battles. The flat Earth, geocentric universe hypothesis is often a matter of epistemology rather than science. It is the nature of what evidence and how it can, might or should alter our understanding of the Universe that is at stake, rather than the actual observations or theories. When a position does not accept a description, then acknowledging the accuracy of the explanation of those observations is unlikely. Even granting the utility of such knowledge may be grudging. With the vagaries of YouTube classification, and far enough down the auto-play list of similar content there are people apparently sincerely claiming that there are not and never were any satellites or space travel and that the moon is a holographic projection about 30 miles up.

Or, your interest piqued by a report on Richard Dawkins being de-platformed leads you into a swirling maelstrom of incompatible dogmas that seem to played a part in changes to academia and associated sources of knowledge. Even Facebook and Twitter have apparently been infiltrated by  these evangelical purveyors of what the other side regards as a fundamental assault on the very autonomy of a sentient individual. This is a social conflict in which the binary extremes seem to have exceeded the gamut of mere black and white.

Some have a certainty that things MUST change to live in a better way than the present. Others are certain that preserving the status quo, a version of the present that excludes those elements that recently changed, but preserves all the best of a mythical past is the path to an improved existence.

The past shows that in times of economic and environmental uncertainty or disruption there is one form of social and political response that can emerge. There is a popular demand or intuitive preference on the part of a large section of a society or community for a strong leader. Powerful authority is favoured over subsidiarity. A return to the past golden age, ( Make America Great again! ) however fictional or incomplete is seen as the desirable goal. Change, especially cultural change, and most especially cultural change from an identifiable, or reifiable ethnic group can become the target of a general zeitgeist of hate and fear that drives the engagement of the participants.

A recent article from Vox put forward an interesting thesis that this enthusiasm for a modern form of monarchy with added jingoistic bigotry is a product of an authoritarian mindset. As the Slacktivist observes this is closer to a description than an explanation, but as a way of parsing the pattern of human behaviour at the individual and social level it seems at least utile. Example questions used to delineate the quality, relate to child-rearing. Which begs the question of whether such attitudes have to be carefully taught.

But whether it is Trumptonites targeting Mexican migrants and liberal entitlement culture, or SJWs blaming the male white patriarchy, both groups are not only convinced of the accuracy of their views, but regard it is therefore justified to impose those views on others. In true authoritarian fashion this involves central regulation and control. Tolerance of dissent is not regarded as a desirable quality by either community.

There is a classic test of the honesty, or perhaps ethical motivation, of such strongly held views. Perhaps attributable to C S Lewis, it asks what the reaction of people who hold such views is when presented with good evidence that the target of their animosity is less evil than they claim. In the Christian context Lewis was pointing out the moral danger of claims of demonic behaviour. If the evil ascribed to satanic forces did not happen some will be happy that these worst fears were unfounded. Others will resist any evidence the source of evil is less evil than they believe. Satanic child abuse scares in the 80s would be an example. Just as any evidence their source of authority, biblical, constructional or egalitarian is less absolute than they claim is rejected. For those who have found security and meaning in adherence to a set of dogmatic beliefs, any conflicting evidence is reframed into part of the evil conspiracy that is resisting their imposition of the True and Good for the benefit of all.
This places those dogmatist, subjectively at least, on the moral high ground. The lack of oxygen at that altitude may explain the cognitive limitations they demonstrate.

Meanwhile past trends continue. That would be a naive prediction without evidence there is an inherent inertia or thermodynamic constraint. But surface temps, sea level rise, economic uncertainty and civil disruption around the world increase. The threats to the status quo are obvious and growing. Activating the social desire for authoritarian simple solutions. Fitting climate denial into the authoritarian matrix may seem unwarranted. Some of the lobbying against action is driven by business interests. Warren Buffett might be suspected of uncertain motives when he invokes uncertainty given his investments in coal fired power generation and rail transport of coal. Businesses he has large investments in have worked to block regulatory encouragement of renewable generation while promoting regulatory easement for fossil fuel enterprises.

But the accusation by many who reject the mainstream narrative of climate science is that it is a Trojan horse for radical political change. What they oppose is the threat of significant economic disruption and the emergence of new global governance that threatens what financial security they have, and their convictions that a purified version of the present, but more authoritarian, government is required, not the lefty communal new world order they see behind the issue of AGW.

The perception that AGW is the harbinger of radical change is accurate. But it is imposed by geophysics and thermodynamics not a political conspiracy. The present events, climate extremes and shifts refute the flat Earth authoritarians. The trend in temperatures, however much El Niño driven relegates the dragon-slayers into the crank category.

But while the constraints and inertia of the climate make it less than naive to expect temperatures to rise with cumulative CO2 emissions, the climate is capable of unpredictable radical change, at least in the short term.
If in the next few years a major explosive volcanic event occurred which raised stratospheric albedo significantly for a few years, the result would be a temporary pause in the trend. A respite, making the accelerating impacts of climate change less disruptive and less urgent.

Would some of those who are self-proclaimed activists for mitigation be happy their worst fears were wrong, or reluctant to abandon their narrative of imminent catastrophe and disappointed the issue may not be as critical and weighty as they had come to believe?



11 responses to “Back on trend

  1. Must confess, izen, that I took a detour reading that article by Derrick Jensen concerning ‘deplatforming’ that you linked to, and never quite got back to reading the rest of your article. But… I suppose that’s one way we find new sources to read. Thanks for that 🙂


  2. It is a feature, not a flaw of the interwebs that you can stumble into areas you were ignorant of before.
    I am happy to have facilitated that. I would suggest however that you also get diverted into the Vox article on authoritarianism, it seems to be getting a fair amount of general attention. Or at least check out the Slacktivist summary/analysis.

    At least then the video of Rodgers and Hammerstein would make more sense!


  3. izen, hi again,

    Yeah, that Vox article is very interesting alright, but it doesn’t acknowledge the primary source of right-wing authoritarian (RWA) study in academia, from which Hetherington and MacWilliams most likely got their ideas:

    Click to access TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    Altemeyer has been studying this phenomena since longer than anyone else, AFAIK. But you, being of the skeptical bent, probably already read that 🙂

    Although having said that… looking at the timelines in the Vox article, it appears that Altemeyer and Stenner published almost simultaneously in 2005/2006. It’s unlikely they didn’t know of each other’s work. Hmm.


  4. I think I first read Altemeyer’s book about 5 years ago. Indeed, it almost entirely explains the behaviour of most commenters at WUWT, Climate Etc., Climate Audit, Bishop Hill, etc.


  5. Yes, I encountered Altemeyer a few years ago and found it a helpful tool to parse the behavior of WUWTers and many other political/social groups. Not least religious dogmatism in the evolution/Creation debates.

    I found the reports of the abject failure of authoritarians to run a ‘sim world’ game successfully most revealing. However it is descriptive rather than explanatory. WHY people are authoritarian is less well researched. I am wary of any assumption this is an innate, biologically determined trait, the incidence of these traits across different societies might make an interesting research project, as would how to change what is clearly a detrimental trait for the individual and society at large, however exploitable it may be for those few sociopathic egoists who want to be the top dog, prime authority.


  6. G’day Izen,

    I must be like a fully recovered alcoholic! I’ve read your remarks on climate and feel not the slightest urge to comment. Nature will have the last word, as we have agreed.

    Trump and populism, though, that is an interesting thought. I think it is a bit of a long bow to suggest his rise has anything to do with the earth’s climate – direct evidence for that might be a bit hard to come by!

    I would also dispute the suggestion above that this Trump is “right-wing” at all. Right-wing in general parlance is a mere pejorative aimed by the politically progressive at anyone they don’t like. I gave a somewhat more rigorous and historically-based definition of “right-wing” here.

    Trump himself does not fit this model. He is a simple populist. His politics is not informed by any philosophy in particular, but is more of a personality cult which has tapped into the frustrations felt by many Americans, and not only white ones. Once in office, he would feel no philosophical restraints on his natural desire to increase his own power, whether in the spheres of economics or personal liberty. He has no articulated objection to big government, and has in the past business career negotiated equally with the big-government, neo-conservative G.W. Bush administration and the big-government, social-engineering Clinton administration. He is thus just as much a left-wing demagogue as he is a right-wing one.

    The word fascist is generally used as yet another pejorative, albeit a rather more extreme one. But I would make the case that such policy as Trump has already articulated (not much) is closer to the historical definition of Fascism than to any definition of “right-wing”. Wrote Mussolini, Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (All within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State). And that may well be where America is heading, in the short-term at least. The vision of long trains of cattle cars filled with Mexicans is only the beginning.


  7. Agree it’s most likely not biological, but rather a familial/tribal influence. In any case, the rise of authoritarianism in the US troubles me as much as the rise of ISIS must trouble the RWA followers.


  8. Hi Ozboy
    Well Nature may not yet have had the last word, but I suggest that it has at least got to the final paragraph… as I gather is being heard in OZ at present. Not all of your heatwave is attributable to El Nino.

    I accept your point that left/right wing tend to be oppositional labels. The checklist of behaviors I gave two years (is it realy just 2 years?!) ago at your blog still seems to stand up.

    I do not think Trump’s rise has anything to do with AGW, at least directly, but is a political response to societal uncertainty and change. That populism arises when the lower and middle classes experience finacial instability seems to be a common historical pattern. The emphasis on Nationalism, the targeting of ‘outsider’ groups, but the protection of corperate power are the key tropes of what its opponents at least, would label ‘right-wing’.
    Bernie is clearly ‘left-wing’ given his empahsis on government ordained healthcare and an enthusiasm for dismanteling corperate power.


  9. @- Ozboy
    I self-censored part of what I was going to say about Trump in my reply to you Ozboy on the basis it might be offensive, but on reflection that seems to be aquiesing to the SJW tendency of regressive leftists! -grin-

    Trump strikes me as a rather Australian type politician from the Packer mode. While US politics is not noted for its polite restraint, the vulgarity that Trump has brought to the scene does seem more common in Australian political discourse. Although I don’t know if any Australian politician has tweeted a picture of their genitals in response to jibes about their small…. hands!


  10. I think when it comes to calling a spade a bloody shovel, our pollies will always do it a bit better than the Yanks. I could tell you a few stories about some of our “leaders” that would make Mister Trump look rather reserved. But then again, our lot don’t have access to nuclear weapons :-O


  11. Izen, sorry for abusing the comments here, but do you have a source for your claim that Einstein said he wanted to wait for better results? Would fit beautifully in an upcoming post of mine.
    (Feel free to delete this comment.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.