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Lessons from the failure of the climate change crusade

By Larry Kummer | Fabius Maximus | December 10, 2018

Summary: Despite thirty years of efforts by most of the elite institutions of America, US governments have done little to fight climate change. While a bout of awful weather might panic America into enacting activists’ wish list, as of today this is one of the great political failures of modern American history. It is rich with lessons for when scientists warn of the next disaster. The 21st century will give us more such challenges. Let’s try to do better.

The puzzle of the climate change crusade

Since James Hansen brought global warming to the headlines in his 1989 Senate testimony, scientists working for aggressive public policy action have had almost every advantage. They have PR agencies (e.g., the expensive propaganda video by 10:10). They have most of America’s elite institutions supporting them, including government agencies, the news media, academia, foundations, even funding from the energy companies. The majority of scientists in all fields support the program.

The other side, “skeptics”, have some funding from energy companies and conservative groups, with the heavy lifting being done by a small number of scientists and meteorologists, plus volunteer amateurs.

What the Soviet military called the correlation of forces overwhelmingly favored those wanting action. Public policy in America and the West should have gone green many years ago. But America’s governments have done little. Climate change ranks at the bottom of most surveys of what Americans’ see as our greatest challenges? (CEOs, too.) In November, Washington voters decisively defeated an ambitious proposal to fight climate change.

And not just in the USA. Climate change policy toppled Australia’s government. The Yellow Vest protests in France are the death knell for large-scale action in France. What went wrong?

The narrative gives answers

The usual answers use the information deficit model, in which the public’s skepticism about the need for radical action results from a lack of information. Thirty years of providing information at increasing volume and intensity has accomplished nothing. Pouring more water on a rock does not make it wetter.

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
— Ancient adage of Alcoholics Anonymous. More about that here.

Others give more complex explanations, such as “Between conflation and denial – the politics of climate expertise in Australia” by Peter Tangney in the Australian Journal of Political Science.

“This paper describes an ongoing tension between alternative uses of expert knowledge that unwittingly combines facts with values in ways that inflame polarised climate change debate. Climate politics indicates a need for experts to disentangle disputed facts from identity-defining group commitments.” {See Curry’s article for more about this paper.}

There are simpler and more powerful explanations for the campaign’s failure. Lessons giving us useful lessons for dealing with future threats.

Lesson #1: Standards are high for those sounding the alarm

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”
— A harsh but operationally accurate Roman proverb.

We have seen this played out many times in books and films since the publication of When Worlds Collide in 1932. A group of scientists see a threat. They go to America’s (or the world’s) leaders and state their case, presenting the data for others to examine and answering questions. There are two levels to this process.

First, the basis for the warnings must be evaluated by an interdisciplinary team of experts outside the community sounding the alarm. Climate models are the core of the warning about climate change. They have never been so examined. Perhaps we can end the climate policy wars by a test of the models. Whatever the costs of such reviews and tests, they would be trivial compared to the need to establish public confidence in these models.

Second, questions from the public must be answered. Of course, such warnings are greeted with skepticism. That is natural given the extraordinary nature of the threat and vast commitment of resources needed to fight it. Of course, many of the questions will be foolish or ignorant. Nevertheless, they all must be answered, with the supporting data made publicly available. Whatever the cost of doing so, it is trivial compared to the need.

Scientists seeking to save the world should never say things like this…

“In response to a request for supporting data, Philip Jones, a prominent researcher {U of East Anglia} said ‘We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?’”

– From the testimony of Stephen McIntyre before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (the July 2006 hearings which produced the Wegman Report). Jones has not publicly denied this.

Scientists seeking to save the world should not destroy key records, which are required to be kept and made public. They should not force people to file Freedom of Information requests to get key information. And the response to FOIs should never be like this…

“The {climategate} emails reveal repeated and systematic attempts by him and his colleagues to block FOI requests from climate sceptics who wanted access to emails, documents and data. These moves were not only contrary to the spirit of scientific openness, but according to the government body that administers the FOI act were ‘not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation.’” {The Guardian.}

Steve McIntyre has documented the defensive and self-defeating efforts of climate scientists to keep vital information secret, often violating the disclosure policies of journals, universities, and government funding agencies. To many laypeople these actions by scientists scream “something wrong”.

Yet these were common behaviors by climate scientists to requests for information by both scientists and amateurs. This kind of behavior, more than anything else, provoked skepticism. Rightly or not, this lack of transparency suggested that the scientists sounding the alarm were hiding something.

The burden of proof rests on those warning the world about a danger requiring trillions of dollars to mitigate, and perhaps drastic revisions to – or even abandoning – capitalism (as in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and “In Fiery Speeches, {Pope} Francis Excoriates Global Capitalism“).

Lesson #2: don’t get tied to activists

Activists latch onto threats for their own purposes. They exaggerate threats, attack those asking questions, and poison the debate. Scientists who treat them as allies must remember the ancient rule that “silence means assent.” Failure to speak when activists misrepresent the science discredits both groups.

For a sad example, look at “the pause.” Starting in 2006 climate scientists noticed a slowing in the rate of atmospheric warming. By 2009 there were peer-reviewed papers about it (e.g., in GRL), and it was an active focus of research (see links to these 29 papers). In 2013 the UK Met Office published a series of papers about the pause, which shifted the frontier of climate science from discussion about the existence of the “pause” to its causes (see links to these 38 papers). Some scientists gave forecasts of its duration (see links to 17 forecasts) – since a pause is, by definition, temporary.

During this period activists wrote scores, or hundreds, of articles not only denying that there was a pause in warming – but mocking as “deniers” people citing the literature about it. For example, see Phil Plait’s articles at Slate here and here. The leaders of climate science remained silent. Even those writing papers about the pause remained silent while activists ignored their work.

While an impressive display of climate scientists’ message discipline, it blasted away their credibility for those who saw the science behind the curtain of propaganda.


“The time for debate has ended”
Marcia McNutt (then editor-in-Chief of Science and now President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, an editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

I agree with McNutt: the public policy debate has ended. A critical mass of the US public has lost confidence in climate science as an institution (i.e., rejecting its warnings). As a result, the US probably will take no substantial steps to prepare for possible future climate change, not even preparing for re-occurrence of past extreme weather. The weather will determine how policy evolves, and eventually prove which side was right.

All that remains is to discuss the lessons we can learn from this debacle so that we can do better in the future. More challenges lie ahead in which we will need scientists to evaluate risks and find the best responses. Let’s hope we do better next time.

For More Information

For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change and these posts about ways to end the climate wars…

  1. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. Thomas Kuhn tells us what we need to know about climate science.
  3. Daniel Davies’ insights about predictions can unlock the climate change debate.
  4. Karl Popper explains how to open the deadlocked climate policy debate.
  5. Paul Krugman talks about economics. Climate scientists can learn from his insights.
  6. Milton Friedman’s advice about restarting the climate policy debate.
  7. A candid climate scientist explains how to fix the debate.
  8. Roger Pielke Jr.: climate science is a grab for power.

December 14, 2018 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | | 6 Comments

US sanctions ex-Israeli general over South Sudan

MEMO | December 14, 2018

The United States on Friday sanctioned three individuals, including former Israeli major general Israel Ziv, for their roles in South Sudan’s civil war, Anadolu Agency reports.

In a statement, the Treasury Department said Ziv and Obac William Olawo, a South Sudanese businessman, were being sanctioned for extending the conflict in the country.

Gregory Vasili, a South Sudanese national, was sanctioned for undermining “peace, stability, and security in South Sudan.”

“Ziv used an agricultural company that was nominally present in South Sudan to carry out agricultural and housing projects for the Government of South Sudan as a cover for the sale of approximately $150 million worth of weapons to the government, including rifles, grenade launchers, and shoulder-fired rockets,” read the statement.

The department said that Ziv had been paid through the oil industry and has been in close contact with a multi-national oil firm.

“While Ziv maintained the loyalty of senior Government of South Sudan officials through bribery and promises of security support, he has also reportedly planned to organize attacks by mercenaries on South Sudanese oil fields and infrastructure, in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve.”

The U.S. designated that the ex-general owns or controls the entities Global N.T.M Ltd, Global Law Enforcement and Security Ltd, and Global IZ Group Ltd.

The U.S. said it is targeting individuals who “provided soldiers, armored vehicles, and weapons used to fuel the conflict in South Sudan.”

South Sudan became the youngest nation in the world when it declared independence from Sudan following a referendum in 2011.

The country slid into civil war in mid-December 2013, when there was a fallout between incumbent President Salva Kiir and his then deputy-turned-rebel-leader Riek Machar.

The conflict in South Sudan has led to nearly 400,000 deaths.

According to the UN, 1.74 million South Sudanese have been internally displaced by the conflict, while 2.47 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

While a peace deal was signed in 2015, it was short-lived when Machar fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and fighting quickly spread across the nascent nation.

December 14, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 5 Comments

South Korea, US Fail to Agree on Sharing Costs for USFK’s Stationing – Reports

Sputnik – 14.12.2018

Seoul and Washington failed to agree on the amount of South Korea’s financial contributions for the stationing of the US Forces Korea (USFK) in South Korea, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing a government official.

“Again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed … There’s still a big difference over the total amount [of Seoul’s financial contributions]. The two sides will continue consultations through diplomatic channels. If necessary, we can have [formal] negotiations next month,” the official said, as quoted by the Yonhap news agency.

The official noted that there would be no more formal talks in December.

The 10th round of negotiations on dividing the cost of the USFK’s stationing between representatives from South Korea and the United States began on Tuesday and lasted for three days.

Washington’s push for an increase in Seoul’s contribution is regarded as an obstacle to reaching the deal. In 2018, South Korea has paid some $859 million to maintain the US forces, which serve as a deterrent against possible aggression of North Korea, the news outlet reported.

Seoul has been sharing the cost for the stationing of about 28,500 US servicemen within the framework of the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on cost sharing, due to expire at the end of this year, since 1991.

December 14, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , | 1 Comment

Turkey threatens to pull the plug on US

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | NewsClick | December 14, 2018

An impression has been gaining ground lately that the Trump administration is making overtures to Ankara to revive the original US-Turkish project on regime change in Damascus. The recent visit to Ankara by James Jeffrey, the US special representative to Syria, was seen in that light.

Prior to his trip to Ankara, Jeffrey openly suggested at a briefing at the US state department on December 3 that the Astana process on Syria (involving Russia, Turkey and Iran) should be wound up since it failed to advance the political process. As he put it, “US view … is let’s pull the plug on Astana.” In essence, Jeffrey ’s game plan was to somehow break up the Russian-Turkish-Iranian axis in Syria so that the US can tackle each of these three protagonists from a position of advantage.

However, the contradiction here is the US’ alliance with the Kurds, which is anathema to Turkey. Jeffrey tried to fudge this contradiction by saying, “Our policy is to work with the people of the northeast first of all to defeat ISIS… We have no political agenda either with the Kurdish groups, with the Arab groups, or with any other groups inside Syria. Our position is (a) the territorial integrity of Syria under its present borders; (b) we will work with all political forces that are willing to recognize and accept the UN political process and the basic criteria of all of these UN initiatives since 2012 on Syria, which is no threat to the neighbors, no threat to the population, no use of chemical weapons, no support for terrorism, no mass slaughter of one’s own civilians, and accountability for war crimes. That’s our position with everybody and anybody.”

But Turks refuse to be taken for a ride. If anything, the Turkish suspicions regarding the American intentions in northern Syria have only deepened. Two recent developments contributed to this:

One, the US move to establish observation posts next to Turkey’s border. Washington claims that these OPs will prevent possible terrorist threats against Turkey. But Turks are not duffers and they understand perfectly well that the real reason behind this Pentagon decision (announced innocuously almost as an aside by Defence Secretary James Mattis two weeks ago) is to prevent any Turkish operation against the Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Two, the US disclosure (by the outgoing chairman of joint chiefs of staff Gen. Joseph Dunford) that “35,000-40,000 local forces need to be trained to provide stability” in the territories occupied by the US in northeast Syria. Without doubt, the alarm bells must have rung in Ankara that the US is moving in the direction of creating security underpinnings for an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria similar to what it achieved in Iraq following the Gulf War in 1990-91.

Taken together, Turkish leadership realizes that unless Turkey forcefully acted to thwart the US strategy before it is too late, Ankara may face the stark choice of an independent Kurdish entity appearing along its border with Syria, which of course would imperil Turkey’s own security, territorial integrity and even threaten its unity. Thus, President Recep Erdogan had no option but to announce on Wednesday that Turkey proposes to launch a military operation against the Syrian Kurdish groups in a “few days”.

Erdogan said, “It is time to realize our decision to wipe out terror groups east of the Euphrates. We will start the operation in east of the Euphrates in a few days to save it from the separatist terrorist organization. Turkey’s target is never the US soldiers, but rather the members of the terror group.”

Erdogan rejected outright the US move on setting up OPs along Turkish border, saying, “It is clear that the purpose of US observation points in Syria is not to protect our country from terrorists but protect (Kurdish) terrorists from Turkey.” Meanwhile, other Turkish officials have cast aspersions on the US plan to train 40000-strong local militia and Jeffrey’s diatribe against the Astana process.

Conceivably, Turkish officials conveyed to Jeffrey Ankara’s plans to launch military operations against Syrian Kurds. At any rate, no sooner than Erdogan spoke on Wednesday, Washington reacted sharply, expressing “grave concern” and warning that any such Turkish military operations in Syria will be “unacceptable.”

However, all indications are that preparations are complete on the Turkish side of the border for the military strike. A Turkish daily close to the ruling circles reported that the operation will be carried out with “point shots” – namely, precisely targeting concentrations of the Syrian Kurdish militia. Some 200 such targets have been reportedly identified. Indeed, the Turkish armed forces have the capability to shoot at these targets from the air and ground without entering Syrian airspace and territory. One possibility is that Turkish jets can strike the Kurdish targets from a 30-kilometer depth in the air, while the howitzers can strike up to a depth of 40 kilometers on the ground.

Other reports have claimed that over the past fortnight, there have been significant military deployments to the Syrian border with armored vehicles, tanks and personnel deployed from Şanlıurfa to Akçakale. The plan seems to be that strategic targets of the Kurdish forces will be hit initially with a view to rapidly clear a swathe of Syrian territories so that fighters of the so-called Free Syrian Army (Syrian opposition groups aligned with Turkey) can move into the area.

Indeed, if Erdogan carries out his pledge, it will put the US in an unenviable position of having to watch passively when its allies get pulverized by the jets and artillery. It will be a huge loss of face for the US and, importantly, it will render the best-laid American plans for an open-ended occupation of Syria nonviable and senseless.

Without doubt, Moscow and Tehran will be pleased with Erdogan’s resolve to frustrate the US game plan to divide Syria. Around 30 percent of Syrian territory is presently under American occupation. Some US analysts have openly estimated that if only Turks could be brought on board, that would increase the area to around 40 percent of Syrian territory and eventually help provide an outlet for that land-locked enclave (which also contains Syria’s oil fields) to the Eastern Mediterranean coast and access to the world market.

The heart of the matter is that other than rhetorically, Russia shies away from challenging the US occupation of Syria lest it led to military confrontation, which Moscow has been scrupulously avoiding, no matter the provocations from the American side (eg., drone attacks on the Russian bases in Syria.) As for Iran, it is fighting an existential battle to counter the US sanctions and a confrontation with the US in Syria is not the priority today. Damascus cannot hope to confront the US by itself, either.

Thus, unsurprisingly, a note of triumphalism had lately crept into the US stance – all but implying that the Americans are salvaging victory out of the jaws of military defeat in the Syrian conflict and that it is a matter of time before Russia finds itself in a quagmire, keeping afloat the regime in Damascus out of its own meager resources and increasingly feeling the financial crunch, with Washington effectively plugging any help for Syria’s reconstruction coming from the western allies by making all such aid conditional on the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power.

No doubt, the simmering US-Turkish tensions in northern Syria over the Pentagon’s alliance with Syrian Kurdish groups have surged. It will be hard landing for the Pentagon if the long-awaited Turkish crackdown begins against the US’ Kurdish allies in Syria.

December 14, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 2 Comments