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Oct 16, 2009

Hamilton: How to deal with climate change grief

The science, economics and politics of climate change have been discussed and argued endlessly. But how do we cope psychologically with this challenge to our conception of the future?

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We’ve had the scientific debate and the economics and politics have been discussed endlessly. Yet, Yet, as Sophie Black’s comment on “Oh, sh*t” moments attests, beneath the surface, unexplored, run powerful emotional currents. The climate predictions are frightening. Those who listen to them feel anxiety, fear, rage, guilt, anguish, helplessness, hope and apathy. The prognosis makes them worry about the well-being and survival of children and grandchildren. It destabilises the unquestioned belief in a continuously peaceful and prosperous societies. The health of the planet and its natural marvels is at stake.

What’s going on in the psyche? How do we cope with this profound threat to our conception of the future? Some preliminary answers to these questions can be had by analysing the responses to two recent and seminal interventions, one in Britain and one on the United States. The authors assert that the fight to protect the world from catastrophic climate change is lost and we must now confront the decline of civilisations and collapse of the human population.

The first, published on 17 August on The Guardian website, is an exchange between British environmental writers George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth argues we need to ‘get real’ and face up to the fact that civilisation cannot survive in its current form. We need to think about what we can learn from it and aim for “a managed retreat to a saner world”.

Monbiot agrees that the situation is irretrievable but objects to Kingsnorth’s apparent complacency and unreal expectation that a saner would eventuate. The transition is likely to be “hideous”, involving billions of deaths. As civilised life falls apart, the psychopaths are likely to take over. He insists that we must fight for a more just and less brutal transition to wherever we end up.

The second intervention is from US climate activist Adam Sacks and appeared on the website of Grist magazine on the 23 August. Titled “The fallacy of climate activism” Sacks argues that environmentalists have mistakenly focused on the symptoms of environmental decline (rising greenhouse gases) rather than the cause, the structural need of the system to grow without end and its promise of ever-increasing physical comfort.

It’s time to tell the truth, he declares: the battle over greenhouse gas emissions is lost and positive feedback effects are taking over. “Our version of life on earth has come to an end”, and the best we can do is try to plan the transition. “How do we survive in a world that will probably turn … into a living hell?”, he asks.

These two interventions represent a watershed in the global warming debate because the authors are saying the previously unsayable, expressing the fear of many scientists and environmentalists that it is too late to avert a catastrophic shift in the global climate.

They provoked a voluminous and rich array of responses, over 700 comments suggesting that the views expressed in the articles are deeply felt by some.[i] For the most part, those who participated in these exchanges are already seriously engaged in the climate change debate. As the vanguard they are in no sense representative of the wider population. Although their views are currently on the fringes of public debate, they will, in my opinion, be at the centre of it in a few years time and perhaps much sooner if the Copenhagen conference in December fails.

Analysing the responses to the interventions reveals a great deal about how the most engaged members of the population are coping psychologically with the threat posed by climate change. A recent paper by Tim Kasser and myself develops a framework that can be usefully applied here. We identify three broad types of psychological response to the threat of a warming globe.

DENIAL. The first type are denial strategies, both the express repudiation of climate science by so-called sceptics and the “casual denial” practiced by many members of the public who tell themselves scientists are often wrong or must be exaggerating. While sceptics pop up in the online debates here considered, neither the Guardian website nor Grist is a sympathetic environment for climate science denial. Those who practice casual denial mostly exclude themselves from debates over global warming and are also not represented in any numbers.

MALADAPTIVE COPING. The second type of response we have called “maladaptive coping strategies”—those deployed to defend against the reality of warming by filtering the facts or tempering their emotional meaning. Methods include: reinterpreting the threat to make it less stressful by telling oneself that humans have solved these sorts of problem before or imagining it to be too far off to worry about; practiced indifference; and, diversionary strategies such as minor behaviour changes (installing low-energy light bulbs) and pleasure-seeking. Practiced by a majority of the population, these strategies entail a refusal to engage seriously with the issue, so we would not expect to find many reactions reflecting these strategies among the online respondents.

However, other maladaptive strategies feature strongly in the two debates. The commonest type from US respondents and the second commonest from British bloggers fall into the category of “wishful thinking” whereby the desired outcome becomes the expected outcome. They mostly fall into two groups, the first of which might be called blind hope.[ii]

“What may seem impossible now may become possible in the future.”

“Any number of probable future versions of our present civilization can and do branch off at every moment.”

“To quote Edina in Ab Fab: Cheer up! It might not happen!”

The second group invests hope in technological salvation.

“We are the pinnacle and we will innovate our way out of species overshoot without sacrificing nary an SUV.”

“We have built these amazing technologies … So let’s evolve and keep looking to find and understand the most workable, enjoyable way.”

“Well, I am a glass half full kind of guy so I hope something techie will save us.”

Although comforting, wishful thinking is maladaptive because it relies on unrealistic optimism and vague assertions about possible futures or human nature.

A second type of maladaptive response involves a form of “splitting”. Often entailing a demand for hard facts or a certain callousness, retreat to the cerebral dulls appreciation of the human suffering at stake. It is related to fatalism, considered later.

“It’s quite silly not to expect a right-sizing of the global population …”

“Sometime this century, the cull will begin.”

“Pieces like this always strike me as kind of mushy … There are no hard facts or numbers … no hard tactical advice, no prediction or even vision of how becoming more apocalyptic would bring about change.”

“Where is the mechanism by which ‘industrial civilisation’ collapses and what does such an idea mean? I mean specifics, and numbers, and facts …”

A related response is akin to the cry often heard in business: “Don’t tell me about a problem unless you have a solution”. It is a typically American sentiment.

“This makes the choir feel good … but what’s supposed to come out of it?”

“There are no useful takeaways from this piece.”

“Despair doesn’t accomplish anything useful.”

“Stop exaggerating and get behind some real solutions”.

Although the arguments, based on a mass of scientific evidence, are startlingly new, a number of respondents used what might be called the “old hat” argument, which allows claims about climate chaos to be lumped in with other debased predictions.

“This essay contains every shibboleth of contemporary environmentalism.”

“Same old song.”

“I’ve grown up with stories of doom and gloom … They all blur into one eventually, and then you can ignore them en masse”.

A variation on this defence mechanism is deployment of ridicule and generalized attacks on environmentalism. Thus:

“The End is Nigh.”

“Isn’t it fun watching two Old Testament prophets bickering about which one’s fire and brimstone is going to be more terrible.”

“I’m strongly reminded of Private Frazer from Dad’s Army: ‘We’re all doooomed!’.”

“Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations.”

While often used by those who deny the science altogether, ridicule is also adopted by some who are deeply concerned about climate change but differ sharply with the authors over some aspect of the debate. The first is in response to Kingsnorth’s Dark Mountain project, “a new literary and artistic movement for an age of massive global change”.

“Civilisations will decay and crumble while I, Paul Kingsnorth, reign alone and rule absolutely from my dark mountain HQ!! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!”

“Two upper class romantic like to think of the world becoming a simpler (and needless to say, cloth cap doffing) place.”

“Two lovely white educated green blokes.”

ADAPTIVE COPING. Those who repudiate maladaptive strategies, such as those I have described, fall into the third group. Adaptive coping strategies are deployed when the person accepts both the facts of climate change and the accompanying emotions. Emotion-focused coping entails expression of the feelings that follow acceptance of the full implications of global warming. Along with depression, some express anger: “Our politicians, spineless and ineffective as they are, have children. They know their children will die … Are they stupid? Insane?” But perhaps the most common emotion is despair.

“I expect the next 50 years to be business as usual and to hell in a handcart with the lot of us.”

“I despair that many, if not most, close their minds to your sentiment … because they cannot bring themselves to face up to unpalatable reality.”

“If I try to talk to my peers about issues like global warming, I get a sea of glazed eyes and apathetic looks.”

A few express relief at finding others who share their anxiety: “Adam, I think you said very nicely what we all (climate activists) know in our heart is true—that it is very likely too late to avoid crippling warming—but almost never say”, and “I want to follow this topic. Already, I feel some relief talking about it at last.”

Another recognised adaptive coping strategy is to take a problem-solving approach. It involves a kind of intellectual engagement (unlike the intellectualization I referred to which entails an intellectual distancing). It means first facing up to the reality:

“Sorry folks, but we are f*&ked … Humans will survive but billions are going to die.”

“When the TVs go off I dread to think what will happen.”

“Nature’s first great experiment with ‘intelligent’ life will be a failure.”

Others consider the implications and propose forms of action aimed at managing the unfolding disaster as best we can.

“Our job as climate activists is to democratize survivability.”

“It’s not about hope or despair. It’s about facing reality and beginning to think about how we’re going to deal with what’s already in the system …”

“The future of ‘civilisation’ will be regional rather than global …”

“Hope for the best, work for progressive solutions, prepare for the worst.”

Philosophical consolations

Taking a philosophical perspective provides some of the most interesting and poignant responses to facing up to climate change. More prevalent among British than American comment, it is marked by a calm but sympathetic reflection on the human condition.

“Man hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf,
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.”

“It is the fate of all of us to die …”

“It is not the ending that matters, for an end surely comes to us all, it is how we live our lives.”

Others try to place the existential threat in a larger context, thereby diminishing it “in the scheme of things”.

“If the environment changes and we adapt we will survive. If we don’t adapt we won’t survive. Brutal I know but that is how nature is.”

“We must come to terms with the fact that humanity is a part of nature rather than a consumer thereof.”

“Earth might become uninhabitable, but on a thousand biospheres new forms of intelligent life are created with every turn of our galaxy. It all is relative.”

One contributor characterized the difference between Monbiot’s call for action, even in the face of hopeless odds, and Kingsnorth’s apparent capitulation to the inevitable with a Shakespearean reference: “Is this Hamlet’s age-old dilemma … Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”

More often the philosophizing of contributors took the form of fatalism, a coping strategy that is perhaps maladaptive because it justifies passivity and rules out taking action. The difference between philosophy and fatalism—a subtle shift from a wistful or noble acceptance of the inevitability of death to an indifference to suffering or even a hostility to humanity—is at times hard to detect.

“Civilization collapse is a natural phenomenon.”

“Neither [authors] seem to grasp the evolutionary logic of the human species. Neither realize that life in the Planet has been and will be without us humans … other species have disappeared like dinosaurs, why not us humans?”

“People are just animals. … Their population eventually reaches an equilibrium by balancing dying of starvation and food supply. That is how it has been and how it looks like it’s going to be.”

“Nature decides when resources are insufficient for human requirements, with sickness, famine and war manifesting when necessary.”

“What does it matter if humans are wiped out, or the rest of the planet for that matter? Are we serving some higher force or being? No, everything is completely pointless.”

Humans have always dealt with tragedy by turning it into farce, and the respondent’s philosophizing at times takes a humorous turn.

“[To Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot] What do John and Ringo have to say?”

“Currently, we have 6 billion people living in shitty conditions whilst 500 million are watching porn or celebrity TV shows. Is that something worth saving?”

“Actually, the vast majority of those 6 billion are living in shitty conditions AND watching porn and celebrity TV shows.”

“[After the apocalypse] I’ll be the bald guy with the tattoos, third from the left, waving a shotgun in your face.”

“At least we won’t have to listen to Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh any more.”

Between the lines of these online debates another, deeper process of reconciliation is going on, one that arises from the collective engagement itself. Beyond the acceptance of the facts of global warming and the emotions they conjure up, many of the participants reflected on the meaning of climate disruption—not so much its consequences but what it can teach us about the mortality and the human condition.

Although perhaps performed unconsciously, the process has therapeutic and thus adaptive value. A number of psychological studies have shown that, in the same way that traumatic events often lead to personal growth, considered reflection on death tends to bring about a shift in personal goals away from materialistic, self-focused pursuits to an intrinsic and other-directed orientation. That can only be good for the environment.

Of course, not all participants in the online debates engage this way, but it is surprising to see how many do end up trying to make sense of human-induced climate change not through political or social analysis but by understanding it in the sweep of history or the scale of the cosmos. We can expect many more conversations of this kind.

[i] A large majority (500 plus) were in response to the Kingsnorth-Monbiot exchange with an additional 100 or so on the AlterNet website referred to in first footnote, which enabled some comparison of a British and American audience. The Sacks article attracted 100 plus response.

[ii] Some of the comments I reproduce here have been slightly edited to correct spelling errors and to ease readability.

Clive Hamilton —

Clive Hamilton

Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University

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132 thoughts on “Hamilton: How to deal with climate change grief

  1. Peter Jones

    To really understand the physchology of climate change you need to go further than Hamilton goes here, and dig beneath the surface of what people say. I think most ‘maladaptive responses’ can be explained in terms of people’s general sense of powerlessness. The vast majority think something needs to be done about climate change, but can’t see how anything they do could make any difference, so turn towards excuses for not acting.

    People feel this way for a variety of reasons. The environmental movement deserves some of the blame: telling people that they can ‘do their bit’ to help stop climate change by buying energy efficient light bulbs or catching the bus is not only innaccurate, but disempowering. But more fundamentally, people don’t feel they do anything about the environment because they feel, more generally, that they have little control over their lives. The sense of collective power that something like a strike creates is but a distant memory for most workers, and most younger workers have probably never been involved in any political or industrial action in their lives.

    This is because the level of class struggle – in Australia especially – is extremely low. Explaining why would take up more space than I have here. But this won’t necessarily be the case forever, and there might even be an upturn in the near future. Because workers have changed the world in the past, and retain the latent power to do so in future, since without them, the bosses don’t have profits.

  2. Andrew

    Over the millenia humans worried about the end-of-the -world-as-we-know-it, repeatedly, the diffrence this time is that the most authoritative science indicates an abrupt transformation of terrestrial climate to conditions that shaprly depart from those which allowed the emergence of civilization some 8000 years ago.

    Our prehistoric ancestors managed to survive through major climate upheavals (mid-Pliocene 400 ppm CO2, 2-3 degrees C rise, 25 meters sea level rise; glacial/interglacial +/- 5 degrees changes in mean global tempratures) mainly through migration.

    Where will the 6.6 billion humans of the 21st century migrate to? (little prospect for an “escape” are offered by the thin film of water detected recently on some lunar rocks).

    Fortunate are believers in devine supervision, snatching them to heaven when the day comes.

    Less fortunate are believers in Gaia, the living Planet, who feel guilty the species to which the belong has betrayed “mother Earth”.

    Looking at the issue with perspective of natural evolution, the question arises whether any species, including humans, has a choice in the matter?

    Children of the “enlightnment” have been raised with a notion of “free will”, but while limited choices may be presented to fortunate individuals, does an entire species possess free will ???

    In this instance, a ‘free will’ to transform from the principal energy source – fossil fuels – which allowed the emergence of technological civilization some 250 years ago, to other energy sources?

    Unfortunately the atmosphere is not waiting to human decisions.

  3. Julius

    Clive Hamilton only pretends to keep up with his reading. Otherwise he would at least have discussed recent publication of the news that e.g. some still-believing IPCC scientists think we could be in for a few decades of cooling or, another example, the way that the hockey stick preservationists have been caught out using only 12 selected Siberian tree core samples instead of the dozens available.

    It would be too much perhaps to ask him to pay attention to some serious scientific work which tends to support the sceptics (which I only started to be within the last year of paying close attention to the science and the scientists). However, would anyone who is qualified to do so care to comment on the implications of the facts that the oceans, which have an average temperature of little above freezing point, have a mass 300 times that of the atmosphere and forces acting on them in cyclical fashion over decades, centuries and even millenia from the gravitational interactions with sun and moon? (The specific heat of water is BTW many times that of air, and, just in case anyone overlooks the obvious, the difference just between spring and neap tides gives an indication of the vastness of the forces involved). At least doesn’t it sound as though CO2 which no one suggests is responsible for the ENSO, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or a recently discussed equivalent in the Indian Ocean, has nothing much to do with our recent SE Australian drought?

    And what about the 60 year cycle of Indian monsoon failures with its connection to solar and lunar cycles? If that and the other info about cycles of sun and moon lead us to regard them as much better explanations than AGW of all the major climate changes of the past such as the collapse of civilisations in North Africa and the Indian sub-continent and the drying up of the Great Lakes down to the roman and Medieval Warm Periods and on to the Little Ice Age, why should we make vastly expensive investments which will make not a jot of difference to Australia’s climate?

  4. Julius

    Sad to see a descendant (as M W-H must surely be) of Wilbur Ham KC so intellectually supine. A pity you couldn’t ask him about how much respect he had for most expert witnesses (which is what, at best, the IPCC clique of scientists are) that he had examined or cross-examined.

    You, it appears, are the one “grasping at straws” because you grasp at what, secondhand, and with apparently no ability or willingness to attempt an assessment of evidence. you choose to accept on faith. Maybe you don’t have the equipment to do the work and maybe trusting others who assert something that might be important is your way of remaining in equilibrium in a world that worries you but perhaps you could do better. At least you might shed a degree of credulity and naiveté when faced with the many possible sources of error both the self-interested and the merely accidental, intellectual or emotional.

    Have you no idea of the motivations of people with serious careers? Having to throw over half a lifetime’s work is barely tolerable. Admitting that the ideas which secured you tenure and now keep the grants, invitations to international conferences and peer approval flowing are all shonky would be worth a huge effort to prevent. And you seem to misconstrue the common references to religion and show no understanding of the point which unfortunately becomes more and more credible however doubtful in once seemed that people who have evolved to need what religion has provided over 1000s of years but can’t believe any of the traditional ones are looking to all sorts of nonsense to give them a sense of belonging and believing in something important. AGW isn’t as nonsensical as some New Ageisms so it satisfies a wider range of needy intellects and psyches.

    Instead of writing of “grasping at straws” why don’t you seek the answers you believe must be there on the Internet to the hypotheses and questions I have raised? You are unlikely to find them there because I am pretty well up to date. A slightly older hypothesis, based on peer reviewed research, is that the rise in CO2 since it began rising seriously about 50 years ago, is actually from the oceans rather than the largely northern hemisphere CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. I have seen no answer to the careful reasoning and setting out of evidence on which that is based in the year or so it has been available for refutation. You could try helping with that too.

    If, as seems to be true, you do not feel capable of making any judgment on scientific matters or which scientists are making cogent sense at least you might give us the benefit of your economic logic. Do you think Australia should be making large investments (which includes the opportunity costs of foregoing coal fired electricity generation and relying heavily on wind and solar) to reduce CO2 emissions (not that even that is planned: the government’s ETS relies on buying in carbon credits from poorer countries) even though it won’t affect our climate at all? As you should know, it won’t; but we may need money to build protective seawalls for ourselves or others and you would I presume prefer to wasted that money on emission permits and expensive renewables. Or do you share the fantasy that the rulers of countries with populations amounting to billions are going to take notice of Australia’s preaching, or even applaud us for “setting an example”?

    OK I’ll give you a debating point. I think we ought to take a leaf out of the Italian book of how to cheat the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy effectually operated for nearly 50 years. The Howard government was altogether too principled in its refusal to do anything so vacuous and useless as to sign the Kyoto Treaty.

  5. Michael Wilbur-Ham


    Yes I am a relative. But in this case the debate is really science and not law. So attacking the person is avoiding the point.

    I admit that I have not devoted several years of my life to the study of our climate. I don’t think that “clutching at straws” is an appropriate description for someone who listens to and respect those who have done the hard work.

    I do have training in rational thought (Engineering), and I believe that I am fairly capable at detecting rubbish.

    I guess the big question is, apart from the scientific experts, who should I be listening to? And what are the “vested interests” of those putting up these alternative views?

    What is the evidence that I (and others) are ignoring? If you want me and other readers to consider evidence outside the mainstream then I think it is up to you to give us a link.

    On the proposal that CO2 is actually coming from the oceans, I’m certain that this is wrong because I have read about studies showing that the ocean are becoming more acidic because of the increased CO2 absorbed by the oceans (by the way, the increase in ocean acidity is probably a greater threat to the Great Barrier Reef than the increase in temperature).

    Talk of building sea walls just shows how little you are aware of what is predicated.

    Clearly our political views and values differ greatly.

    I’m of the view that Australia could take a lead, and if we did the right thing (much, much more than Rudd is proposing) what we do would influence the developing nations.

    Note that the alternative of the rich countries doing next to nothing makes it certain that the developing countries will continue to grow rapidly, thus ensuring the worst case scenarios of climate change.

    I’m also of the view that we should do the right thing, even if the rest of the world does not do as much as us.

    Of course these views will make no sense at all to someone who does not think that climate change is a real threat.

    I have no idea what you are talking about with your debating point.

  6. Andrew

    In so far as some of the above contributors have serious doubts in the work of thousands of climate scientists, published in the peer-reviewed literature and endorsed by the world’s leading climate research bodies (NASA, Hadley, Tyndall, Potsdam, NSIDC, CSIRO, BOM), the onus is on the contributors to formulate their reservations or theories in coherent way, preferably in the peer reviewed literature.

    What a reflief would it be if they turn out to be right!

    Unfortunately, the following principal observations around the globe, consistent with the physics and chemistry of atmospheric and marine science, pertain:


    Climate change is tracking toward levels which transcend the planetary boundaries which allowed the development of humans over the last 3 million years1. These limits have already been crossed in terms of the rise in greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, Nitric oxide) and extensive loss of species [1]. Given lag effects, looming threats include (A) ocean acidification and phosphorous flux, collapse of coral reefs and the marine food chain; (B) availability of freshwater; (C) conversion of natural forests to cropland, i.e. the Amazon; (D) ozone depletion; (E) atmospheric aerosol loading and (F) chemical pollution by metals, plastics, radioactive nuclei etc.

    The rate of climate change since the mid-1970s, at up to c. 2 ppm CO2 per-year, reaching 388 ppm CO2 and c. 460 ppm CO2-equivalent (including methane), is leading toward c. 1.5 degrees C mean global temperature rise relative to pre-industrial time. This results in carbon cycle and ice/water feedback processes, with consequent (A) extreme rates of polar ice melting, including the Arctic Sea, Greenland, West and East Anarctica [2], which threatens accelerated sea level rise; (B) a progressive shift of climate zones toward the poles, extending the tropics as indicated by intensified cyclones and floods, and enlarging desert regions as manifested by extreme droughts and fires, including in Australia.

    The consequences for human habitats include loss of arable land, fresh water supplies and extreme weather events. The loss of Himalayan snow and thereby decreased river flow, coupled with a failure of the monsoon and sea level rise, threatens more than one billion people in south and southeast Asia. As the polar regions warm [3], the release of methane from the many hundreds of billions of tons of carbon stored in permafrost and shallow lakes and seas, is underway.

    Reports by the world’s leading climate research organizations (Hadley-Met, Tyndall, NASA/GISS, Potsdam, NSIDC, CSIRO, BOM), and in thousands of papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, demonstrate the anthropogenic origin of climate change since the industrial revolution, accelerating since the mid-1970s, beyond reasonable doubt [4]. The Australian continent, dominated by subtropical arid zones, is in particular danger from extending tropical floods in the north and progressive desertification and fires in the south.

    Humans and species can adapt to gradual changes in the environment, and our prehistoric ancestors were able to migrate over much of the world through extreme glacial-interglacial changes. This is not the case with the 6 billion members of present-day civilization, anchored as they are to coastal and valley agricultural lands. The consequences of the extreme rise rate of CO2 at 2 ppm/year will greatly complicate adaptation.

    In my view, an upper limit of 450 ppm CO2, proposed by a range of reports by government organizations, including the Garnaut Review [5] and the Australian Government White Paper [6], can not be sustained, for the following reasons:

    A. The atmosphere has already transcended the CO2-equivalent (including the forcing of methane) level of 460 ppm [7].
    B. A level of 450 ppm CO2 is a mere c. 40 ppm below the upper boundary of c. 500 ppm, which is the upper limit of stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, formed about 34 million years ago. In the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, a CO2 level of 400 ppm led to temperature rise of about 2–3 degrees C and sea level rise of 25+/-12 meters.
    C. There is no evidence that the climate can be “stabilized” at such high level of greenhouse-induced forcing. Due to carbon cycle feedback loops and feedbacks related to ice melt/water interaction, CO2 level of 450 ppm may lead to yet higher greenhouse levels, high temperature levels and possible tipping points.
    D. Not taken into account in many projections are looming emissions of methane, which are already taking place under atmospheric CO2 levels of 388 ppm, or CO2-e levels of 460 ppm.

    In the view of leading US climate scientists there is no alternative to attempts at reducing atmospheric CO2 levels to below 350 ppm as soon as possible [8]. In my view, only a combination of (A) deep urgent cuts in carbon emissions; (B) fast-track development of clean renewable energy systems; (C) an intensive reforestation campaign; (D) application of a range of biosequestration measures, including chemical sequestration and carbon draw-down methods, may be able to prevent further carbon cycle and ice melt feedback effects from triggering dangerous tipping points [9] with tragic consequences.

    1. Schellnhuber, Oxford meeting, 28-30.10.09
    2. British Antarctic Survey, 23.9.09
    3. Polar regions have warmed by a mean of up to 4 degrees Celsius since the mid-20th century (NASA/GISS).
    4. Contrary arguments, by a handful of climate change denialists, are unreferenced or derived by deceptive alteration of scientific data.
    5. Garnaut Review.
    6. White Paper/CPRS
    7. Copenhagen Synthesis Report
    8. Hansen et al. 2008. Target CO2: Where Should humanity aim?
    9. Lenton et al., 2008. Tipping points in the Earth climate system.

    Andrew Glikson
    Earth and paleoclimate scientist

  7. robbi64

    Georgina – can I just share something with you? As I knew in 1985 that it was fairly likely our world would be custard within my lifetime, you might be interested to know why I decided to have children anyway?

    While the disaster scenarios you envisage are not beyond possibility, they are not likely to be worldwide and there is every chance small pockets of humanity will be able to survive the changes. At the heart of us, we are an adaptive species, and as long as we’ve had suitable education, we can cope with very primitive conditions, and even thrive in them.

    Yet, here I was, surrounded by all these incredibly smart thinking people, who were not having children in droves. Was I really assisting those future miserable human beings, by not reproducing and educating my own offspring into having the kind of insight I also did? Who was going to look after all our precious knowledge? Who would apply the lessons learned from the past, if we smart people did not have sprogs and raise them to replace us?

    Sure, I wrestled with myself over this, and seriously did ask the question whether humanity deserved to survive. Because I’m a big softie, I decided “yes, even though most are not very nice, really, but they’re fun and clever and all that good stuff too “. So I’ve had three kids, and raised them against all odds, to think and question and generally be pests to climate change deniers. No, they’re not entirely happy about the timing, but they’d rather be in it than not!

    One thing I’ve learned since 1985: it really is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Loving other people is a big risk to take, but so is changing to renewable energy.

  8. Andrew


    I wish the suggestion the Earth is coooling was correct.

    The superposition of the greenhouse forcing effect, the ENSO cycle and the 11 years-long sunspot cycle, results in a zig-zag overall upward trend, with a mean T rise of +0.8C since 1750, a further +0.5C rise masked by the sulphur aerosol effect, and yet unspecified rise due to Arctic Sea ice melt with its albedo loss and infrared absorption feedback effects.

    For a science-based discussion read “Is the climate warming or cooling” by Easterling et al. 2009 ( GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 36, L08706, doi:10.1029/2009GL037810), where the abstract reads:

    “Numerous websites, blogs and articles in the media have claimed that the climate is no longer warming, and is now cooling. Here we show that periods of no trend or even cooling of the globally averaged surface air temperature are found in the last 34 years of the observed record, and in climate model simulations of the 20th and 21st century forced with increasing greenhouse gases. We show that the climate over the 21st century can and likely will produce
    periods of a decade or two where the globally averaged surface air temperature shows no trend or even slight cooling in the presence of longer-term warming.”

    For those interested in reading the science, the trend plotted by Easterling et al. 2009 leads to 4 DEGREES WARMING through the 21st century and therefore climates the Earth did not experience for about 15 million years (mid-Miocene), i.e. before humans appeared on the planet.

    However, it is clear from many of the comments above that there are those who essentially do not accept the scientific method and see the climate change issue as an opporutnity to vent their resentment toward science and scientists by accusing them of dishonesty, often using ad-hominem.

    This calls for two questions:

    (1) Have these people read basic climatology text books ? If so they should be able to understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WEATHER AND THE CLIMATE, between decade-scale trends and annual or multi-annual variations.

    (2) In so far as they have not read the essential and up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific literature, have they taken into account the possibility they may be mistaken and thereby the consequences for the young and future generations of the continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for carbon gases?

    Andrew Glikson

  9. Andrew


    For thouse interested in climate science projections, the recent Oxford conference will be of interest, as in quotes from a recent article by Stephen Leahy (10.10.09)

    “Eighteen months ago, no one dared imagine humanity pushing the climate beyond an additional two degrees C of heating, but rising carbon emissions and inability to agree on cuts has meant science must now consider the previously unthinkable. “Two degrees C is already gone as a target,” said Chris West of the University of Oxford’s UK Climate Impacts Programme. “Four degrees C is definitely possible…This is the biggest challenge in our history,” West told participants at the “4 Degrees and Beyond, International Climate Science Conference” at the University of Oxford last week. A four-degree C overall increase means a world where temperatures will be two degrees warmer in some places, 12 degrees and more in others, making them uninhabitable. It is a world with a one- to two-metre sea level rise by 2100, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. This will head to 12 metres in the coming centuries as the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets melt, according to papers presented at the conference in Oxford. Four degrees of warming would be hotter than any time in the last 30 million years, and it could happen as soon as 2060 to 2070. “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless,” John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told the conference. Schellnhuber recently briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration, but he says they chided him that his findings were “not grounded in political reality” and that “the [U.S.] Senate will never agree to this”. He had told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C. China’s emissions must peak by 2020 and then go to zero by 2035 based on the current science, he added. “Policymakers who agreed to a two-degree C goal at the G20 summit easily fool themselves about what emission cuts are needed,” Schellnhuber said. Even with a two-degree rise, most of the world’s coral reefs will be lost, large portions of the ocean will become dead zones, mountain glaciers will largely vanish and many other ecosystems will be at risk, Schellnhuber warned. And there is the risk of reaching a tipping point where the warming rapidly accelerates. The planet has already warmed 0.74 C over the past century and the warming is now increasing at a rate of 0.16 C per decade, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report. With 2008 emissions at the very top end of the IPCC’s worst case estimates, it is time to look at what that may mean for the planet, said Richard Betts of the Climate Impacts research team at the Met Office Hadley Centre in London. Continuing on the current high emissions path means average global temperatures would increase by 4.0 to 5.6 degrees by 2090. Brazil, much of Canada, parts of the U.S., Siberia and Central Europe would be eight degrees warmer than in the past 50 years, computer models show. Rainfall in the north will increase but wet tropics will become 20 percent drier. The models are based on human emissions alone, and do not include heat-amplifying feedbacks from melting ice or changes in carbon sinks. When those are factored in, it moves the timetable forward so that “reaching four degrees by 2060 is a plausible, worst-case scenario” with the median being 2070. By 2100, 5.5 degrees is possible, he said. Few places would experience the global average temperature, Betts cautioned, noting that the computer models show the Arctic warming 15 degrees while many other regions of the world would experience 10 degrees of additional warming. These scenarios do not include potential tipping points like the release of the 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon in northern permafrost or the melting of undersea methane hydrates. What would the world look like when it is four degrees warmer? It will likely mean one to two billion people will not have access to adequate fresh water because of the major shift in rainfall patterns, said Nigel Arnell, director of the Walker Institute for Climate Systems Research at the University of Reading in Britain. Up to 15 percent of existing or potential cropland – and 40 percent in Africa – will become too dry and too hot for food production. While there might be some gains in northern areas like Canada and Russia, generally the soils there are not suitable for crops, he said. Flooding will affect at least 500 million people because sea levels will rise more than one metre by 2100. The somewhat contentious issue of future sea level rise has been resolved with a new omputer model that almost perfectly matches the historical changes in sea level since 1880, reported oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The new model projects sea level rise by 1.2 to 1.9 metres from 1990 levels by 2100, said Rahmstorf. “We’re expecting a really big sea level rise in the longer run,” he said.”

    Andrew Glikson

  10. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    I am a rational person with a scientific bent.

    If someone told me that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden, I would be highly skeptical.

    If they told me they were still there, I would go and have a look (of course expecting to see nothing).

    If, to my surprise, I did see fairies, I would accept this evidence and agree that there were what looked like fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    But I would still be highly skeptical that they were real fairies and not some fancy audio-visual trick or other explanation.

    But, if I was able to do further ‘experiments’ (perhaps talk to and hold one of the fairies), and I eventually had to rule out all other explanations that I could think of, I would admit that, yes, it seemed that there really were fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    If, on the other hand, when told that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden I just denied the possibility, and refused to take a look, and ignored all the media fuss and scientific study that followed, and took comfort from the words of a scientist or two who also refused to look at the evidence and said that fairies were impossible, then I would not be a skeptic, but a denier.

    In all the comments posted on Crikey in the last few days related to climate change I have not read one comment from a climate change skeptic.

    Everyone who has questioned climate change has taken comfort from something they have heard, and looked no further. They have not looked at the evidence of the majority of the worlds scientists, and they have not even done a quick internet search to find out why the consensus science disagrees with their reason for dismissing climate change.

    What evidence would it take to make me believe in fairies? A lot. But if the evidence was there then I would eventually believe.

    What more evidence would it take for a climate change denier to believe in climate change? (Please post some answers!)

    Perhaps climate change deniers should be honest and admit to us (and themselves) that they believe climate change is a load of rubbish just because they don’t like the idea and its consequences.

  11. Julius

    @Andrew Glikson

    As you are, by avocation (?) a “palaeoclimate scientist” would you care to give an explanation of the such major climate changes in the past as the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods and following Little Ice Age(s), the drying out of the Sahara and collapse of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (while there was, was there not? an ice age in Northern Europe), the collapse of the first Indus civilisation, the drying up of the Great Lakes? Clearly none had anything to do with AGW.

    When the oceans have a mass 300 times that of the atmosphere and much greater specific heat as well AND they have been like that and had huge gravitational forces acting on them in a cyclical way for thousands of years, doesn’t it strike you as intuitively more likely that a major climatic effect results from such huge forces than comparatively modest changes to atmospheric composition. The best logical answer I could anticipate you is that we now have something extra, unknown in the Holocene hitherto, and that the feedback effects from evaporation of ocean surface water then falling as rain and giving up latent heat to the atmosphere are sufficiently known and proven to be a reliable reason for predicting disaster if the world’s people don’t change their ways. But, given the known scale of climate changes in the past, such as those I have referred to, and the fact that they have to be explained by SOME large forces which don’t include AGW, do you accept that you need to be particularly sure of the evidence on those feedback effects before you can deny that old causes are still the one’s that count for the 21st century? No doubt you are aware that the very distinguished and experienced climate scientist William Kininmonth has written that the IPCC’s parameters for the poleward transmission of the heat energy given up as the latent heat of condensation (into rain) are a long way out. Do you have a comment on that?

    And what do you say to the work of Dr Ian Wilson on long cycles of gravitational forces (of which I can cite the peer-reviewed paper on the influence of the Jovian planets on the sun http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/138/paper/AS06018.htm – since the publication of which he has done much more work on cycles depending on the sun and mood) and of Dr Tom Quirk, a particle physicist who has given reason for questioning the sources of increased CO2 in the late 20th century atmosphere (see, amongst his publications http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/mscp/ene/2009/00000020/F0020001/art00009

    Sources and Sinks of Carbon Dioxide
    Author: Quirk, Tom

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 105-121(17)

    Have a look too at earlier work presented to the Lavoisier Group at http://www.lavoisier.com.au/articles/greenhouse-science/climate-change/Quirk2007.pdf

    If you are interested in the wider implications of Ian Wilson’s work have a look at this too:

    Can We Predict the Next Indian Mega-Famine?
    Author: Wilson, Ian R.G.

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 11-24(14)


  12. Altakoi

    Re ROBBI64

    Yes, that is my belief. It is a polite convention in our society to pretend that people are rational, and that their actions are informed by their intellect, not by their deepest convictions, prejudices or fears. Of course, if you actually look at our politics, you can see how thinly rationality runs.

    I believe that if there was a simple, easy solution to climate change – say magical star trek antimatter reactors – then there would be no argument against decarbonising the economy. More importantly, the intellectual squabbling over the ‘evidence’ simply would not occur, because no-one would be threatened enough to bother.

    Its the same with creationists; one could mount just as good a theological justification for intelligent gravity – the theory that things fall down because God makes them – as for intelligent design. But strangely, no-one protests against meetings of aeronautical engineers or tries to holiday on biblical aircraft because there is no threat in a scientific understanding of gravity.

    The problem with climate change is one of actions, and all the scientific denial is just post-hoc justification for actions which do not reduce CO2 emissions. One can’t entirely blame people – its been a good ride, the industrial world has benefited hugely, and it seems a bit unfair that the ecology is calling time out. If I hold anger for anything its the sheer wanton wastefulness of our economy over the past 60 years. Ask yourself – did we get everything we could of out of these Co2 emissions or was a lot of the stuff we did really, when all is said and done, pretty unnecessary or downright awful. We could have gotten another century out of the carbon age if we had just insulated homes, designed cities with PT, not bought cars on the basis of p-enis size and decided not to be so fat. But there you have it.

    The reason I point out that we all have a deep emotional vested interest in business as usual is simply to point out the absurdity of arguing that climate scientists are trying to change the economy just to get famous, important or their faces on the tellie. I expect the number of people who will prefer a post-carbon world to this one in rich countries is tiny – basically the hairy deep ecology crowd. But I expect the number of people who will prefer the world at 500ppm Co2 to a post-carbon world is zero.

    And yes, the dissonance does depend on whether you think you will be a winner or a loser. My support for decarbonising the economy largely stems from the “OS moment” which is, the longer we go one, the smaller the chance any of us have of being a winner. Once the glaciers in Asia melt, once the snow-pack in the US fails and once there is a permenant drought in Australia climate change is going to change very rapidly into a matter of food and international security (see Glyn Dyer – the climate wars) and no-one is getting out of that scenario in one piece. You think we have population problems, or refugee problems now? try it when entire countries starts submerging and/or disintegrate into failed states.

    So although I believe the rational science is on my side, my support also is informed by a healthy – emotive even if rational – fear of the consequences of getting this wrong. I have no time for people who want to wring the last few moments out of the carbon age because its not an option I have, hence my view that it also depends a lot on how old you are.

  13. Andrew

    Response to Julius .

    Answers to your questions are mainly contained in the publications and reviews below, written by leading authorities in the field. Should you have specific questions, I will be pleased to elaborate.

    (1) The IPCC Chapter # 6 – Paleoclimate
    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter6.pdf contains a summary of paleoclimate observations based on the up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific literature, prepared by some of the best authorities in the field (listed below)

    (2) I also recommend Hansen and other leading US paleoclimate scientists, 2008: “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? (James Hansen,Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer and James C. Zachos)

    (3) My own paper “Milstones in the evolution of the atmosphere with reference to climate change” (AJES 2008) is available on the internet.http://www.zeroemissionnetwork.org/files/MILESTONES_19-6-07.pdf

    IPCC Chapter 6 – Paleoclimate
    Coordinating Lead Authors:
    Eystein Jansen (Norway), Jonathan Overpeck (USA)
    Lead Authors:
    Keith R. Briffa (UK), Jean-Claude Duplessy (France), Fortunat Joos (Switzerland), Valérie Masson-Delmotte (France), Daniel Olago (Kenya),
    Bette Otto-Bliesner (USA), W. Richard Peltier (Canada), Stefan Rahmstorf (Germany), Rengaswamy Ramesh (India),
    Dominique Raynaud (France), David Rind (USA), Olga Solomina (Russian Federation), Ricardo Villalba (Argentina), De’er Zhang (China)
    Contributing Authors:
    J.-M. Barnola (France), E. Bauer (Germany), E. Brady (USA), M. Chandler (USA), J. Cole (USA), E. Cook (USA), E. Cortijo (France),
    T. Dokken (Norway), D. Fleitmann (Switzerland, Germany), M. Kageyama (France), M. Khodri (France), L. Labeyrie (France),
    A. Laine (France), A. Levermann (Germany), Ø. Lie (Norway), M.-F. Loutre (Belgium), K. Matsumoto (USA), E. Monnin (Switzerland),
    E. Mosley-Thompson (USA), D. Muhs (USA), R. Muscheler (USA), T. Osborn (UK), Ø. Paasche (Norway), F. Parrenin (France),
    G.-K. Plattner (Switzerland), H. Pollack (USA), R. Spahni (Switzerland), L.D. Stott (USA), L. Thompson (USA), C. Waelbroeck (France),
    G. Wiles (USA), J. Zachos (USA), G. Zhengteng (China)
    Review Editors:
    Jean Jouzel (France), John Mitchell (UK)
    This chapter should be cited as:
    Jansen, E., J. Overpeck, K.R. Briffa, J.-C. Duplessy, F. Joos, V. Masson-Delmotte, D. Olago, B. Otto-Bliesner, W.R. Peltier, S. Rahmstorf,
    R. Ramesh, D. Raynaud, D. Rind, O. Solomina, R. Villalba and D. Zhang, 2007: Palaeoclimate. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical
    Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press,
    Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

  14. Julius

    Evan Beaver

    Why do you bother? If you want to be a nitpicker who says nothing about the

    substance you need to protect yourself with sound logic and a knowledge of relevant

    facts. You may or may not have some knowledge of applied science but you certainly

    don’t know or have forgotten much about the history of science and the history of

    scientific discovery in particular. Whether or not you subscribe to the ideas of

    Lakatos, Kuhn et al. about sudden leaps towards paradigm shifts you ought to know

    and acknowledge that intuition has always been a major part of scientific

    discovery and advance.

    That is not the main point here, however, because your nit picking fails as logic.

    In your example about the non-intuitive nature of some knowledge of quantum physics

    you assert correctly that saying that the non intuitive character of A is not proof

    that A is wrong but that doesn’t get you far if the case to be examined is whether

    there are alternatives to A. Apart from anything else you fail to see that

    inviting the reader to use his intuition as to what was “likely” was a way of

    drawing attention to the prima facie plausible case for considering whether huge

    forces acting on oceanic masses (300 times the mass of the atmosphere) might be

    better for explaining great climatic changes of the past that are clearly not the

    product of AGW – with the corollary that, if they do offer plausible explanation,

    their place in the explanation of recent and current changes should be closely


  15. Julius

    ….which would be making the oceans swirl against rough ocean floor and coast line with potential to generate a lot of heat because I can conceive of a globe being swung on a string about one’s head within which globe there were physical elements which interacted to generate energy because of the centrifugal motion of the global object. One trouble with that seems to be that such gravity induced energy would cause the oceans to warm up, would it not?

    Clearly it is possible that great climatic changes of the past may be shown to be regional and/or caused by factors which cannot be repeated in less than many millenia (e.g. the final collapse of massive glaciers after an Ice Age has essentially come to its sudden end) and, to the extent that past events can be explained well enough to ensure that they do not contribute to doubts about modeling which is focused on the current climate and CO2, the key questions would appear to be whether the feedback effects that are needed to explain why increased CO2 emissions are dangerous are correctly modeled.

    So, as well as inviting more specific answers to the questions I have raised above, I would be very interested to know whether, for example, you disagree with William Kininmonth that the IPCC models have used parameters for poleward transport of energy which are way out and whether, apart from faith in IPCC authority, you can say why.

    As I write this I can sympathise with the intuition that, if CO2 emissions have been rising to well above pre-Industrial Revolution levels from unprecedented human action and there has been a worrying rise in global temperatures (even if the worries are only because of unusual but well known temporary events such as droughts or whatever caused people in the 1950s to blame weather events on nuclear tests) it is worth taking very seriously the possibility that some virtually irreversible harm will be done if we don’t curb emissions or counter the effects but that does not make me lose perspective on the way intelligent people can line up to enforce dogma for reasons which are more psychological or sociological than rationally scientific. It is silly to suggest, as some comment above did, that those who are sceptical about some scientists’ motivation and its effect on their published work are suggesting that the scientist might want to see the feared changes come about. But, given that it is easy to rationalise conducting studies, and asking for money to fund them, that will tie up all loose ends in a field of such potential importance to mankind, and given the way career paths are structured, why would you disbelieve those scientists who tell you they can’t get funding for their less AGW committed approaches to climate change and conclude that, since most people prefer gravy on their tough meat the gravy train is attractive. And they would be no worse surely than theologians (the brightest and best educated of their generations studying the most important of subjects for the welfare of mankind) who did their best of enforce orthodoxy for the good of mankind and their careers though we now think there intelligence was radically misused.

  16. Julius

    Andrew: on the other hand I come across articles like this which seem to be saying that minor changes in the albedo of the earth caused by fluctuations in cloud formation can explain recent warming (over-determined one might think as there is increasing CO2 and supposedly increasing water vapour greenhouse effect as a result plus the natural continuation of the warming since the last Ice Age and also the (last) Little Ice Age). Have you any comment or any specific link to comment?

    Earth’s Radiative Equilibrium in the Solar Irradiance
    Author: Hertzberg, Martin

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 85-95(11)

    The average equilibrium temperature for all the Earth’s entities involved in its radiative balance with the Sun and Space, is given by:

    T(e)[K] = 278.9[(1 − α)/ε]

    The controlling factor is the ratio of the absorptivity, a = (1 − α), to the emissivity, ε. The quantity α is the Earth’s albedo. It is shown that relatively modest changes of only a few percent in α, brought about by variations in cloudiness, are sufficient to account for the observed 20th Century variations in Earth’s measured temperature, provided that such variations in cloudiness can cause an imbalance in the ratio (1 − α)/ε. The analysis suggests that in the long run, the absorptivity to emissivity ratio is near unity, as required by Kirchhoff’s radiation law, which ensures a moderate average temperature of about 5.7 C for the Earth’s surface entities. That calculated temperature is in fair agreement with the observed average temperature of those entities, whose mass average is dominated by the mass of the oceans. Except for the influence of clouds on the albedo, no assumptions are needed regarding the detailed composition of the atmosphere in order to explain the observed small fluctuations in the 20th Century temperatures or the larger, longer-term variations of Glacial Coolings and Interglacial Warmings.
    Document Type: Research article

    DOI: 10.1260/095830509787689295

  17. Julius

    PS. When you consider what a struggle the followers of Jesus had to establish his minority view that God loved us (obviously ridiculous we can now see and held to be so by the great and good of his time) rather than being above-all judgmental and demanding, or merely numerous – not to say two or more faced if one were inclined not to be too ethnocentric, and that now we can see the passions of these highly intelligent, eloquent and ethically serious men as rather absurd, does it not make one wonder about the psychology of fervent belief in disastrous AGW as much as about the mental processes of sceptics and deniers?

    I don’t mind people with nodding acquaintance with science like Michael Wilbur-Ham getting serious about a serious subject. After all one could hardly be a public person in Melbourne without not only choosing an AFL team to support, preferably by accepting its No. 1 membership, but occasionally showing signs of enthusiastic support. I can even accept that enthusiasts might not feel obliged to do the study and develop their critical faculties for forming their own views on the output of the small minority of the world’s scientists, though a majority (for what that is worth cf. Marshall and Warren’s Nobel Prize for demolishing the consensus on ulcers) of those doing research as climate scientists, but what about applying some sensible economic analysis, with the only serious mathematics coming in if you want to apply the late great Frank Plumpton Ramsey’s work (and that of his epigones) on the appropriate discounting of the future? It certainly raises questions of how much one wants to do for one’s great-grandchildren, for the fertile multitudes in poor countries where people speak languages we don’t and believe in religions that are not ours, and so on, but it doesn’t stop us wanting to know whether spending money (if only by making everything we do much more expensive and de facto and real taxes higher) on CO2 abatement will make us better or worse off when we want to build the latest and best power plant, help the Bangladeshis or build the sea walls at Coogee (a metre or so should get us through to the next century).

  18. Altakoi

    Probably sound advice.

    Julius (?MPM).

    The semantic argument that everyone believes in climate change because everyone knows the climate is always changing is just denialist 101. “Climate Change” might be as unfortunate a term as “Global warming” but what everyone knows is the point of the debate is whether humans are causing it and, if so, what to do about it. If it helps you, think of it as “Fall of industrial civilisation causing climate change” before you let free with theories about how this is all perfectly normal, because thats what we are all talking about.

    The second argument from the denialists handy book of strategies is to argue that dissenters have changed the paradigm of science before and so, by the very fact of not agreeing with the scientific consensus, those who do not believe AGW is a problem are the prophets of a new scientific consensus. To break a scientific consensus, like proving H Pylori causes stomach ulcers, you need evidence for what you are proposing – not just a refusal to accept what other peoples results support. If anyone, anywhere can come up with a plausible reason why CO2 at 500 ppm+ is not harmful I, for one, am happy to hear it.

    The usual objection to this is the feeble “you can’t prove a negative’. That is true but, as I have been trying to point out, the opposite of AGW is not the negative proposition “anti-climate change’ but a positive assertion that continued change is not harmful. It is as open to scientific proof is is the proposition that continuing to increase CO2 is harmful.

    At which point denialists often refer to the fact that all science is eventually proven wrong although they don’t exactly know why at this point, although the reference to Jesus an example of this bewilders me. My understanding is that the early Christians managed to prevail by converting the Roman emperor and so getting with the power, which they abused for the next 1500 years to the great detriment of nacent scientific enquiry, but they might have been a plucky band of heros as described.

    In any case, most science is not eventually proven wrong in the sense that it is 180 degrees diametrically at odds with new theory. Einstein did not prove Newton wrong – gravity really does make things move pretty much as Newton said – he just refined the description of the phenomenon. Ditto genetics and evolution, etc. So it is possible that the science of AGW will be proven wrong in some specific like, for example, we have 50 years rather than 20 years but it is very unlikely it will be proven wrong in the general conclusion that we have little time. And these small differences make almost no difference to our decisions at this point about whether to act – its not like we appear in danger of going overboard with reductions.

    So under all the verbiage about science, is a refusal to accept the real scientific challange of the skeptical position. Find a plausible theory, and back it with observations (no cheating with made up graphs like Heaven and Earth now) which support the contention that doubling or tripling the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will result in a climate much like the one which has supported human civilisation.

  19. Julius

    Michael Wilbur-Ham, you misrepresent my references to Tom Quirk’s interesting (peer reviewed) paper on the sources of CO2 which, despite your urging those with heretical but, in your opinion, unfounded views to search the Internet, you presumably have not bothered to read, though I have given the link to it, and my references to gravity which you would understand better if you followed up on Dr Ian Wilson’s work.

    As already indicated (adequately I think) I am particularly open to some serious response on the relative magnitude of solar and gravitational inputs to Earth’s energy balance or imbalance. I have not found that on the Internet even with the help of Andrew Glikson’s references so far. Perhaps it is because the publications by Quirk and Wilson are both very recent as is the one about the significance of cloud to albedo most recently mentioned.

    “HOW ABOUT STERN AND GARNAUT?” is you response to my suggestion that you AS AN AUSTRALIAN CONCERNED WITH AUSTRALIA’S INTERESTS (th0ugh I may not have rammed that part of it home) should offer some sensible economic analysis. As to Stern I say his work doesn’t apply to Australia unless there is a global agreement which won’t happen and, anyway it is flawed in ways demonstrated by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta in material easily found online. Appropriately Dasgupta is the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Economics at Cambridge. One of Ramsey’s pathbreaking papers (part of the reason Keynes quoted with approval another’s description of Ramsey and as “one of the chief intellectual glories of Cambridge” when he died aged 26) dealt inter alia with the proper discount rate for maximising future utility. It was, I think, ” A mathematical theory of saving” published in the Economic Journal in 1926 and, admittedly, proposed a zero discount rate for some purposes as I remember it. However I now remember that Dasgupta points out that the Stern Review implies a quite ridiculous saving (therefore non-consumption) rate for the current generation of relatively poor people. Have a look. Me, I have problems with Ramsey’s and Stern’s high-minded minimal discount rate especially when coupled with low estimates of technological progress.

    Garnaut was hamstrung by his terms of reference actual and perhaps implied. He has had to take his views of the science as given to him (fair enough if he was willing to take on the job for Rudd) and has had to assume that Australia will and should behave as Rudd pretends it will. There was no way he could say that Australia would maximise utility by simply burning, efficiently, and exporting as much coal as possible and having exactly as much to do with renewables like wind and solar as we do with nuclear, namely research, acquiring capability and no action until it is clear that Australia should take some other course because of international agreement that is actually going to be enforced, technology or whatever.

    One more thing. I see that you say “The reality is that most who are worried about climate change HAVE heard everything the deniers come up with, and they have looked at the rebuttals and so know why the deniers claim is wrong.” Obviously not literally true, not the “everything” nor the “most who are worried…. have looked at the rebuttals”. That’s just rhetorical wind isn’t it. It would obviously have to be easy for people to research and understand the alleged rebuttals if even many people were likely to do it – and you clearly haven’t bothered so who are these paragons that you put us as “most who are worried…”

  20. Julius

    Altakoi. From one preferring-to-be-civil-and-careful pseudonym to another: I think your enterprise of deconstructing the arguments of those that deny that AGW is significant (including those who deny that it is occurring at all) is well worthwhile although I would point out that there are people like Dr Tom Quirk, a respected particle physicist at Oxford and Chicago before returning to Australia and a business career with CRA (as I think it then was) and now with no vested interest in anything but the truth would give you pause if you considered the point he has made in a paper which I believe has not been published in a peer reviewed journal but given at a conference, namely that the degrees of uncertainty shown in the IPCC reports for various positive and negative forcing elements (I trust my ad hoc terminology is clear enough) are such as to make it impossible to satisfy the kinds of tests of confidence that any rational decision maker would require (again I approximate the words used and it may be that his criteria were expressed in terms of what would have been acceptable for experimental results in his physics laboratory; I don’t think it was business investment criteria he was referring to).

    As perhaps sufficiently indicated I think anyone serious about questioning the majority view of those contributing to IPCC reports (or is “consensus” a better word than “majority” because it hides or obscures dissent?) needs to focus on the positive feedback phenomenon or phenomena as doubling CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t on the face of it, given its logarithmic character, a sufficient forcing factor (half a degree in 50 years is, I think, William Kininmonth’s calculated figure). Equally that is the area of potential weakness in the “alarmist” case . At the same time the question whether the gravitational forces of sun and moon acting according to various cycles on the massive oceans which not only provide 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface (which is perhaps most relevant to feedback effects) and 300 times the mass of the atmosphere (over 1200 times the heat absorbing capacity) are major contemporary factors at least needs a definitive answer.

    To those who enjoy the certainties that go with wanting to deny discussion to sceptics I apologise if I have given the impression of advancing my thinking on the subject in the course of preparing to comment. I have done that. For those who simply wanted to follow up on Clive Hamilton’s pop-psych themes and ignore everything of substance, tough, I don’t think I would want to be at your dinner parties.

  21. Julius

    I apologise to Evan Beaver and Michael Wilbur-Ham in particular for the long sentences and under use of paragraph breaks. Believe it or not I used to enjoy Hemingway and Tacitus, though a bit terse, was my favourite Latin author. Still, think what it would have been like waiting and waiting in German even to find out what tense was being used and, in Latin without even punctuation.

    Discourteous I’m afraid to make it hard reading instead of getting the sub-editor’s pen out to allow comprehension in two passes instead of three (good for anyone who gets anything serious on this blog comprehensively at first reading).

    I don’t think you, Michael are willing to do the “hard yards” as Costello used to say (too often). You really are an adherent of the Church Green with a willingness to tackle the hard questions rigorously of a comfortable Anglican vestryman who hears from his nephew when visiting the village that some quite sophisticated people don’t think that God is very amiable and even may not exist. Easier to belong and join in the choir’s singing the good old sectarian songs. Why not join a serious party and work from the inside? Mind you you would find some pretty tough climate change sceptics to cross examine you in the ALP, many with a hotline to Hawke’s great finance minister Peter Walsh who has been president of the Lavoisier Group.

    ROBBI64 I guess to be born in 1964 because I have heard much of your lines on matters psychological from baby boomers born from about 1949 to 1964 always showing immense interest in the right words to apply to others’ emotions and very little capacity to read them. I’m afraid I was born before “self-esteem” was invented so enjoyed the demolition job done on Freudians by the likes of Eysenck in the 50s (and many since) and discovered CGT for myself like any reasonably balanced sufficiently intelligent person. So I don’t do negative emotions. Anger is something one should regard as another displaying their weakness to you. If you want to know I am engaging in a displacement activity when I should be doing some things of real advantage to myself and my excuses are (a) I like getting my thoughts straight (and I apologise for not making the result easy to read) and (b) I long ago learned that the most effective persuasion was to get the other person’s brain on to the path where it would lead itself to a useful, even correct, conclusion. Mind you I should have tried harder to make sure I was inserting fertile seeds into suitably receptive minds if I was to persuade anyone that I was making a serious effort to help others to acquire knowledge or understand a train of reasoning which would be of benefit to them as thinkers or as citizens. So, I am sorry if I have done nothing more than decide where next to put the hard word on sceptical friends….

  22. Will Jones

    Well Julius got one thing right. He ought to have edited himself.

    And its doubly insulting when he has a go at those he obviously thinks are sloppy thinkers and rubs that in by being almost complimentary to Andrew and Altakoi [BTW do I detect some and what organic chemistry connection in that pseudonym?].

    I always like treating Andrew (Glikson) as a source of useful links even if he does set rather a lot of homework for us to do all by ourselves but have only just got back to this thread after coming home early to find out what you lucky retired codgers with time to think and write have to say. But I am sorry to find that Michael W-H is taking his bat and ball home without giving evidence of his prowess in finding out about climate science from the New Scientist or his willingness to do the online research he rightly encourages others to do if they disagree with something solidly based.

    I don’t know if Julius has really done any serious research but he has produced a few links which I have looked at but not mastered and they do seem solid enough (if only just) to deserve more than a “I’m sure you would find answers that I would like if you tried and I’m not going to read you any more for personal reasons”.

    Think of the rest of us Michael who haven’t even got your advantages in understanding science but do know that there are thousands of scientists who don’t share the consensus/majority view as conveyed by IPCC summaries even if they are not in the business of climate science but merely one step up from most of the intelligent contributors to blogs like this in actually practising the scientific method as their vocation.

    So, please have a go at whatever it is Julius seems to have turned up on, which includes, from a quick skim, gravitational effects involving sun and moon and I think one of is references includes the Jovian planets, the oceanic or fossil fuel sources of CO2, what was happening globally when huge regional changes occurred since the Holocene began (that is partly my gloss on what seems to matter), the importance of cloud formation to albedo and its consequences over many millenia, positive feedback calculations that it is common ground are critical to the human caused global warming thesis, the balance of oceanic forces moved by gravity and atmospheric events moved by insolation, the new stuff suggesting the Hockey Stick remains the Achilles Heel for the consensus scientists, rather like the allegations that denialist Fred (?) Singer is into defending everything indefensible like tobacco and asbestos and whatever else is to say the least unfasionable.

    I suspect that Julius is one of three v. clever polymaths (or near it: can anyone really qualify these days any more than Renaissance Man is a description that really fits anyone?) that I have in mind. One, whom I don’t know, is reputed to be capable of being a malicious sh1t. One is a bit of a bore. One is an amusing light-hearted teaser. Which are you Julius? The last I hope – or the mystery man – or woman?

  23. robbi64

    Hi Julius. Behaviouralism has been largely pushed aside, because it really wasn’t helping. Freud made so many breakthroughs in thought, it is a real shame he left himself so exposed to ridicule with silly stuff like penis envy. Eysenck continues to polarise the debates and his work on racial intelligence turned out to be somewhat dodgy. At least, I think it was Eysenck … I may be thinking of someone else … ?

    Self esteem? Recently outed as a furphy. That particular fashion may be the reason that 30% of American college students are now considered more narcissistic than any generation before them. That’s the result of being raised to consider yourself incapable of error. So now, we parents get encouraged to give soft course corrections with a sweet smile. That don’t work on my kids, so I have to be real tough sometimes, mate. 😉

    I’ll be daring, and take exception to the point Clive raises – it isn’t grief that is the issue. It’s existential terror. Most human beings will do almost anything to avoid feeling that, including get very intellectual, take up serious drinking, or sail a pink yacht around the planet. These are what I call “teapot impressions” – in honour of Tim Brooke Taylor and his version of panic.

    Negative emotions do have a role to play, and if you are avoiding feeling them, you might not be doing yourself a service. There are ways of expressing negative feelings without making other people the butt of them. That takes a concept called “emotional maturity” – pop-psych book was by Daniel Goleman.

    Anger is a secondary emotion i.e. there is another feeling that triggered it. You could call that feeling “weakness”, but we in psych prefer to call it “vunerability” because that makes it less difficult to grapple with. Many people disorganise in themselves if they think they are being considered “weak”. Interestingly they are then perceived as “weak” by the outside world, because they can’t get their thoughts organised. Did you realise that was why you are taking so much trouble to get your thinking straight?

    If you, Julius, think that someone who is feeling terrified of the consequences of contemplating the hypothesis of climate change, is weak … that’s not helping them learn anything, and doesn’t advance your argument either. So I’d offer that you’d do better with your argument if you were to try on their skin before you judged them? And cut back those sentences too, thank you so much for your understanding there, because I really do want to know what you have to share – but I don’t have time to take up another specialisation.

    GEORGINA – can I make your day some more? My baby comes to campus with me as she is an “attached” child. I take her to lectures and tutorials every week in a sling. She has proved very well behaved, and broadly accepted. She isn’t sooky because she’s close to me all the time, so that’s what made it do-able. And the other students proved incredibly helpful with managing books and bags and bubbas.

    I had to learn to breastfeed discreetly though, and also took up A5 notebooks because I can’t use the tables properly. You gotta be super organised and have a well established support network though – make sure you’ve got that before you start with the fun bits. 🙂

    Excellent point there you raise about the feeling that lies beneath it all. You’re 100% correct. Feel it. Know it. Take it on. Because that feeling is what our kids are going to feel the day they run out of fossil fuels and discover that their parents made no concrete plans for what they do after that. If we’ve never dealt with our own terror, we can’t show them how it’s done.

  24. Julius

    Good stuff Roger Clifton. I think you might be one of those realists who are not too pious to consider how those equipped to become the great and good (not of course very good for the most part) may behave under pressure in our post Christian age. John Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance scheme of requiring us to make and honour rules that depend on our not knowing what our position in society will be overlooks the certainty that many would, inspired by Nietsche perhaps, or a version of his ideas, opt for ruthless competition and the-devil-take-the-hindmost (and a lot of others).

    We really are a soft lot compared with every generation of every people up to 100 years ago. The rate of recent change only emphasises how wrong we would be to ignore the adaptability of some of our not so distant cousins to circumstances close to the EEA, with destructive modern technology added. Consider how the rough tough USA suffers such anguish over casualties in Iraq which are a tenth of those suffered in Vietnam. Consider how every Australian casualty is dealt with in a country of 22 million people which put up with 70,000 young men being killed out of a population of about 5 million in WW1.

    If the would be principles and certainly legalistic governments of First World Israel can launch savage attacks which inevitable result in a large number of civilian casualties without apology how much further will demagogues lead their sheep away from turning the other cheek when there is serious competition for resources and a zero-sum game is the only one?

  25. Julius

    ROBBI64 you sound like a much nicer person than some of my relations are when enthused with their reading of psychology, amateurs all of course, but ready to throw about some amazingly eclectic jargon from books that, regrettably, I have often given them. Mind you the urbane George Vaillant certainly beats a serial in the Ladies Home Journal for a good read with human interest and some of the Cognitive Behavioural case studies are quite stimulating to a part of the brain that often needs work.

    I’m afraid you have to put me in the category of people who amuse themselves on blogs rather than express any serious emotion. I didn’t set out to sort out my thoughts in the course of contributing comments but it is a by-product which has kept me going; in addition to the simple aspect of displacement activity (I can excuse myself listening to the Health Report as a priority when it has something more interesting that preparing for lodging a tax return so it doesn’t take much to tip the balance toward continued chatter) and a facility for touch typing makes it easy to respond to habit ingrained in childhood of replying when someone speaks. (Bad idea if one is inclined to listen carefully enough to notice that a bad argument is being put and respond accordingly. Amazing that one could be married for decades with that habit). I am not sure which negative emotions you would commend. I have, as almost everyone has, known what it is like to be depressed in the everyday sense. but that is not something that I have experienced for over five years,even when the GFC was at its most threatening – well maybe for a few hours – and I see the actual feeling of anger as opposed to (hypothetically anyway) simulating its expression, as doing oneself no good. Expressing irritation occasionally I don’t count as anger.

    I don’t want to go on being boring about one’s innards so let me just add to your observation about “self esteem” (once called confidence was it not? But that was generally a good thing qualified by reference to someone being over-confident and, on the broader scale, full of himself). I have read – and verily believe as the affidavit might say – that the self-esteem of young prisoners in American gaols is remarkably high…..

  26. Will Jones

    Michael W-H I’m beginning to have just a smidgen of sympathy with Julius though I don’t think he is any of my three candidates and I don’t know what he knows about anything that isn’t on this blog.

    You have asked me what it would take to convince me that man-caused climate change was a problem. And you have assumed that there was something that ought to be done by me as an Australian (which I have been for a long time now) that one would regret not having done in say 15 years time. That does seem to suggest a rather grand broad brush approach consistent with your superior remarks about Julius’s scientific illiteracy which you merely state as fact.

    After all, there is a world of difference between climate change being a problem and its being such a disastrous problem that huge sacrifices have to be made by even the poorest of the current generation in a country which, on Clive Hamilton’s authority we can take it is going to have to cope with major climate change by adaptation. It is clear that spending money or reducing emissions (however it is spent, whether in paying more for power from renewables or buying credits from Indonesia or any other way) is money that is not available for adaptation to whatever happens regardless of Australia’s best efforts at keeping CO2 down.

    And that’s where I come in so to speak. I don’t know why you treat me as a sceptic. I am somewhat agnostic precisely because I don’t think that believing in any version of the IPCC science leads to any of the political parties’ attempts to keep happy the 80 plus per cent of voters who say that manmade global warming is a problem.

    Your earlier bit in reply to me worried me too, actually more. You say that Julius is scientifically illiterate but give not one jot of evidence. Actually, other than what you say about your background I don’t see the evidence that you are not scientifically illiterate. You may be qualified to assess his scientific literacy, but you haven’t given us any reason to believe that you have except to trust you as a gentleman. You may be right because he (or could it be she?) is evidently not one of the candidates I had in mind, but what about showing us the evidence?

    Julius has cited the work of clearly qualified scientists and/or mathematicians. What’s wrong with what he has linked or cited? If his errors are as elementary as you say surely there is something you could say to demolish his pretensions. To say that he moves from gravity to CO2 from the oceans (actually what a physicist wrote in what appears to be an elaborately researched article using the MODTRAN program at Chicago University) and on to another possible point. But why not? What is your logic? You actually say yourself that the IPCC’s work is a compilation of a lot of sub-specialties. If its conclusions are additive any error matters, if they are cumulative and sequentially dependant, an error could bring down the whole edifice. It is not obvious to me that raising a lot of possible issues still to be resolved is a less worthy effort than confining oneself to one.

    Perhaps I am getting infected with right-wing denialists’ tendency to see conspiracy, or just to see things through a cloud of suspicion of intellectuals, but I wonder, given your willingness to blog but unwillingness to give us any science whether you harbour a horrible suspicion that Julius,whom you are confident won’t out himself, is someone with at least doctorate in scientific research and perhaps is playing possum with a view to luring the unsuspecting into making fools of themselves so he can crunch them. No, mad. But your strange silence on the important facts of climate change science which were introduced early into this blog even if not by Clive and on which you have declared a position does make one wonder.

    The other main problem that I have with your earlier post is that you seem to think that scientists all relying on other good chaps to have done their work properly and to have wholly clear and credible products of their research is OK because tested by nature. With respect, that is both fanciful and illogical. Fanciful because science is also a field of fierce competition both for priority and to be the one to get things rightm or most nearly right. Illogical because, for reasons you articulate, testing by nature over the next 10 or 15 years just isn’t good enough. What is needed is vigorous wide-ranging testing of theories and data collections by scientists who are not mates getting funded from similar sources, offered tenure by like-minded friends and peer-reviewed by mates or others with a common interest in the work to be published.

    So, please Michael, step into the ring so that we can have some idea if Julius is scientifically illiterate. or you are, or both of you, or neither. Otherwise the ordinary rules of evidence will not count Julius as the one who failed to say what the occasion required or provide reasons for what he did say. And if you don’t care about that then why are you here?

  27. robbi64

    Hey Julius … psychology in the hands of an amateur is only too often used as a weapon, I”m sorry to say. Do you recall Eric Berne’s book in the year of my birth, “Games People Play”? He outed us for this habit then, but unfortunately, that pop-psych book didn’t penetrate too deeply.

    I know what you mean about the touch typing. It’s why I can indulge my verbosity too. Hello to my Cranky friend, she means well. And she’s right too, I shouldn’t be doing this, but I am passionate about humanity surviving itself, which she knows only too well.

    I commend all negative emotions, but I advise people to use their pre-frontal cortex as well and consider the consequences of a full act-out on a feral feeling. They can work very well together – release your very real negative tension and manage a situation successfully, all at the same time.

    Julius, forgive me for being forward, but you haven’t known real depression, I suspect. You’ve known sadness, anguish or despair, which are frequently mistaken for depression. Real depression is the absence of any feeling – it is the state of being frozen. Anger or irritation? Is just a matter of degree, really. They are levels of the same need to push a given situation away from you – you are just judicious about how much you will let yourself express. Very self disciplined, but possibly not the best thing for you.

    My goodness, the things you read, Julius. Yes, that’s true, about the young prisoners in the American prison system … they really think a lot of themselves over thar. 😉

    Have you acquainted yourself with Marx on alienation? I’ve only just read him. Gosh, he’s a grumpy old trout, but he wasn’t wrong. His suggestions on solutions is informed by his emotional state, however. Solutions almost always are: witness Iraq. 🙂

  28. Julius

    I was far too busy to read Eric Berne’s book at the time though it obviously seeped into the language as I can remember more than one occasion being told by different people that one of the things they liked about me was that I didn’t play games. Over the years of adult loss of innocence I have retained my dislike of the emotional phoniness involved in games-playing though learning to appreciate the predictability of some old acquaintances games or, sometimes,their self-mocking subtlety. Eventually I came to take a naughty glee in some successful uses of pre-thought game plans – perhaps a bit like an Aspergerish nerd taking pleasure in discovering that he had made someone smile.

    I am not sure whether you think it likely as you read me from afar but I don’t think that I am an open book to people, indeed I don’t think they have any but superficial ideas of what goes on behind a fairly pleasant manner, and the ability to say No Comment in 500 words. People treat me as if they like me well enough so that will do for me. It makes a hell of difference not even to have to think of what one can get out of someone for career or other important area of self-interest. Easier now to indulge a distinct dislike of letting people down even by failures to show appreciation that used to concern me more as I contemplated needing 36 hours in a day to keep up with what I wanted to do.

    As for depression you are of course quite right that I have never suffered the sort of depression which can ruin lives. But I do remember at times when I was feeling sufficiently low and lacking in drive or hope that I decided not even to take myself over to my old mother’s house when she would have welcomed more regular weekend visits.

    I am now an advocate of Second Childhood rather than, as some of my elderly friends seem to prefer, being a Cranky Old Man. Imagine being the sort of person who resigns from something because they are miffed, put out, or maybe someone doesn’t have a proper attitude to global warming or cooling as the case may be. Second Childhood it has been pointed out offers a return to no responsibility and someone to look after you. I joke of course. But I suppose I am one of the lucky people who, as with a child, can simply take pleasure in being fit and healthy and, given the family genes, a fair prospect of another 20 years or so with nicely functioning marbles (possibly to be supplemented by a pure maths degree when I am 75). About the time of your birth everyone believed (neural alarmists’ sll) that we got our quota of brain cells to a maximum at about age 22 and thereafter simply lost them, never to be replaced. Now, happily, we know that isn’t the full story by any means. (I got my best information about that from Elkhonon Goldberg’s “The Wisdom Paradox” for the gift of which I shall forgive one of the family’s amateur psychologists).

    As for Marx, I’m afraid I’m a bit light on and could certainly not explain Marx’s theory of alienation though “intuitively” one feels one knows what he was getting at when contemplating England’s “dark satanic mills” already evident to Blake before Marx was born. However, I do commend one of my favourite recent books, Francis Wheen’s “Karl Marx – a Life” or some such title. I had not idea that Marx wrote much of Das Kapital as a work of the imagination and that there is some splendid Swiftian satire in it as, for example, the explanation of how the criminal contributes to the economy by providing work for police, magistrates and lawyers. And much much more ab0ut Marx as bankrupt bourgeois proud of his aristocratic downtrodden wife and supported by his friend Engels (a hunting man in the shires up north) pinching cash from the branch of the family company that he ran in Manchester. Anything Francis Wheen writes is worth reading. Though, as one does with books that one really enjoys, I urge you to find time for A. N. Wilson’s “The Victorians”. Andrew Wilson is peculiarly fitted for knowing the Victorians because he is a drop out from taking Anglican Holy Orders and has also written about the way doubt and then apostasy arose in the Victorian era. I made the extraordinary if not ridiculous statement after I had read it one holiday a couple of years ago that it was the best book I had ever read. I am not tempted however by his “After the Victorians” because nobody could be so brilliant about two long periods of history and I suspected him of simply cashing in on the reputation of the former book, as well, probably, as giving vent to his prejudices about current affairs. Enough, more than enough.

  29. Michael Wilbur-Ham


    As most of your one line questions would take many lines to answer, I’ll just hit on a few key points in this reply.

    Garnaut etc have shown that the economic cost of taking full action on climate change is not extreme.

    It is a fact that I think Julius is scientifically illiterate. What others think is up to them. I do not care who he is, and whether or not he outs himself. And I’m not going to spend hours explaining science to him as I think that if he really wants to know it is easy to find a book or internet site with good information.

    As I said before, it is now politically certain we will move into a world where the predictions of climate change will be shown to be true or false. If science is the big conspiracy many seem to think that it is, it will not take too many years before nature and their predictions diverge. So truth will out.

    Many years ago, when I used to debate Creationists, that was partly interest, but also a sort of intellectual sport. (I can now complete a scientific debate with a Creationist in just a few minutes.) One thing I learned then was to never waste lots of time and energy explaining a scientific principle to someone who just put up the question to try to trip you over. They have no interest in what you tell them, and just quickly think of another question.

    Climate change is different in that it matters. Convincing a few people that this is the case helps. And learning how and why the deniers think the way they do will also prove useful.

  30. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    The idea of spending money on adaptation to the new conditions rather than on reducing emissions might seem reasonable to those ignorant about climate change.

    The reason that reducing emissions is the main priority is very simple.

    If the almost impossible politically happens, and we act quickly, we only pay the cost of reduction without too many adaption costs.

    If we don’t reduce emissions, we are either lucky or not.

    If we are lucky, we find that before we have finished the huge adaptation to a 2 degree warmer world, we will need to start preparing for a 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 etc world.

    Of course this only stops once we realize that we need to stop emissions. So as well as the huge economic cost of adapting to a, say 3.0 degree warming, we still need to pay the cost of stopping our emissions.

    That is if we are lucky.

    It is very possible that at some stage we will hit a tipping point where some natural mechanism takes over to become the major cause of further warming.

    “Oh dear”, we all say, “lets stop emissions now”.

    “Too late. It won’t make a difference any more” reply the scientists.

    “If we stop emissions now, how long till the planet gets back to normal?” we ask.

    “Who knows?” replies the scientists. “Maybe in 1000 years. Maybe 10,000 or longer. Or maybe the earth will find a new normal and it will never go back.”

    “Oh shit” we say. Perhaps this will be the very last “Oh shit” that belongs in the other thread.

  31. robbi64

    Marx saw matters only too clearly. So did Weber and Durkheim, but everyone has an opinion on Marx.

    He was on about how when a person sold their labour to someone else for a promise of subsistence, they effectively alienated themselves from their humanity and their natural world. They removed themselves from the environment that sustained their survival, and put that responsibility in the hands of another person. An innocuous act, probably begun during the beginnings of agriculturisation for the purposes of getting large acts of engineering completed … and it led to the evolution of capitalism when dear old humanity starts getting tricky/emotional and realises how this communal activity can be exploited for the purposes of “development” with minimal effort, and even allow a bit of self aggrandisement in recent years.

    So Marx called the act itself, an “aberration of the mind”. He rants on for quite a while about how the workers, unaware of their essential slavery, can only comfort themselves with drink, sex, gambling and unruly behaviour. Does that sound familiar at all, Julius?

    It’s probably best considered an infantile act of the mind, but that would be nitpicking.

    So here we have in the west, alienated humanity by the suburb load, who are quite literally terrifed of their natural environment, Julius. Witness the insecticides and germicides sold by the vat load on an annual basis? Existential terror displacement. Know what those chemicals do to our local environment when they’re sprayed around or tipped liberally down the sink, mate? It’s not pretty. We get insects mutating against our insecticides, and algae blooms in the rivers and lakes, and that’s just for starters.

    Now, those people are now starting to display teapot impressions at an increasing rate, because they’re terrified of this talk about climate change. They want the change stopped, and the drought broken too, while you’re at it, Mr Rudd. So the democratic pressure is for an ETS – which I personally think supports Aristotle’s opinion that democracy is a real shytey way to govern intelligent people.

    Julius, I have to say this. I’m guessing you are in your late sixties/early seventies, and your brand of existential terror is quite different to most of us blogging here. You are facing Death. From the sound of it, you’re fairly comfy with that. Good on you, and I’m glad for you. Many of your peers would want your sense of peace. However, the rest of us are facing existential terror of a very bleak future that we are probably going to have to survive.

    With respect, Julius, this isn’t something you really have to fear as much as the rest of us. So you don’t get why we are feeling a sense of urgency for some sensible disaster recovery planning. The real question is not whether the climate is changing. It’s what to do when the fossil fuels run out, when nature starts wiping out large swathes of our people, or how to manage the mass teapot impressions of a gibberingly terrified humanity.

  32. Peter Romany

    I may have this wrong. I got a call to join in a fun stoush and told that a pompous prick, or maybe it was prig, was about to get his comeuppance. I thought it might be the rather longwinded chap (or maybe chapess) who spells things out at some length in detail. But now I think he probably meant the pretentious little chap who can take time to say what a good debater he was against Creationists but not to tell the waiting world one single problem that he can specify with arguments involving mass, gravity, specific heat, proporton of C12 and C13 isotopes, uncertainties about albedo measurements and all the other stuff to be found in Julius’s links which certainly seem to me to raise questions that are worthy of answering by someone so confident of his scientific stature that he expects to be believed when he asserts without reasons that somenone is scientifically illiterate (who clearly isn’t BTW).

    The little prig does seem to have some problems apart from his bashfulness about disclosing his scientific nakedness. Pompously “Those illiterate in science often think that science is done to support something.” Well goodness me, I suppose he could be proposing some semi-literate version of Popper’s falsifiability criterion. But no, he appears to be commenting, as perhaps even a failed politician only preselected even by the Greens for the most unwinnable seat may be allowed to do, on why governments or other funding bodies choose to hand over money for scientific research.

    His first pass at explanation runs into the thousands of cases of funding in the hope that a hypothesis will be found justified by the facts. For example that there is oil in such and such a sedimentary formation or, more generally, in formations of that kind. As I don’t suppose the little chap’s problem is total ignorance of such cases but only a narrowing of his ability to think at any one time outside his obsessional views, I won’t insult him further by listing a dozen examples.

    Actually he makes the case easier by giving as his illustration the opposite of supporting something but a suggested attempt at falsification. It is surely impossible that Michael Wilbur-Ham doesn’t know that this is of the very essence of Karl Popper’s prescription for good science (though Australia’s David Stove got in a few confusing thrusts at what he called the “Four Modern Irratonalists” in “Popper and After” – not justified in the case of Popper).

    “Where science funding makes a difference is which areas get looked at, but not the results”. If that is meant to be a truth contrasted with something, what is the contrast? Someone literate in literacy (beyond satisfaction that he can beat up Creationists to his own satisfaction) might think he is trying to say in the first two or three pars. that money spent on research doesn’t affect the truth of the alleged facts established or theories validated of falsified so there shouldn’t be suspicion of the recipients of government money (or corporate? – oh I don’t think he noticed that) for scientific research.

    Only a few problems. Clearly the results ARE affected by the funds for research being adequate to the size of the task. Does it need spelling out with examples? And a small query over the use of the word “creates” in “the data the satellite creates” when the more natural word would be “records”. Is it significant in relation to the issue of cooking the books – a “Freudian slip” perhaps. Ah well, let it pass, the great debater is after all an engineer not the editor of Nature.

    The biggest problem is the innocent admission that science tests those hypotheses which are sufficiently hot issues – politically (there is no getting away from that, no alternative) for the money to be provided to test hypotheses (or, in many cases, just to manufacture mathematical models) which it is good politics to test. Unfashionable hypotheses are not so favoured with the chance to flourish under a fertilisation with cash. “which areas get looked at” : you said it in your own words mate.

    And now perhaps those who have apparently waited a long time to deliver, which, happily, I have not, know why it is that you will not deliver but go on wasting your time with pompous insult and bombast. In your own words “From reading the New Scientist I know that sometimes some results suggest that one aspect of climate change will not etc.” So now we have it, up to date scientific literacy for Michael Wilbur-Ham is to read and accept what appears in the New Scientist, a worthy generalist journal but just that and only one.

    As for his earlier assertions that it made economic sense to spend up now, on what exactly he doesn’t say, even if it left us poorer when we needed to be able to build desalination plants for irrigation, if that is what it takes because, wow, we are going to have to live with temperatures closer to indonesian or Sri Lankan averages where of course nothing grows without desalinated water for irrigation…… I think I’ll leave it that I hope he doesn’t practise as a financial adviser.

    Leaving aside the boring little sideshow with which I was lured to this blog let me add that I find some interest in making a remote connection to Clive Hamilton’s psychological speculations. As it happens I have for many years corresponded and exchanged visits with some of the world’s most distinguished scientists. One won the Kyoto Prize for his work on computer networking and is perhaps the world’s most famous scientist in the not-very-far-progressed field of artificial intelligence. As it happens he has also run a very popular website on nuclear energy (third most hits on Google when last looked for “nuclear energy”) and written about sustainable futures. Last I heard he was a sceptic and also more concerned with adaptation than attempting to reduce CO2 emissions. Likewise one of the co-authors of “The Higher Superstition – the Academic Left Against Science” who was once director of the world’s most famous marine biology institute simply said he no longer wanted, at nearly 80 to spend his time refuting rubbish, but sent me a very interesting sceptical piece which was, from memory, from the New Scientist and which I am searching for at this moment.

    So why do such distinguished scientists who live very comfortable lives in American cities or on campuses which are very attractive and have nothing to prove find themselves doubting the consensus of the IPCC related scientists, and saying so? The certainly don’t have any vested interests that one can point to. It is not as if their specialties that are being rewritten. Maybe it just that they have directly and through long study of scientific and intellectual history seen the Madness of Crowds before and are not easily impressed. I haven’s asked them but perhaps they would agree with Professor Richard Lindzen’s classic account of how big science got corrupted (if my recollection of his speech does not cause me to use too strong a word).

  33. Julius

    OMG! It could only by Gyppo as we used to call him at school. Nastier and ruder than me. Used to pull the wings off flies and now he finds the political equivalent and goes for his tender bits.

    Well, I shall stick to my nice civilised conversation with young ROBBI who will keep me in touch with the fashions of the, sorry, middle-aged, whom I think of as gorgeously young.

    I was almost impervious to fashion at school but do remember noticing with some bemusement that in much of the First World children were getting worked up, presumably by teachers, with fears of nuclear annihilation around about the late 50s and well into the 60s while, looking back, mine was the complacency of the busy and perhaps some of Clive Hamilton’s psychologising would be in point to help explain why I genuinely didn’t worry about nuclear war. Looking back we were much luckier than the young and naive who weren’t being terrifed by apocalyptic talk could conceive. The chances of at least some explosions of nuclear weapons in another country’s territory must have been quite large given that governments conspire to prove the appalling inefficiency of socialism whenever they engage in the great socialist activities of war and preparation for war. (How? They rely on human beings). So…..

    I can enjoy a kind of nostalgia when you declare your passion for saving the world from climate change.

    I shall let you in on a joke, as long as in Phillip Adams’s Late Night Live style, you don’t tell anyone. Actually I mean that you will probably get it but don’t say enough for anyone else to. Although I haven’t watched the TV program with Toni Collette in it I think I know the main plot line or running gag so I invite you to look to the condition of the star and the old-fashioned but quite common expression that is and was often associated with or used to describe it. That should be a sufficient clue. Is it?

  34. Julius

    PS ROBBI64 how are you on educational psychology and/or psychometrics? If you know about James R. Flynn’s work what do you think is the best explanation (or set of explanations) for the Flynn Effect? I recommend his quite recent book “What is Intelligence – Beyond the Flynn Effect” for reasons which the book will make clear.

    Although he was an American lefty hippy of the 60s before settling into academic life in New Zealand he is not one of those who denies reality and doesn’t acknowledge that one of America’s big problems is that, over nearly 100 years , African-American IQs have continued to test at about a standard deviation below the white average despite the rising tide (whatever the Flynn Effect tide is) that raises all boats. Which leads me to note that Eysenck was happy to be an iconoclast and just follow the evidence where it led. I met him a couple of times and noted what others might have thought courage but he would probably have treated as a matter of dignity and calculated rationality in standing up to screaming crowds of no-nothing nitwits and ideologues and, not least, going into bat for his old student Arthur Jensen, a thoroughly decent man whom I have also met. If you think Eysenck and Jensen were (are in the case of Jensen who still writes occasionally) not PC you should sample the work of Prof Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen (the father of the Finnish PM of the same surname) on e.g. IQ and the Wealth of Nations. (I think some of the stats invite derision but it is not useless or irrelevant work unless one is of the dogmatic persuasion that it is all fixable by known environmental interventions and/or it can’t be bthe result of inherited group differences so it is just a matter of boosting whatever – also known and available).

    As you might be aware Eugenics was seen as just plain good sense by the upper middle classes, especially in the US and Sweden until the Nazis gave it such a bad name that, presumably when the genocidal killing of Jews and gypsies became known, John Maynard Keynes resigned as vice-president of the Malthusian League (intended to argue for more birth control amongst the over fecund lower orders I think) in 1943. The Catholic Church was always against eugenic policies, at least where the practice involved sterilisation. I doubt that Jews were since, in practice, no one except perhaps the upper middle classes of Northern Europe, especially England, were better at Eugenics, it being, basically, what sensible people did for their families even if some thought that an heiress with a fortune was better than an heiress with lots of IQ points.

    You heard it here. Eugenics is coming back. The hold of the Catholic Church over the conduct of its flock, and their ideas, is so slight, and the prestige of virtually all churches so low, that Eugenics will increasingly be practised by selection of embryos after testing.

    Now it is already common to abort embryos or foetuses with genetic or other prenatal defects which will result in Downs Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Huntingdon’s Disease, Spina Bifida, and a lot of neurological diseases which are most prevalent amongst Ashkenazim such as Tay-Sachs, Nieman-Pick, Gaucher’s, Canavan’s, Wiston’s Dystonia and others. Soon it will be possible to select, at least by elimination if not genetic manipulation immediately, embryos which have greater probability of being smart or calm in temperament or whatever else appeals as desirable qualities of body or mind. And maybe it won’t horrify people as suggestons by a Nobel Prize Winner (?William Shockley) some decades ago did when he proposed paying some people not to breed, as well as providing sperm banks of “geniuses”. The last-mentioned is already doing quite good business in America and who is to complain if more of our fellow citizens are smart enough to invent better things and systems?

  35. robbi64

    Julius – I can only assume you must have been very busy in the 1960s. Didn’t the Bay of Pigs make you jump? Weren’t you affected by the horror that was Hiroshima? Didn’t you have a local river system to watch, that became corrupted over your lifetime? My generation grew up very terrified, and some of our teapot impressions became big news and earned some state interventions.

    They’re even bigger news now. Noticed the rate of diagnosed depression is creeping upward? What about the gambling problem? Are you bothered by the “sex without responsibility” movement? How about the mini-riots that are staged for no good reason at all except “he looked at me funny” outside the pubs on a Saturday night? My children are still little, yet they have to know things like “lock down”, where they all hide in a tiny classroom and go very silent.

    Did you ever have to learn lockdown, Julius? I’d say your generation didn’t have that particular problem, because you had warzones to send unruly males. You also had some truly terrifying authority figures, who would stop at nothing to ensure you slavishly copied their teapot impressions and called those behaviours “good”. It only takes one or two people being singled out for punishment, and the rest of us get it real fast. Write calligraphy with my right hand only, yessir. Read those books and regurgitate that knowledge in my own words by this date? Sah!

    It’s called “right wing authoritarianism”, Julius, and the debate continues to rage whether this personality type is real, or whether it’s been made up by the left in order to make the right feel pathologised. It’s just hard to argue with, that when parents act in that patriarchal pattern and dad is a disciplinarian and mum is a feminine colluder … the children tend to be very uptight, easily upset, and lack the emotional intelligence to be able to think independently … so their teapot impression is a total copy of their parents’, and certain social problems are then perpetuated.

    Such as … the social problem … that human beings really seem to hate change. And the teapot impressions we put on to avoid dealing with it? The way no one seems to be able to deal with their feelings in a forthright and honest manner? I mean, aren’t you bothered that you are the only one here with the guts to engage with me about Feeling, and look at the trouble you are having, keeping to the topic? You get very easily distracted from feeling, it takes almost nothing to whip your attention from it – and notice how many posters have been eager to oblige you there?

  36. Peter Romany

    Got me in one Julius. But I am not sure who you are amongst all the little smart-alecks in the matric maths classes who were always proving how smart you were, but maybe you are the prim chap who would never use nicknames at school but did get an exhibition, I forget which, was it Chemistry or Physics (for the current generation I should explain or confess I suppose that biology was girls’s stuff – little did we know what the future was to bring thanks to a physicist like Crick and James Watson who was ?)?

    If I have you identified I remember some competition to get you in second year matric heading for whatever particular teachers thought the little genius could do for their reputations. Did you end up doing a science degree? As you may remember, I went overseas pretty well as soon as school ended and didn’t get back for five years. Of course I shall Google you as I know you are in many famous lists. But are you you? Give me a clue. Ah yes, has the nickname got anything rude and crude about it?

    I’m surprised that you didn’t get on to what the young Hamster chap was saying about Garnaut proving we could go over to a low carbon diet, if we started early, for almost no cost that mattered. You would know I suppose, but wouldn’t that be because Garnaut doesn’t want any of the compensation all round nonsense that makes a mockery of the Ruddery legislation? So, the cost will just be on those who would have received billions in compensation under the government’s actual scheme but wouldn’t receive anything or anything like full compensation if Garnaut’s advice was followed. (Is it really his advice in the sense of what he believes should happen or merely what he says flows logically from his terms of reference?) But, end of hopeless argument that giving up using coal fired power stations won’t make us a lot poorer when we replace most of the power with highly inefficient wind and solar power. Not that there won’t be countervailng productivity and other technological gains but even in Australia we are going to need a lot of that extra earning power to support the elderly, especially those expensive years of health care before death.

  37. Julius

    (Edit) You see I do use nicknames now. I got your message on the answering machine but didn’t catch your telephone number. Thought we might manufacture another contributor if you know how thanks to Michael Wilbur-Ham’s suggestion that he might answer anyone he didn’t think was one of us. But I think there might be a problem anyway.

    He may not be very bright or know much science but he has a bit of rat cunning (might have made a politician after all). You see, we could have, let’s say Bill Smith ask naively what he thinks of Dr Tom Quirk’s paper giving reasons for believing the increase in CO2 could have come from the oceans (leaving still to be answered what happened to all the known emissions but still Quirk’s reasoning speaks for itself on what it actually deals with). No more no less.

    Catch 22, anyone who wants to find out whether Michael Wilbur-Ham really knows diddly squat about science or scientific reasoning is clearly part of the camouflaged enemy commando. So, no answer I fear.

    But he has posted an interesting link (which anyone seriously interested in climate matters very likely has seen already, although dated today) and it does, on the face of it, suggest that the Hockey Stick may be alive and still capable of sprouting green shoots even if some scientists have been prepared to fake or fudge the evidence about it. But I don’t think we are likely to get much more evidence that he could have overcome his tiredness and taken on the likes of Quirk, Kininmonth and Wilson, inter alios – or even read their work critically and pointed to problems. The trouble is they do raise questions that should be answered. For example if the evidence from C12/C13 ratios etc. points to oceanic origins of the CO2, just how plausible is it that the emissions from fossil fuel burning could have been absorbed by vegetation? Is it possible, even likely, that the reason for the C12/C13 balance is because fossil fuel emitted CO2 is being recycled through the oceans and its signature isotope changed?

    Thanks, I should add, for the heads up on the principal fallacy of the Garnau-says-it-won’t-hurt-much line, viz. that it depends on socking it to those who, under the Rudd-Wong (or Rudd-Wong-Turnbull) scheme are going to be compensated big time. And did you notice on the news last night a chart showing that their scheme won’t actually result in any reduction in Australia of CO2 emissions until 2033? Perhaps the “denialists” criticisms of the modeling might be invoked here to say that is a totally unreliable projection. But wrong in which direction? While the government leaves me any money I think I’ll go and spend it on tree planting….

  38. Julius

    To ROBBI64 just a note about the significance of standard deviations. I can’t agree that one sd is not very significant “in the big scheme of things”. It is, with respect, precisely in “the big scheme of things” that it is significant. It is significant in the sense that, when you are dealing in large numbers of the measured population, that is when you get the significant results.

    On the small scale you can’t say much with certainty. For example, probably most of us know people with IQs of several SDs above average who none the less behave foolishly, have bad judgment, make stupid investments etc. However the fact that average Ashkenazi Jewish IQs are of the order of one SD above that of northern European non-Jewish whites fits very nicely with such stats as the 25 per cent (at least) of US Nobel Prizes won by Jews who have never constituted more than 3 per cent of the population and often had parents who were illiterate when they immigrated. Similar calculations can be done for the overwhelming number of “Russian” chess grandmasters who are Jewish (plus the odd Armenian or Georgian).

    Unfortunately the African-American IQ deficit (and this has nothing to do with the question – to be decided by neuroscience and genetics over the next 10 to 15 years – of the possibility of a biological contribution to the causes of the difference in IQ scores) is equally well reflected in their incarceration rate in the US (whatever other causes you might like to nominate for that index of failure to adapt to modern urban life).

    As you would be aware, in a Gaussian – specifically Normal – distribution one standard deviation from the average gets you to the point where one sixth are above (below). I gather that, after conscription for Vietnam ended, the US Army made it a requirement that its recruits have IQs (or equivalent scores) of no less than 90 (about the same as or lower than the Gurkhas in the British Army who are probably smarter than the English recruits on average). That of course means that fewer than 50 per cent of African-Americans qualify but is based on solid evidence that, at IQ 80 soldiers are much more likely (on average has always to be stressed) to kill or maim their comrades by accident, crash Army vehicles etc.

    Another slightly more than incidental point about the Bell Curve – the application of the Gaussian Normal distribution to describe the distribution of IQs or other products of many genes and/or non-genetic causes – is that it presupposes random distribution and mixing of the causes. Thus it ignores the fact that the distribution, even amongst a population as homogeneous as the Scandinavians, would be at least bi-modal. After all Harvard graduates are much more likely to marry and have children with Harvard (or Radcliffe or Yale or…) graduates than with school drop outs from Missouri – though school drop outs are more numerous. Jews in the days of the ghettos, Parsees in Bombay, and the clever children of fecund English commercially successful families from 1400 to 1900 didn’t stay smart from marriages made with just anybody.

    For serious, and also entertaining use of Gaussian distributions have a look at http://www.lagriffedulion.com where, inter alia, a case is made for the importance to a country’s prosperity of having a large “Smart Fraction” which I think he has calculated as those with an IQ over about 106, approx. the supposed East Asian average. So why did the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions start in England (or more generally north western Europe) well before the smart countries of East Asia. Many cultural, climatic and other (e.g. disease related) reasons have been advanced including emphasis on law and markets but Greg Clark in “A Farewell to Alms – A Short Economic History of the World” and elsewher has pointed to the commercially successful classes in England outbreeding the lower socio-economic classes by a huge margin for several hundred years. Thus there was, he would argue, a critical mass of literate, numerate people with a bit of inherited capital and, it seems very probable, high IQs. A much more bimodal distribution than in China and Japan where they were for several hundred years much better at keeping the lower classes healthy and adequately fed. Now that we must look forward to millions of clever East Asians (and Indians with some reservations indicated below) to invent our way out of the world’s accumulating problems and expectations of ever rising standards of health, entertainment and comfort we should be glad that another observed East Asian characteristic is that (in the US) they outperform their IQ, SAT and other such test scores. of course if we don’t like that and simply want to compete successfully against them we should encourage as many as possible to play computer games, and, if they must take exercise, to play golf.

    There is of course evidence of some influence from expectations on test results but it is a bit wobbly and tendentious. It is only partly supported by those African-American intellectuals who deplore the rap culture and low family support for education of too many African-American households (which comes up typically when trying to explain why African-American children perform worse in school even after allowing for socio-economic factors).

    On Eysenck, I recall reading his small rather polemic and tendentious book of the mid 70s which I think was got out as a gesture of solidarity with Art Jensen and thinking that he perhaps didn’t have sufficient imagination for what the history of slavery might have involved. However, on reflection, that doesn’t stand up very well when you consider what Jews suffered and, also, contrast what Jew showed themselves capable of in comparison to the gypsies who were descended from low and no caste Indians known to score far lower on IQ tests (on average of course) that upper caste Hindus. I have never heard it said that gypsies were treated worse than Jews in central and Eastern Europe.

  39. Julius

    Dear ROBBI64

    I haven’t much idea where Michael W-H and I part company on anything because I simply raise questions on which I hope that someone that knows his stuff will provide an answer because people who are or have been serious research scientists have prompted these questions by their work and he claims a lot for himself leaves one with the inevitable conclusion that there is no substance behind his claims. It is not as if the papers (some or all) I have cited are not respectable scientific products. If, as I have speculated to both sceptics and believers, the question of whether vast gravitational forces acting over decades to millenia on the enormous masses of ocean water are not in the same league for energy transfer as net solar radiation so the climate change issue comes back down to whether the positive feedback modeling is correct, it would not only be more than useful to know but surely not beyond anyone claiming some confidence in their scientific expertise in the area (even if only a mastery of the literature produced by others; indeed even if only an actual close reading of the IPCC reports) to find an answer to. (I have to say my most reliable sceptic acquaintance has not come up with an adequate answer so I think I shall have to try and put it to DrKininmonth or David Evans).

    Of course climate is changing. It appears to be warming (and I wouldn’t either dispute or be fussed by William Kininmonth’s half a degree by 2050, though there are now some IPCC scientists saying there may be cooling for a few decades). Despite the work of Dr Tom Quirk I am inclined to believe that manmade CO2 emissions are a contributing part of the warming process. I am far from convinced that anything catastrophic from AGW is probable, or even that it is likely to be more damaging than human ingenuity can cope with quite reliably. (Remember that Singapore’s average temperature is over 27 degrees and Helsinki’s about 5 degrees. Remember too that water is a problem easily solved by the rich. So we probably should spend a bit more time considering how much we are willing to do for the poor of Africa and Bangladesh, e.g., since we, through our religious worthies and the aid of Western science, have contributed so much to their very big problem of over-population). Maybe I would even give secular consideration to old religious ideas that God presented us with challenges because we weren’t meant for the easy life (touching on something of what you have written)….

    Anyway, I think it is part of wisdom not to get fussed or worried about things one can’t do anything significant about and, contra M W-H I profoundly believe that applies to Australia as much as to me, except to the extent of positioning oneself and one’s country to adapt to whatever may happen. (Maybe we shall be living in a very dry state if we live in the SE – though only maybe, even if AGW is of major magnitude, but maybe we will happily, being rich, well educated, technically savvy people – or just terribly clever at taxing miners who sell to the Chinese – grow lots of lovely organic food even within city limits by using precisely rationed quantities of desalinated seawater treated in a plant powered by a mixture of power sources including nuclear). In the mean time, given that there is b-all you or I can do about it, it makes sense to be rationally inquiring and enjoy one’s own and others’ serious thinking about a serious and difficult subject. I haven’t a clue what Michael W-H thinks justifies his current agitation for something to be done which, surely, wouldn’t be any of the things that are remotely likely to be done by Rudd, Wong, Turnbull et al. I find his huffing and puffing and distress rather comical and unbalanced. He and I have plenty of time to enjoy the byways of the scientific exploration that continues though I shall be happy to join in saying that there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that major manmade global warming is about to occur and we had better plan for it if some of the questions that seriously intelligent and well-qualified sceptics have raised are answered.

  40. robbi64

    OK, Julius, so I get that you do not disagree with the data that suggests our climate is on a warming cycle? You aren’t sure whether humanity has anything to do with it, yeah? It might be us, and it might not? Well, that’s sensible and rational on the available data. We don’t really know, as I understand it.

    We do have the people from the low lying South Pacific islands giving us a wave at the moment? No pun intended. They are drawing attention to the fact that they seem to be losing their living space rather quickly. We’ve had some awful climate in Australia of late, and because our population is also growing, this is all a big worry.

    Perhaps you and I might know that there’s no point worrying about something you alone cannot change, that is “emotional maturity” kicking in. The teapot impressionists out there, though, they don’t get that. They’re worrying, Julius. And that’s why they’re panicking. They will express their panic in various ways, and that’s what is so confusing about it. Some will posture about the ETS; some will go shopping; some will lie in bed all day; and some will blog frantically. Some will get drunk and decide to drive to the shops for ciggies …

    Is it “denial”, as Michael suggested? Well, I can be a nitpicker here, and call it “avoidance” rather than denial. Denial is what you do when you are told “oh, we might run out of potable water around here soon, you might want to know about that”, and you explode at the statement and say “there’s heaps of water over there”, pointing wildly in a random direction. Avoidance is when you don’t even notice how much water there isn’t.

    How are you feeling, Michael H-W? Would you be brave enough to come out on that?

    And how do you feel, if I were to suggest to you, that if we debate for business-as-usual-no-need-to-panic, we might actually be arguing for species-wide suicide, by increment? Can you tell us how that makes you feel? Because it makes me furious, and that’s because I am terrified by the thought of continuing on as we are.

  41. Evan Beaver

    Yeah, the assertion that ‘we’re not sure’ is poppycock. They’ve got a pretty good idea.

    There’s even an FAQ on it.

    Further, there’s no such thing as an IPCC scientist. There are scientists working all over the world in the normal places scientists work; unis, think tanks, but mostly unis. They publish peer reviewed papers. The IPCC collates them and paints the big picture.

  42. robbi64

    Yes, I am aware of that evidence – I studied ecology the first time it was offered at HSC in 1981. I’ve learned that one has to keep a little open minded about mainstream science, but largely I do not disagree with the possibility that humans caused this current spike with our fossil fuel habit.

    Isn’t it interesting … you and Julius broadly agree with each other. The dispute between you has been caused by bad manners, not by any disagreement over data. Perhaps my twittering to my children has some validity: manners make the world go round, not money?

    Fair enough that you feel miffed, if you feel attacked by someone who agrees with you. The last time I saw this happen was in a lovely chat about free range chickens. We all agreed, but the conversation was ended when a highly educated scientific type took an unwarranted swipe at a not-so educated scientific type. Yes, his points were fluffy, but so were mine. He cops it in the neck, I am excused on the basis of my gender – and we all stop talking and slope off.

    Julius, my friend … may I regard you as a cyber-friend please because I do see that you are “one of nature’s gentlemen” in many ways. But can I say that this sort of oneupmanship is just another teapot impression? It helps people feel better when they can use their knowledge and intellect to put someone in their perceived place. But it doesn’t help you teach anyone or us learn anything – and it also gets you attacked in revenge. Then you lose credibility and polarise the debate, just like Eysenck did. And we forget what we were talking about in the first place, and start making it personal.

    I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to go into their feelings in this forum. It isn’t safe enough. But if someone does, I’ll do my best to do them justice. And I ask that the rest of you refrain from making fun of them or otherwise trivialising their response.

  43. Julius

    Ocean Acidification – yet another critical issue

    ROBBI64 – manners make the world go smoothly but if one objects to a certain rough treatment of a de facto politician (indeed a former parliamentary candidate pursuing his politics by blog) who asserts that someone is scientifically illiterate, with embellishments, refuses to back it up and then bleats about insults to him one could enter on another, and an interesting, conversation. I can imagine Crikey people being as sympathetic to M W-H’s complaints as the press gallery were to Senator Nick Sherry when Peter Costello did his notorious bit about the greeting to Sherry when he got to his mother’s house in Opossum Bay “Oh possum, you’re here…..”. It was a bit disconcerting of course to find that Sherry took an overdose of something not long after. At least Michael isn’t likely to do that because he hasn’t got a guilty conscious such as Sherry no doubt had about being caught out on expense claims, much as he should have a guilty conscience about bragging by implication of a scientific standing he doesn’t have.

    As Michael isn’t reading this – he told us he wouldn’t – perhaps you can be an intermediary that he will trust is not me to put something quite simple to him. Actually it is not even to answer the cases put by Drs. Quirk or Wilson or the chap who wrote about the albedo of clouds. It is something quite different.

    On the 7.30 report tonight there was a segment about the acidification of the oceans by CO2 absorption which was said to be an area where a lot of work is being done and still needs to be done. It reminded me of a conversation I had 11 months ago (at a forum I co-sponsored) with a CSIRO scientist working in this area, bassed in Hobart, who promised me more material on the subject but didn’t follow through. The subject seems to me both very important and very puzzling. There are several elements to my puzzles. In no particular order of importance or otherwise:

    1. Destruction of coral reefs tends to be something that takes a long time to repair. For example, the human destruction of reefs in Sri Lanka (one of the causes of the loss of over 1000 lives on the south-west coast where a train was swept off the tracks by the tsunami) is expected to take 40 years or more to repair. However, taking the cue from Freeman Dyson’s suggestion that we will be able to genetically engineer carbon eating trees that will make a big impact on atmospheric CO2 I wonder why we would not expect corals to evolve to flourish in steadily hotter and more acidic environments. It would of course only happen in circumstances where there was a lot of destruction which would blight reefs for many years but the heat element at least has to be plausible because the reefs in Indonesia grow in much warmer water than that of most of the Barrier Reef and one could at least consider the transfer of Indonesian corals to Queensland (an “intuitive” leap perhaps which offers scope for filling in the gaps and seeing whether there is any scope for taking it further in reality). Note also, as a matter of interest, that no one treats Freeman Dyson, the renowned physicist, as talking through his hat about things he doesn’t know anything about when his ideas are given a few pages in the New York Review of Books.

    2. CO2 dissolves more readily in cold water than in warm. If more CO2 is being absorbed by the ocean the dire results for corals (in the tropics) and for shell strength of some small orgainisms in the higher latitudes that raises a number of questions. Where, in the oceans, is the extra CO2 going in? Most emissions are in the northern hemisphere but most of the ocean is in the south. Presumably the absorption by the oceans of extra CO2 has to occur at mid to high latitudes whether N or S. Then where does it go from the initial surface penetration? Presumably it doesn’t get far into the cold ocean depths where it might stay for millenia before it gets to warmer parts of the ocean in the tropics where it is again emitted to the extent that it is not eating away at corals. That would lead to the hypothesis that a high proportion of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel burning does get recycled through the ocean – as I have suggested earlier – and might explain the odd C12/C13 isotope proportions that Dr Tom Quirk has drawn attention to in the article I cited and linked. But that is a classic example of a hypothesis calling for empirical investigation.

    3. In the spirit of disinterested inquiry I now definitely have something to put again to my scientist friends whose work has tended to support sceptical positions. Just as I pose to those who propagate or accept the majority or “consensus” views summarised in IPCC reports the importance of being able to deal with major natural forcings such as that from the gravity of the sun and moon (and the Jovian planets on the sun)** to show that their undoubted effects can’t explain current global climate momentum despite huge, but perhaps regional, effects in the past I will pose (again) to the doubters the possibility that (a) CO2 increases do effectually come from fossil fuel emissions because the appearance of their being oceanic in origin is a function of their being cycled through the top layers of the ocean from high to low latitudes and (b) the positive feedback effects from the evaporation-precipitaton cycles in the tropics together with poleward transfer of energy and loss of albedo really do give reason to believe in rapid warming of the atmosphere globally.

    ** Just as a reminder not to deal lightly with the idea of such forcings causing major global changes in climate, have a look at IPCC reports if you need reminding that “orbital forcing” is generally regarded as the cause of the major glaciations. And that happens basically just because the angle of the Earth’s axis to the Sun varies by a few degrees over very long periods.

    One more think I forgot to mention in connection with questions about the adequacy of Stern and Garnaut’s reviews/reports to sow up the economic questions. Have a look at Bjorn Lomborg’s work and that of the associated Copenhagen Group (or is it Copenhagen Consensus?).

  44. Julius

    Peter Romany has made contact and been good enough to forward me a copy of the correspondence he was looking for from one of the authors of “The Higher Superstition – the Academic Left Against Science”. A number of questions were put to him under, as Subject, questioning “One of the Lower Superstitions?” This former director of the Woods Hole Institute wrote a bit over a year ago:

    In a few months I’ll be 80 years old. I don’t feel like that, but I am like that. I have had to cut down on tilting at Bullshit (a word now made respectable by Harry Frankfurt’s eloquent little book of that title). What with engaging creationist, poetasting, smarmy-religious arguments against science in general and modern biology in particular, watching the size of my pension shrink just when I need it to show edema, fighting off the aged loons, my neighbors in this retirement village (they want me to “work for” Barack Obama), and helping with the care of my wife, who is ill, I’ve had to give up commenting on the pompous prick, Al Gore, and his (enormous) clacque in Hollywood, Parliament, elders of the atmospheric physics community, and most of the actors who do TV weather reporting.

    It’s not that the planet isn’t warming: it is, and it has, and it has frozen too, in the past, without benefit of the industrial revolution. It’s not that greenhouse gases don’t work to warm the atmosphere. They do. But there is still no convincing mechanistic link between the observed current warming and any anthropic cause. Replacing all one’s incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescents is an emotional, religious, and political act, not an act of scientific or even economic good sense. In any case my own lucubrations on the GW science are not needed. There are plenty of politically incorrect but decent arguments against global-warmism. From one week to the next, they are pointed to or summarized, somewhere. There is a link below…merely as an example.

    But there comes a time for each of us, at a certain age, to say **** Politics! and to tend our gardens. (Mine hasn’t been weeded for weeks, because we’ve other issues to deal with around here.)

    Very best regards!


    I can’t resist quoting a bit from that link:

    [continued from p.2…]professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a member of the original UN-IPCC panel, was so appalled by what he perceived as the misuse of the review procedure – with groups of IPCC reviewers, many who were not scientists, only reviewing one or two chapters of the IPCC reports – he demanded his name be removed from the IPCC’s list of reviewers.

    Eventually, the UN administration complied, but only after Dr Michaels threatened legal action to force the removal of his name. All of which, yet again, went unreported in the UK news media.

    Yet one science consensus appears to be uncontested: there has been no warming since 1998. The latest peer-reviewed research – in the May 1 edition of Nature – even suggests a cooling cycle may take over for the next 20 years.

    Whatever we may personally believe about global warming, serious science-based pressure is building on the IPCC to admit its objectives are political not scientific. Sir John Houghton, first co-chair of the IPCC, acknowledged as much when he stated: “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.”

    I can now add to my opening comments on Clive Hamilton not being up to date. Those comments about a possible cooling period for 20 years are, I now see, in one of the world’s tow most prestigious peer-reviewed general journals of science.

    None of that means that I don’t want to pursue my test questions with scientifically qualified sceptics. But I do invite humility from those whose certainties and passions may be a little less soundly based than the views of world famous scientists who are not convinced by the reports of the IPCC.

  45. robbi64

    I suspect that this blogging is Julius doing his intellectual best to act like a teapot.

    Julius, you’ve had a very privileged existence. You don’t feel anything worth reporting – so you are alienated from your humanity. As you do not know what you feel, this is the motivation behind the desperate need to take the intellectual higher ground, at any price.

    The racial intelligence arguments continue – yes, when you argue it from the privileged position of being a white man with a classical education. I don’t know why the Industrial Revolution decided to kick off in England, but I don’t think it’s a result of IQ, as you are implying.

    I think it’s a measure of the brilliance of the English population in working out how to exploit other people. Eysenck devoted his life to finding a difference to explain why white Europeans seemed smarter than any other “race” … and here you are still arguing about it when everyone else realises he was wasting his considerable brainpower. DNA has now demonstrated the differences are so slight as to be non-existent … and there are many more simpler and uncomfortable explanations available demonstrating it is about power imbalance, not inherent superiority … so get over it.

    Anytime you want to write about your feelings in this blog, I’ll make the time to read it, Julius.

    Michael H-W, thank you for showing us your frustation and anger with teapot impressions. If anyone is still reading, they may then understand a little more why they feel so bad. When you know why you feel bad, you do have more options to deal with it. It does not stop the feeling, but it does reduce in intensity – when it is expressed openly and forthrightly. Intellectualising, as you see, tends to upset and alienate those who might otherwise have supported you.

  46. Julius

    ROBBI64 – just dashing off so can’t look back to work out what exactly your “teapot” references mean and derive from. A summary version would be much appreciated.

    As to my feelings. I am and have been for many years, a very happy person, possibly in part for Benthamite reasons (that secular saint realised that the secret to happiness was loving other people). So, pop-psych answer is that I have lots of healthy grandchildren who will be a problem for their parents but nice to me and I can innocently feel chuffed when I am told that the eldest has recorded an IQ of 148 which seems good enough to be able to lead a useful life, though absolutely no guarantee of that or even happiness.

    At present I am enjoying being able to put you in the way of some better info on things you hold conventional misinformation, or inadequate information about; e.g. the significance of the fact of minor DNA (as you put it) or genetic difference. The short answer is that it is minor differences (as they seem to our brains which after all are the source of virtually all discriminations, as for example into colours which we “see” differently from other animals who can “see” UV or infra red) which count. When the BBC reported that pumpkins share 70 per cent of their genes with humans one of my correspondents came back, within 5 minutes with this beauty (worthy of Robert Conquest):

    A certain young hillbilly bumpkin
    Was caught having sex with a pumpkin
    When arrested he swore
    What’s all the fuss for
    Where I’m from it’s OK to hump kin.

    It doesn’t prove anything but perhaps will whet your appetite for some more info on the subject…… A bientôt.

    Ah yes, consider this: organise all one’s replacement-for-religious-explanation thinking about the earliest stuff we know about, namely evolution…… It takes you a long way, even if you think that God, being made in our image, must get bored and has probably created a lot of other universes so he can be entertained by a lot of different evolutionary processes and dead ends…..

  47. Julius

    ROBBI64 Please find out if Michael W-H really thinks acidification of the oceans doesn’t matter as might be inferred from his dismissiveness, or whether he is not willing to show that he may not understand the implications.

    As for what I wrote about it being “rubbish” that creates problems for Michael as my point 2 in particular was one that he might be expected to endorse heartily. So, is he guilty of contradictory thinking or of not understanding, or just lack of stamina even on a subject he regards as seriously important. (If you read what I have referred to you will see that I am hypothesising that CO2 emissions get dissolved into the cold higher latitude waters then, while some mixes into the even colder waters below, and some presumably feeds phytoplankton or whatever it is that needs CO2, some spreads into tropical waters where it is again transferred to the atmosphere and adds to radiative forcing while still carrying the isotopic markers of ocean sourced rather than fossil fuel sourced CO2. Then the question gets back to the critical one of how well the feedback from the evaporation/precipitation/latent heat/polewards transfer of heat energy is understood and modeled.

    As you are interested in why people blog I note that the process of thinking about these questions led me while writing the last par. to another question to put to anyone who might be able to help (beyond just reading what is online without the benefits of a quasi-tutorial with a real scientist) whether sceptical or believing. That is one based on the hypothesis that any emissions from the oceans are likely to be marked as oceanic CO2 whatever amount of

  48. robbi64

    Julius – Clive told you in the original article, in great detail, about adaptive coping strategies, versus maladaptive coping strategies.

    I then bowl in, with a rumble about “teapot impressions” being performed all round. Teapot impression, if you recall, was Tim Brooke Taylor’s version of PANIC.

    As most people feel a bit silly doing “I’m a little teapot” impressions themselves, they won’t let the feeling arise naturally. Instead, they displace their feelings into some other activity, which provides them with the illusion of CONTROL.

    Activities can be: shopping; sleeping; drinking/drugging; gossiping; sailing pink yachts around the planet; excessively intellectual blogging on the Internet; shouting at excessively blogging intellectuals on the Internet; DYI projects; academic studies; business & development. These are all maladaptive coping strategies if you are not in touch with your feelings, but we all have to start somewhere. This list is not exhaustive. I’m sure you could add to it.

    I say “the illusion of control” because having control over your life is one big illusion. If you delude yourself into thinking you do have control, you are begging for a whipping from the rest of us, who will unconsciously and covertly keep proving you wrong. Usually with our teapot impressions, mate. You think it is a sign of weakness? Have a consider how much trouble other people’s teapot impressions cause … and how they stop our systems working properly. Perhaps our humanity knows better than our sensibly trained rational minds?

    MHW got into his anger, which is what I was daring him to do. It’s also what I’ve been daring you to do. I don’t care why you two are having a squabble, and I’m not going to wrap my 144 points of IQ around your detailed debates. What I notice is how you are treating each other’s feelings, and that MHW was a damn sight more honest about his than you have been.

    Now I read that you’ve been a happy chappy for many years, and easily read between your lines. Caring for others has not exactly extended you into feeling real empathy with others. As you have to be very familiar with your own pain to develop empathy, that would be why you haven’t. You’ve had no need to go there, because you are a highly educated white man, Julius. That’s why it has been so easy for you, and you should thank your lucky stars for the good, excellent and meaningful life you’ve been allowed to live.

    So I will offer you this much. If I sit and take your emails on face value, you are hiding yourself away from your own anger. That is what is informing your occasional venomous attacks on people who actually agree with you. You don’t want to be angry, and you certainly don’t want to be seen to be angry. But you are – you are, as Goffman says, giving off a poor performance because you aren’t owning your real feelings.

    If you have the courage to go into it here, without the over intellectualising, I’ll go to the wall with you. But don’t do it, unless you really want to. I can’t guarantee that everyone else will behave themselves. That’s why we have to have psychotherapists and private therapy – we can’t trust that everyone else will take care of our hurt feelings properly, Julius. And that is the real reason why MHW is so angered by you.

  49. Taxpayer

    Dear ROBBI64 Ihave heard much of what you say from other smart people like you and I don’t generally find myself convinced that they have either a coherent set of ideas or any empirical basis for what they are putting. You are, I am happy to acknowledge, not given to over indulgence in the use of jargon as ready-to-hand weapons. (Did you not make a nice distinction between “denial” and “avoidance”? If you were one of those who throws around “you’re/he’s in denial” I would have thrown up my “Has it occurred to you that A is well aware of that – and a lot more – but doesn’t choose to tell you!?”).

    But I have to ask you what empirical evidence you would look for to diagnose anger? Blood pressure not under control? A bit of aggression? Isn’t that what you would expect of a professional sportsman (in many sports anyway), a barrister – indeed almost any lawyer other than a draftsman, a politician? Have you never seen the sheer joy that someone like Keating or Jeff Kennett could (maybe still can) evince when he/they had monstered someone who didn’t understand the game being played – but was in the big boys game of politics or other power gam so should have been able to play? I draw attention again to the importance of our hundred thousand years or thereabouts in the most important part of our EEA.

    Your looking for people having the illusion of control might give you a clue because having sufficient control is not an illusion. In life as in business being satisfied that one is a long distance from a Black Swan on the basis of the usual ways of assessing life’s and business’ risks should be enough. You seem to search for reasons to worry and have picked up quite unquantifiable fears about climate change and other possible disasters. I don’t. And what you diagnose as having some connection with anger is no more than a pleasure in vigorous use of one’s competitive abilities as one might in a boxing ring, on the football field or on the tennis court. Consider debating as perhaps more to the point. And if you have ever read a bridge column you might reflect on the relevance of that to the diagnosis of why someone shows some signs of aggression. As Bertrand Russell proposed saying to God if, to his surprise, he found there was one “Not enough evidence”.

  50. Julius

    Sorry to miss some of what you say ROBBI64 because of too much interruption. You are reproving me, no doubt with justice, for not having taken in what you meant by “teapot impressions” (and I admit to not reading your first contribution or maybe two or more) carefully because the introduction of emotion, despite it being Clive Hamilton’s to-me-uninteresting subject put me off attending as I was telephoned for a long session with one of those amateurs I mentioned, which tended to make me envy women who could put the phone on speakerphone and do their nails. (My wife was always much shorter with them). So, sorry. Now I am about to Google for Tim Brooke-Taylor and teapot impressions faintly hoping to find a good quibble. Done. Now I have to take offence at your obviously implying “loony” don’t I???

    “so when you’re next in a crisis all you have to do is put one hand on your hip, the other in the air and all your troubles will disappear faster than your accompanying plate of chocolate biscuits. Why is this so? Well Dr Graeme Garden has spent many years studying this strange and wonderful phenomenon. His eventual conclusion was that if a person acts like a loony, other people will avoid them. So next time you get hassled by your boss, just act like a teapot and they will eventually leave you alone”

    Much more interesting: you seem to reject part, possibly a subsidiary or optional extra part of the Greg Clark thesis about the missing factors in explanations of why the Industrial Revolution took off and ended the Malthusian age of the world before 1800 in England/Britain rather than e.g. China or Japan which had had secure land tenure, markets etc. for the same critical 500 years approx. that he looked at. You reject the idea, I think, that it had anything to do with a hereditary intelligence component. Certainly there were many factors including, according to one historian friend, the switch from gin to beer in early to mid-18th century England! Here however, are a few fact to consider which I find interesting, led off though with my own speculative contribution which is

    1. Assuming Chinese (let’s simplify for the moment by omitting the Japanese and Koreans) were universally allowed to learn to read and write at all relevant periods would it not have been a much harder decision to make if you were a successful tradesman about 1600 to have your smart sons learn to read and writee than it would have been for the English equivalent. The English, with the advantage of having a newly translated Bible to read, would know that reading could be acquired by a seven year old in about 6 months whereas the Chinese would have faced probably three years to get to the equivalent competence with the traditional script. Think of the expense, including the child not being fulltime earning its keep. A further “intuition” – entirely without knowledge of how the Chinese did maths, though I could probably find it quite quickly – maybe in conjunction with “Jesuit” – is that they didn’t have the advantage of Arabic numerals plus the Hindu contribution of the zero. Maybe not such a big deal for shopkeeping judging by the speed with which I have seen an abacus being used but maybe, also, quite a hindrance to slightly more advanced uses of mathematics, even trigonometry.

    2. While the Japanese population multiplied several times over (from about 6 million to 30 million from memory) in the few hundred years from about the Black Death to 1750 England’s population hardly grew, certainly not more than doubled and, about 1650 was in decline. Incidental facts of some interest include the way the Chinese and Japanese prepared and used their “night soil” as next year’s fertiliser thus keeping themselves protected from the general dirtiness of urban England and growing enough food to feed a growing population, including the poor. They also liked baths which the English decidedly did not go in for. In the same period the Chinese could go on cutting down forest to the southwest and, through their well established irrigation techniques, feed the growing millions. (Those growing millions eventually ran into China’s famous famines but that, I think, was not before population had increased greatly. I note that whatever the evidence for high East Asian IQs they weren’t only inhibited in expression by cultural or political traditions and customs but by such phenomena as thyroid disease caused by iodine deficiency).

    3. Greg Clark’s evidence for the comparative fecundity of the commercially and professionally successful classes in England over several hundred years is pretty convincing. (Have a look at his book about it). The old aristocracy, being a military one in origin, was for rather obvious reasons not so good at producing surviving breeding literates….That there were a relatively high proportion of people starting out with numeracy and literacy and a little capital seems clear enough. Given that this might, for much the same sort of reasons as Jewish IQ seems to have risen over several centuries have produced a caste of assortative maters who were comparatively smart what is the evidence? Not much perhaps that comes immediately to mind beyond the a priori probability that high reproduction rates before modern contraception by the clever would produce more clever people. But the much maligned, and I believe recently shown to be wrongly maligned, Sir Cyril Burt produced statistics that don’t seem to have been challenged that show a much greater proportion of IQs over 170 than the normal (Gaussian) curve would predict. That would be exactly what one would expect from assortative breeding, especially the smart and literate marrying the smart and literate.

    I think Taxpayer – thank you Taxpayer if you are still reading – wrote a very good contribution. I don’t think I would disagree with any of it. A puzzle though, which I don’t expect a solution to: what was the pseudonym Taxpayer adopted for? One would naturally expect it to be for pretty grumpy ungenerous contributions on something social or economic.

  51. Julius

    How very interesting Evan Beaver. I suspect you are younger than me by enough years to be comfortable with what to me were not part of my receive vocabulary such as “comfort zone”.

    Generally though I don’t think we would have a large jargon barrier to cross for communication.

    ROBBI64 has suggested lack of empathy and may be right (well I am a man to start with) and just perhaps that goes with lack of imagination. But, that is probably not right as, at least in words and concepts I have a probably justified reputation for wide-ranging originality.

    Perhaps you have never experienced what I think of as fear. I remember the fear that I experienced waiting for the biopsy news when my charming clever child was about to be diagnose with the cancer that killed a year later.

    I used to be a pretty good poker player and my stockmarket hedging of risk is pretty sophisticated so I have only experienced a few flashes of transient fear-like emotion before getting down to calculating. I lost a lot of money when I bet that Whitlam’s 25 per cent tariff cuts would mean no more currency revaluations. But I lost it on paper and didn’t get close to its causing disaster so was able to look at it merely as a setback. Likewise my losses in October 1987 made me kick myself briefly for not having backed my selling instincts more heavily in the previous couple of months. But I rationalised that I had at least not taken up the WMC issue and planned to buy a few stocks cheaply and did. Mind you, always borrowing money serves to keep one thinking but fear doesn’t have a big place. After all never having had more than about 6 per cent in specs and blue sky shares, though being heavily geared into ASX 200 shares can also be hairy, means that one is prepared for wipeouts (always assuming you can recognise the new name of the company as you search vainly for scrip or holder statement).

    Yes, having kids. Thinking one had fallen off a high wall when it was in fact his first epileptic fit (grown out of 10 years later) is a memory of fear with instant action. But not within the last 25 years. Riding (a bike I presume) to work prompts the thought that I gave that up pretty quickly because I didn’t like the sweat and cleaning up but, more to the point, reminds me of finding myself being swept out to sea off a tropical ocean beach only a couple of months ago with absolutely no one on the beach as I reached the run-out in my waist deep walk to one end. Panic for a few seconds until I fortunately recalled childhood lessons from Australian surf beaches and just kept my head and swam hard parallel to the beach for some outlying rocks which fortunately I got to the beach side of on a sudden lift from a wave just as I discovered that my hand couldn’t grip the weed covered rock. The swimming effort left me almost exhausted for half an hour but having a good story to tell, and warning to give, must have made me forget fear. In contrast I can recall noticing quite clearly a few years ago how completely lacking in fear I had been when confronting a large aggressive young man with a savage dog which had attacked my friendly one. I stood in totally relaxed pose and quietly uttered subtly insulting and humiliating words in front of the two young women with him. As on a couple of previous comparable occasions stretching back over many years I was conscious of being in psychological control – but actually quite alert in case I needed to move quickly (a bit like the man at the net when his partner is serving).

    So, yes, I suppose you are right, but also we seem to be talking about slightly different experiences when we use the word “fear”.

  52. Julius


    For my part I only reply to the non-moronic amongst those who seem to deny that AGW is real or deny it is serious. For example, it is not impossible to find out how to communicate with people like Dr Tom Qurk, Dr Ian Wilson, Dr William Kininmonth, Dr David Evans et al. One can put to them, as I have most recently done, the hypothetical explanation I have proposed above for why the net increases in atmospheric CO2 over the last 60 years or so should be attributed to fossil fuel based emissions contrary to the hypothesis that they are basically oceanic which emerges from the Quirk article cited. No reply yet, but any reply will not be of the level of bovine stupidity suggested by John2066 but reasoned I am sure, unlike those which depend on “99 per cent of scientists working in relevant fields etc.” – a totally false figure by the way.

    Why do you think that Melbourne has been experiencing a drought and heatwave which is more than just the longest and hottest (on one day anyway) by not a very large margin in a comparatively short history of accurate record keeping? If you read the IPCC report sections cited by Andrew Glikson above (and he is an AGW believer and scientist) you will realise that much greater climatic changes than anything so trifling as our drought and heatwave have been characteristically caused by regional occurrences that have nothing to do with global warming, let alone CO2 emissions. One striking example is the big African monsoon shifts which led to the greening of the Sahara and then, presumably, the drying out and the destruction of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. If I could place a bet I would say that, whatever might happen in a few decades time, the cause of the current drought will be calculated to be the result of oceanic events involving not just ENSO but the Indian Ocean. Whether or not these will be explained by long cycles of solar and lunar gravitational effects on the oceans is another matter.

    If you want to do some serious thinking and writing about the subject consider the implications of the fact that heat usually means more rain, drought and cold go together. That of course depends on their being a lot of water about in the vicinity, as there is all round the Australian coast line.

  53. robbi64

    LOL. Julius, you so remind me of my father-in-law, I’m going to have to ask him some probing questions! No, I realise you are not him, but the two of you would never stop talking. 🙂

    He recently thrilled me with the statement that he’d been a polite man all his life, he’d had enough, it would be No More Mr Nice Guy from here on. His emotional reaction had been caused by what he perceived as increasing discourtesy shown to elderly gents by society at large. We talked about it. I agreed with him, that younger people are more rude than his generation; and frequently do treat older people as though they are invisible. I encouraged him to express his anger to me, supported him in it, and he then felt safe enough to show what was underneath his anger.

    His distress was actually about a fear that as he aged, he wouldn’t matter to anyone anymore. He would lose relevance. And what if no one had any reason to treat him with respect? He feared what would happen to him then.

    That is an example of existential terror, Julius. Now, like you, he can’t show that feeling easily, but he did allow his eyes to get moist-ish … and I respected his emotion, the physical signs of its presence, and the reason it is there. I didn’t do anything too wussy now, like hold his hand or encourage him to weep, just witnessed and shared the feeling too. And then he FELT BETTER.

    We didn’t change anything. We didn’t do anything. We didn’t start a campaign or do a teapot impression. We felt a deep profound emotion, together, as two human beings. The simple act of sharing that feeling, allowed another elderly gentleman very similar to yourself … to go on being polite and reasonable … in an increasingly bewildering society that seems to be begging for him to do it down.

    So I’ll put it on the table as an example of an adaptive coping strategy.

    I feel echoes of your underlying emotions in your stories here … that you have borne the pain of losing a child … and fighting a war … and jumping out of planes! I’m so impressed by you. No lack of respect for your life experience, not over here. And it is well known now we psychs have bothered talking to the elderly about their life experiences, that your age group have a lot of smart tactics on dealing with strong negative emotions, and they are worth knowing about. 😉

    Now, I”ll offer you this. Lack of empathy isn’t about lack of imagination. You have to have an imagination in order to be truly empathetic. It’s only that no one told you how to do it before, that you haven’t noticed. You also have to be very brave, to go where you’ve never gone before, and do something with your brain that you’ve not tried before.

  54. Julius

    James BENNETT

    I’m afraid you may have come in too late to be properly abused for your apathy (i.e. as lazy and irresponsibly about “the greatest moral issue of our time”) but perhaps not for a psychological diagnosis of what it signifies. Oh dear, don’t think you could possibly just be a sensibly happy person?

    The key argument for alarm is this, as I understand it:

    Adding CO2 to the atmosphere in what is said to be unprecedented quantities within the last X thousand years undoubtedly adds to the greenhouse effects of various components of the atmosphere, including water vapour as overwhelmingly the most important, so that less energy is sent back out into space at the infra red wavelengths than comes in from (principly light wave frequency) solar radiation.

    That wouldn’t matter all that much if there was no positive feedback set off by this process because each doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere only adds small amounts of greenhouse capacity to the atmosphere directly (the function being logarithmic or inverse exponential if you like).

    The positive feedback as I understand it must derive largely from small increases in heat evaporating more of the ocean waters which results in more water vapour in the atmosphere and thereby greatly increases the greenhouse effect which traps more heat from going out into space. We haven’t yet got to the feared point where release of methane from the tundra or the ocean depths will multiply the greenhouse effect because methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. In fact the evidence seems to be that methane (which doesn’t last long in the atmosphere) has actually been declining in its contribution to the atmospher over the last few decades). However, further to the feedback via water vapour hypothesis (certainly based on some indubitable facts) I am not quite sure where the balance of positive feedback via water vapour is supposed to lie. Not only is water vapour a greenhouse gas but, once it turns into cloud and then rain there is a lot of heat energy released into the atmosphere (the latent heat of condensation I suppose from distant memory) which I daresy makes molecules of other gases, greenhouse ones and others, agitated and the bearers of lots more heat energy before that then gets whisked away upward and poleward by convection etc. Mind you more cloud could mean more albedo (reflecting radiation back into space) so it ain’t simple.

    So, as Dr William Kininmonth and others say the positive feedback modeling is an absolute crock maybe we don’t have to worry about the odd one or two degree rise in temperature being the foretaste of runaway heating after some tipping point is reached, quite apart from the chance that we are in for a cooling period (even if only enough to offset manmade heating) for reasons largely unmodeled.

    Fortunately my tennis is not, I now see, until 1.30 but I must remember to resist the temptation to teapot poses on the tennis court. Tennis is far too serious for that.

  55. Julius

    Indeed Evan Beaver, methane emission is part of a hypothesised positive feedback loop as I think I mentioned,but, this is what an email to me from an academic physicist to me says:

    Here [he meant in an attached file – see below] is an analysis of atmospheric methane. Since the Soviets plugged their leaky pipes there has been no sign of a human contribution!

    If you read the IPCC reports they admit they do not understand what is
    going on.

    It seems to me to be quite shocking that methane should be included in any
    ETS given the present level of understanding!

    Julius again: the attached file of an 8 page doc, which I could send you if I had an address, but may now be findable by an Internet search, starts as follows:

    Methane in the Atmosphere
    Methane (CH4) is seen by many governments as a greenhouse gas almost as important as CO2.
    Estimates published by the IPCC indicate that fossil fuels (both coal and natural gas) and
    livestock, are each responsible for 20% of the total annual emissions of methane. The remaining
    balance is a further 20% from a variety of anthropogenic sources and 40% from natural sources
    with wetlands as the major contributor.
    The IPCC emphasis on the importance of methane has resulted in fugitive natural gas emissions,
    coal seam methane, and agricultural livestock being included in schemes to limit greenhouse gas
    This paper provides a general review of the measurements available for methane, a comparison
    with the behaviour of CO2 and a new analysis. An alternative explanation of the significant
    sources of methane is derived from the measurements. This shows anthropogenic methane has
    not been a significant or detectable contributor to the annual variations of methane in the
    atmosphere since the early 1990s. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a
    very large leakage of methane into the atmosphere from natural gas pipelines in Siberia. This
    has been well documented. These leaks were remedied soon after the collapse of the USSR.
    Methane is present in the atmosphere at the level of 1,700 ppb by volume compared to CO2 at
    380 ppm. The total methane in the atmosphere is of order 5.1 Gtonnes compared to more than
    2,900 Gtonnes of CO2.
    Data are available on the website
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/contents.htm with CO2 and
    CH4 concentrations in monthly and yearly form. The data used comes from a network of CSIRO
    and Scripps Institute locations that provide a continuous record of CO2 and methane in the
    atmosphere. These locations have been selected to be distant from intense industrial and
    population sources and are considered to measure the “well-mixed” atmosphere.
    A simple demonstration of the changes in atmospheric methane is shown in Figure 1. These
    measurements are from the South Pole and show a seasonal variation of 2 percent. The
    concentration of methane is at its yearly maximum in winter and falls to a minimum in summer.
    The other very obvious feature is a reduction or even a halt to the annual increase in atmospheric
    methane from 1999 on.
    1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
    Figure 1 Methane measurements at the South Pole from NOAA-ERSL Dataset.

    As I feared, not much use trying to send the graphs on the blog, so I won’t try and send any more, but you could try using some of the key phrases for a search as I am about to.


    True it is possible that the methane in the tundra, if not in the ocean depths, could become one of those comets if the CO2- H2O feedbacks were positive and big enough.

  56. robbi64

    Hey Julius … I won’t ask anymore of you here. There’s some good reasons why not. But I’m so pleased you have given this topic some thought, written about it so personally, and given my take some respect. That’s awfully kind of you, because I’m much more used to receiving scorn, anger or disapproval, which is why I rarely bother entertaining myself by baiting such performers, specially with my naughty sense of humour. 😉

    I have some other priorities … I think I said that above? But I also promised you my best if you gave me yours – and I think we gave each other a fair hearing? How does it feel for you? Feels good to me, and I thank you for showing us as much of your underpants as you did. 🙂

    One more thing to share with you, to make you think, and maybe consider flashing your dacks again sometime if it occurs to you during your “second childhood”. There is an oft said cliche, said in reaction to the person who complains of feeling hurt by something written or said, “stick and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”.

    There is recent research that shows that when a person is insulted, the same pain circuits are triggered in their brain, as if they were being punched in the face. So that cliche is untrue and should be binned asap. Insults do cause pain and should not be just casually backhanded to your own doubles partner.

    Team building workshops 101 and modern parenting 101, too. This is something I do enforce on my kids. I make my criticisms constructive, and deliver them with love. Sometimes, that means I have to be negative, but they need to know what the limits of being human are. Love is not sentiment, and I suspect you know the difference already, so I’ll shut up and smile.

    May you grow down gracefully with awareness … and spit when no one is watching … remember the things you wanted to do when you were a boy and weren’t allowed or didn’t get the chance, and make sure you get to do those things now. Keep making the cool jokes. Maybe someone will write about the Industrial Revolution and we can go argue that. 😉

  57. Bruce

    Clive, just a comment on your point:
    “… another, deeper process of reconciliation is going on…many of the participants reflected on the meaning of climate disruption…what it can teach us about the mortality and the human condition.”

    And one of your chosen quotes:
    “Earth might become uninhabitable, but on a thousand biospheres new forms of intelligent life are created with every turn of our galaxy. It all is relative.”

    Those who have studied astronomy and thought about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life – often using the Drake Equation:
    Usually end up wondering, “Where the hell are they?”

    As the evidence piles up that life may well be common in the universe, one factor in the Drake Equation begins to look more and more important. That factor is L, the “expected lifetime of such a civilization for the period that it can communicate across interstellar space”.

    It is quite plausible that intelligent life forms almost invariably destroy themselves a short time after they develop advanced technology. Why? Well, life itself is the result of a competitive process called “natural selection” or, more crudely, “survival of the fittest.” Resources are finite, but living organisms possess an infinite capacity to reproduce. Lethal competition within species is inevitable. The greater the intelligence, the greater the lethality and potential for destruction, either deliberate or incidental. The only protection against becoming a victim is deterrence – to ensure that destruction is mutual or perhaps preemptive. But that perversely only guarantees destruction as mistakes are inevitable.

    The disturbing truth is that when push comes to shove, “civilised behaviour”, like pacifism, environmentalism, generosity etc. is anathema to survival. But ultimately, so is uncivilised behaviour. To find myself making such statements is shocking to me, but they seem to follow logically from what we know about life, the universe and human nature. Perhaps this is the ultimate Copernican Revolution. Homo sapiens is not exempt.

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