Month long quest to convince a fossil fuel advocate to believe climate change

I just spent a fascinating couple of hours watching an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) documentary titled I Can Change Your Mind About..Climate.

Aside: Before that turns you off by making you think that the documentary lasts for hours, please understand that it can take me a long time to watch a show while preparing a blog entry. Rewinding, clipping and cutting for “fair use” sharing takes a lot more time that just watching and learning. The actual documentary runs for 59 minutes and 40 seconds – according to the video player on the site. It is apparently available for viewing, add-free, for anyone in the world right now. End Aside.

The documentary is based on an interesting triangulation model – it pits a young woman named Anna Rose against a man who recently retired (probably earlier than most people retire) named Nick Minchin. Anna is making a career as a climate change activist – while still in school she founded a group called Australian Youth Climate Coalition that has grown rapidly to include more than 70,000 members. She is now serving as the chair of that organization. Nick culminated a career as a Conservative Party politician by serving for 18 years in leadership positions in the Australian Senate.

The ground rules for the documentary were as follows: Each of the opponents in the debate were allowed to choose 7 people anywhere in the world who could be brought into the discussion to help persuade the other – and the audience. The trip to visit those people would last for thirty days. During the long stretches of travel between outsiders, Nick and Anna would have plenty of time to talk about what they know, what they have learned in the discussions and what they think the course of world action should be.

As the documentary narrator says early in the show:

Nick and Anna are divided by their age, their attitudes, and their politics. But they’ve both agreed to take part in a journey that might change their deeply held points of view.


There are several opinion pieces about the documentary that are worth reading for background information. Anna published a piece in The Age, a National Times publication, titled Climate change isn’t a plot, it’s science. Michael Ashley, a professor of astrophysics at University of New South Wales, published another one on The Conversation titled ‘I can change your mind’: if it’s experts you’re after, look elsewhere

I thought that the following two statements by the protagonists during the 6th minute of the documentary set the stage for my own interpretation of the story and provides part of my motive for promoting this video and highly recommending it to all of my friends and colleagues.

Nick: (6:13) Australia’s greatest, single most important competitive advantage has been access to cheap, reliable energy produced by coal. (Emphasis in the video.)
You don’t jeopardize that unless there is absolutely overwhelming evidence that you must do that to, you know, save the Australian nation.

Anna: (6:43) I think it is really important to understand the people who still do not accept the fact and to understand what it will take to change their minds, if they are open to change. And we need to be talking to them and can’t just ignore them.

The first stop on the world tour was at a family-owned farm where Anna spent many vacations while growing up. Anna’s uncle, a man who has been farming in the same location for more than 26 years, described how his operation measures soil temperature at consistent locations and planting depth to indicate when it is time to plant summer crops.

After more than two decades of farming, he has determined that he has been able to plant crops about three to four weeks earlier each year than when he first started. He also pointed out that the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is not a matter of debate; it is being measured with great accuracy an is increasing year after year. Nick responded to that with an attempt at humor, saying “Plant food”. The farmer, looked shocked and said it was no joking matter, with too much CO2 there are no plants.

I wish he had pointed out that farmers like to choose their fertilizers and application methods very carefully. They are focused on encouraging growth in beneficial, productive plants and spend just as much time and effort trying to slow down the growth of weeds. Atmospheric CO2 is a equal opportunity fertilizer; weeds get just as much benefit from its increase as food and revenue yielding crops.

The visit to the farm ended with the following statement:

Nick: (8:51) Nobody disagrees that the climate changes and is currently going through a warming phase. The question remains what is driving that and is there anything can we actually do about it. That’s the debate.

As is frequently the case when watching people on two ends of the political spectrum talk about climate change, I kept wanting to insert my thoughts into the discussion. There is something we can do about maintaining the benefits of our industrial, technological society while slowing emissions caused by burning fossil fuel at an increasing rate. The only hint I could find in the whole documentary of the “nuclear option” came in a very brief clip with a rather strange bit of narration over the video. Here is a commented version of that clip, I would appreciate your interpretation.

There are a number of additional segments in the documentary that may become fodder for additional posts, but in the interest of trying to maintain a good relationship with ABC, I want you all to go and watch the whole documentary. Just in case you are one who is pressed for time and want to see the bottom line first, here is a clip from near the end that I thought was especially important and worth additional commentary.

I believe that Enrico Fermi and his colleagues discovered a way to put little controllable “suns” inside of the same kinds of efficient, reliable heat engines (aka power stations) that currently produce electricity by converting the heat from burning coal, oil, natural gas and biomass.

Earth based nuclear reactors do not use exactly the same physical reaction as the sun does, but I would bet that 90% of the people on the street confuse fission and fusion most of the time. The basic similarity is that both produce heat from a mass to energy conversion in atomic nuclei, the incredibly dense bit of mass that is inside of all rather dispersed atoms.

When Mary Olson of the anti-nuclear NIRS says she favors nuclear reactors that are 93 million miles away, I like to think about the efficiency and reliability advantage of having the ability to put the equivalent of tiny versions of the sun in carefully engineered places where they will safely provide concentrated heat on demand.

I would love to talk to both Anna and Nick about the fact that we do not need R & D to find an emission free way to put something very similar to solar energy inside what is essentially a conventional power station.

We do not need to “change everything.” We just need to gradually replace more and more fossil fuel burning with atomic fission power. Nearly all of our current infrastructure either retains its value or has its value enhanced by replacing furnaces with reactors to provide the reliable heat. The wires keep carrying power, the computers, lights, refrigerators, TVs, hospitals, and factories all keep working 24 x 7 and the air just keeps getting cleaner. Less land is used for energy production and is more available for plants that naturally remove accumulated CO2 from the atmosphere.

Heck, Nick should be as happy about that change as anyone; his home has the potential to be even more dominant in the nuclear fuel supply market than it is in the export coal market. Australia is, after all, a country that contains about 25-30% of the world’s proven resources of uranium. I would bet that it is also well endowed with thorium, the other nuclear fuel.

About Rod Adams

34 Responses to “Month long quest to convince a fossil fuel advocate to believe climate change”

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  1. Daniel says:

    The real challenge is to convince climate change proponents to embrace nuclear power. I intend to write Dr Stephen Hawking this week-end. He does not dig civilian nuclear application and the benefits to the planet.

    • Joel Riddle says:

      Barry Brook at Brave New Climate has definitely gone all in in realizing that nuclear fission power is really the only answer to powering the planet for an acceptably high standard of living, without greatly accelerating the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

      I am looking forward to seeing the Know More Fear Less (referring to Nuclear Power) site that Barry is involved in launching soon.
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/04/26/future-of-bnc/

  2. Michael R. Himes says:

    At the end of the last Ice Age the 100 ppm CO2 level gives some indication just how far out of balance the CO2 is in our atmosphere. Today, at 410 ppm, we are looking at climate change….Green House or Ice Age?
    Sure the Ice flows are melting but take a look at the dynamics and learn that Jet Stream troughs are becoming deeper and ocean surface salinity in Arctic and Antarctic currents carry less salt (The thermal storage driver for Ocean circulations).
    Nick and Anna are talking about things they can observe. However, the real drama is played out high in the Mesosphere where CO2 is radiating heat into space.
    It is small wonder that few believe a rapid climate change is happening right now….but wait till winter that is longer every year and finally becomes an obvious Onset of an Ice Age.

  3. DV82XL says:

    On the ‘nukes’ page at Facebook I wrote the following that I’d like to reproduce here as it is relevant to this issue:

    I would ask all of those that identify themselves legitimate (that is no hidden agenda) AGW critics to consider the following:

    Even if we grant that the evidence for AWG fails to prove this phenomenon is real to the extent that some would wish, it is also true that any honest evaluation of the same does not support rejecting the possibility out of hand.

    Furthermore the suggested mechanisms by which GHG could influence climate, given the current state of knowledge of climatology and atmospheric physics, if not proven are at the very least, highly plausible.

    Given the above can it be asserted with any degree of confidence that humanity can continue to inject GHG into the atmosphere at an increasing rate indefinitely before some manifestation of anthropogenic climate forcing occurs? The point being that the risk of rejecting AWG and being wrong outweighs the converse by a considerable margin.

    Furthermore I will add here that the reality that the global climate is changing is apparent and regardless if this is caused by natural cycles or the action of Man the fact also remains that the relationship to climate, especially precipitation patterns, and a growing population is approaching (in some cases has reached) a crisis point. Even if it is taken as given that these patterns might well return to ‘normal’ in the next, say twenty to fifty years, the people living in those areas can hardly be expected to wait. The traditional reaction to climate shifts has historically involved population reduction by famine, or mass migrations, however, today these ‘solutions’ are unacceptable.

    Considering the above it seems to me that the argument over AGW is somewhat moot, as one way or the other mankind must take steps to deal with this issue. The key is going to be desalination, and the energy required to implement that on a large scale with fossil fuel combustion would increase emissions to a staggering rate where secondary impacts beyond climate forcing would need to be considered.

    Therefore the argument for nuclear, as the only carbon free technology capable of supplying the vast amounts of energy that will be needed to ameliorate the impacts of a shifting climate, whatever the reason for these shifts might be, is strong.

    • David says:

      DV82XL,

      As a AGW skeptic I agree with your basic assessment and would add that even if we have a multiple hundred year supply of fossil fuels, preserving their use to a rate that will last much longer than a few hundred years will be a benefit for future generations. So, if we can substitute Nuclear power we should. Ships, electric generation, process heat applications and community heat applications could all be immediately (in a reasonable number of years) implemented. As a regulatory conservative (proper non-political regulation over proven risks, social and environmental) I like the story that the failure of Nuclear power is largely due to the regulatory ratcheting up of safety standards coming from a policy driven theory; (LNT). As a person deeply concerned with social justice I like being able to supply inexpensive long term power that is NOT dependent on a few volatile areas of the world.

      Finally, there is a huge “Cool” factor with nuclear when you get past the waste / radiation issue. When you realize that it is simply not that dangerous and that the waste can be burned as fuel the whole idea that you can get that much power from that tiny bit of fuel is just Awesome! Amazing and inspiring. It gives a great deal of hope for the future! Star Ships anyone?

      My opposition has always been mostly to the power consolidating, enslaving “solutions” and to the “renewable” “solutions” that are really just fronts for selling more fossil fuel. I guess I am unusual in having studied all these “solutions” with the practical aim of installing them. So I know their abilities and limits. I came to have a great respect for the energy density of gasoline. I am in awe at the energy density of uranium and thorium.

  4. Cal Abel says:

    Rod,
    Great find.

    We do not need to “change everything.” We just need to gradually replace more and more fossil fuel burning with atomic fission power. Nearly all of our current infrastructure either retains its value or has its value enhanced by replacing furnaces with reactors to provide the reliable heat.

    You definitely have the middle ground firmly in mind. Hopefully someone is listening other than those whose minds are made up.

    Is there a way for a letter to the editor?

  5. tt23 says:

    Here is a telling clip which did not make it to the final cut:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7ZQNiDIBxO4

  6. tt23 says:

    Here is a telling clip which did not make it into the final cut:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7ZQNiDIBxO4

  7. tt23 says:

    There is a telling clip which did not make it into the final cut, google “Naomi Oreskes deconstructs Nick Minchin’s climate denial” since it does not allow me to put in a hyperlink.

  8. ondrej says:

    Here is a telling clip which did not make it into the final cut:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7ZQNiDIBxO4

    • Cal Abel says:

      @tt23 and ondrej

      Thank you for sharing that deleted scene. There is a great deal of merit to her argument. The “deniers” have a legitimate concern over the destruction of their wealth. The zealous AGW promoters are frustrated that the “deniers” don’t want to give up their wealth as they see it is a social and moral obligation for them to do so. Both ignore one point from the other side, because it does not suit a particular ideological stance that they are advocating.

      Let’s start with the AGW “must act now crowd” that sees this as a social need. Because they see the need to be so drastic to implement changes, traditional property rights serve as a hinderance that must be neatly swept aside. Thus socialism, and social arguments are used where the abandonment of property rights is part of the deal to advance social “benefit”.

      The “deniers” don’t want to look at the science because if they acknowledge the science then they are forced to act. Right now the only options that they see are abandonment of property rights, socialism, or obfuscate the information to be able to maintain the status quo. This becomes a conscious form of theft, as they are stealing the welfare of other individuals for their own enrichment. This has a name and is called “crony capitalism” not to be confused with free market capitalism.

      There is a third way amongst countless others, some will undoubtedly be better, but this should hopefully get some thinking going.

      In the third way, maintaining and respecting property rights is the central point. Destruction of property rights (either through socialism or crony capitalism) will only lead to protracted suffering of our society. Thus using the knowledge that we have (science) internalize the cost of combusting fossil fuels. No subsidies no picking winners no nothing. Just internalize the cost. No more no less.

      Rod’s suggestion in the post above about continuing to use existing infrastructure will be the most likely outcome. There is value in that infrastructure, including the continued use of fossil fuels, as they are indeed valuable resources and provide an amazing benefit to society.

      Disclosure: I developed and am trying to sell an idea of using nuclear heat to transform coal and natural gas into liquid fuels. Upgrading the energy density and trapping some carbon free energy in the chemical bonds that are made. I developed this technology to enable an outcome where property rights are respected and maintained and the science of AGW acknowledged. Both are vital to our continued success and survival.

      • DV82XL says:

        Make sure your concern with property rights includes the rights of those who hold property in common. The atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the biosphere are held in common by all of us and willful dumping of waste into those bodies violates the rights of all common holders.

        • DV82XL says:

          Gentlemen,

          I am somewhat astonished by the idea that ether of you would support the idea that society has some sort of collective responsibility to protect the sunk costs of fossil fuel use. Technologies have always displaced one another and they have often caused economic hardship for some in the process. This is just the way it is.

          This has also been true of changing standards. The fight to clean up the effluents being dumped into lakes, rivers and the sea in the Seventies was greeted by a great deal of resistance from those that it would impact. Not only commercial polluters were forced to mend there ways but many communities that had been dumping raw sewage had to build treatment plants and that meant higher taxes for those living there. No one, to the best of my knowledge, suggested that any polluter had property rights in sunk costs or otherwise, nor was any effluent tax seriously considered. Polluters were mandated by law to change their ways, schedules were drawn up and enforcement saw the odd company officer looking at jail time for noncompliance. While not all the bodies of water involved have totally recovered, the situation has improved by several orders of magnitude. Industry now takes its responsibilities for effluent control as just a cost of doing business, and no one wants to go back.

          The GHG situation is different only in the timeframe that any solution must be implemented it only because of the number of polluters, but it can be solved and should be solved by the same tactic – legislate the reduction of these gases by fiat, not by a processes like tax and/or trade in indulgences which are incubi for corruption and distortion.

          And for God’s sake, let us drop the façade of concern about any other users of fossil fuel other than the mighty automobile. This is the real underlying issue at so many levels with most North Americans when it comes to questions over AGW and the role of GHG. The fear that they might somehow lose their cars, upsets most males the same way it would if it was suggested they would have to be gelded. This is also too damned bad, but in their case there are solutions in the pipe, but they are going to have to take a short term drop in performance. This too has precedence. The muscle cars of my youth where so overpowered and so dangerous that they were essentially legislated off the road and while there were great cries of outrage at the time, everyone adapted and carried on.

          The idea that nuclear energy can be slipped in, under the radar and with the cooperation of those that will be the most impacted is dreaming in color.

      • John Englert says:

        We need to move from dilution is the solution to compaction is the solution. A compact and controllable waste stream is nuclear’s second greatest asset (first being an abundance of fuel). I don’t know why so many in the industry as well as outside advocates of the technology allow the opposition to continue to portray used fuel as a problem. Instead of pushing for an energy constrained society, which is what many in the AGW “must act now crowd” are pushing for, we should be using the energy available in uranium to make better use of the finite resources we have on this planet. Just think what we could be doing in areas of recycling and waste management if energy was no longer a constraint on engineers. There’s no reason for us to have landfills or giant mountains of used tires. We don’t need to drill 34,000 gas wells in Colorado when one in-situ uranium mine in the northern part of the state would provide even more energy.

      • Cal Abel says:

        DV82XL,
        The property rights of disposal into the atmosphere is where the sticky point comes in is assessing the cost externality. It is the flaw of this approach. In theory it is possible to assess the cost.

        Honestly, I have to do some more thinking on this point. Looking at the cost externality (theft of welfare from others by polluting a common asset, the biosphere) skews the whole economy (monetary and ecological). It is like a field effect in electromagnetic theory. Where policy is a field too exerting a broad force over a large number of things. Thus one field counteracts the other, and creates side lobes along the way…

        The idea of implementation is to prevent a regime change (loss of resilience) in the economy and in the biosphere. So how the internalization is done is as important as to what the level of costs are. Then the point of international action comes in and it goes even further to pot. The idea is what is “fair”. The western approach we are where we are, so put a ratcheting cap for each marginal increase in GHG concentrations above a certain level. suits developed countries, but constrains developing countries from fossil fuel consumption. Then comes the argument from the developing nations that the west who once dominated them as colonies is forcing another colonialization by restricting the flow of energy to these nations. That would be the case if the only source of energy were fossil fuels and renewables but we know that is not the case.

        I just deleted a page of response because I was trying to work through how to construct a cap and trade system that attempted to resolve these issues.

        A pluperfect mess.

        • Rod Adams says:

          Cal – I return to the James Hansen and Declaration of Independence inspired fee and dividend approach. Charge a dumping fee for every kilogram of material dumped into the common atmosphere. That money does not go to fund government programs. Instead it is distributed to everyone who owns a share in the common atmosphere by virtue of the right to life.

          The more you dump, the more you pay. The bigger the difference between your dumping and your ownership share in the atmosphere, the more resources you have to spend. If you invest in upgrades to your fuel, you dump less.

          Of course, those who are dumping a lot are presumably making good use of the energy and can afford to pay for the privilege of dumping on someone else’s property.

        • DV82XL says:

          Without putting too fine a point on it guys, why not just avoid the issue altogether (at least in terms of power generation) by switching to nuclear, which is usually the preferred solution on these pages.

          I find little to commend in dumping charges into the commons, as the final destination for these pollutants are my tissues, and I have never given any government the mandate to sell those.

        • Cal Abel says:

          DV82XL,
          We can’t avoid the issue because we cannot abandon property rights. There has to be a mechanism to ensure that those rights are preserved and maintained. The loss of the trust of people to invest their labor and resource by not respecting property on this issue would destroy the markets and the amazing benefit that they provide.

          Placing a price on a per kg basis of pollution that is tied to the total concentration in the atmosphere (a ratcheting price based on atmospheric risk) would be the most Effecieincy solution as it preserves the market and internalized the cost of production thus maintaining the value that fossil fuels provide. No physical object is inherently bad or even evil or beneficial or good. It is what we do with them and what we know how o do with them that creates an economic value or burden. To throw out fossil fuels as a matter of course is a refusual to acknowledge the value that they create for humanity.

        • DV82XL says:

          Cal, Property rights have never included any right to have the value of that property protected against market forces, nor to the detriment of the common weal. Ideology aside, laws have always permitted expropriation under the terms of eminent domain. Nor have property rights extended to the automatic denial of one person’s property rights over those of another without recourse. As a consequence, the stakeholders in fossil fuels have no inherent right to the value of their property, such that it takes precedence over the value of the air, the water, and other common holdings of the rest of us. Therefore I find your argument without foundation.

          In the real world individual rights (from which property rights among others extend) are always going to be in tension with collective rights. While the basics of this necessary balance can be framed in law, practically the relationship between these two poles is always in flux; the social contract is always under negotiation. However, when one group’s rights are deemed superior to another group’s rights, that contract becomes strained, and the fundamentals become distorted. Historically no good has ever come from this, and indeed this is at the root of almost all social unrest.

          In fact the free market itself cannot function if legislation is used to protect the value of one type of property over another’s value. The foundation of the free market is competition. The laws role is to keep the playing field level. Carbon credits do not accomplish this. What they create is a system of indulgences, distorting the market even more. In another thread I described the situation in B.C. where schools and hospitals are forced to buy carbon credits from commercial concerns that had the wherewithal to change from oil to gas for heating – something the public intuitions could not afford, now even less since they are forced to fund this new burden.

          The bottom line is that fossil fuels have no inherent rights at all.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @DV82XL

            I am not sure I understand what you are proposing. Do you really think it is even remotely possible to simply stop emitting CO2? The property rights I am concerned about are not just those of the people who happen to supply fossil fuel; what do you do about all of us who have huge capital assets tied up in machinery that can ONLY operate if it is supplied with adequate quantities of fossil fuel?

            What are we going to do with the hundreds of millions of cars, tens of millions trucks, buses and tractors, and millions of power plants?

            How can abandoning them be useful to anyone?

            The key to survival and prosperity in this situation is to steadily reduce the amount of dumping by switching as much of our infrastructure as possible to cleaner fuel sources and to plant as many acres as possible with productive and beneficial vegetation.

        • Cal Abel says:

          I am not suggesting that the value of the property held by fossil fuels be protected. Far from it. The policy that is currently in place protects the fossil fuel industry from some measure of the market forces. By refusing to acknowledge the impact of the consumption of their product is the main form of this protection. It is distorting the energy market and makes their product seem more valuable by taking a portion of welfare from all humanity. The value of fossil fuels comes in two forms. First is the infrastructure (personal property) that has evolved to support energy production and distribution. From a first and second law standpoint any replacement of infrastructure or abandoning of infrastructure cannot be done without a energy input a massive energy input. The expenditure of capital in order to procure the resources to implement such a change are beyond immense. It is also very wasteful from the standpoint that wealth (free energy) is being abandoned. From a design perspective any engineer that suggests such an approach would be softly chided and sent along to rethink their plan.

          There is value and useful work beyond the salvage value of existing infrastructure. Your use of eminent domain fails because the owner of the property that is confiscated is payed “fair market value” for the land consumed under eminent domain. Forcing the abandoning of utility in tangible assets without remuneration constitutes a slash and burn campaign like Sherman’s march to the ocean. Coincidentally the use of eminent domain was and often is a way for individuals with knowledge of the proposed route to purchase the land at market value and then through graft be remunerated with “fair” market value.

          Restrictions are placed on the economy for good and for ill. Forcing an internalization of the cost of consumption of a commodity is a beneficial constraint if and only if the fee is proportional to the marginal harm inflicted.

          What you are suggesting is that the government through mandate decide the market value of fossil fuels and their associated infrastructure. I am suggesting that the detrimental cost of consuming a product be included in its price. The market will then decide what the value of the fossil fuels and their associated infrastructure. There is no protection from the market forces. So your argument fails in that you assumed that I was protecting fossil fuels. I am not. I disagree with you over the mechanism of deciding the value of an individuals property. By using the government to decide the value you are in effect protecting the competing energy sources from the market. I do not want this. If nuclear is going to compete it is going to compete because it is the best damned source of energy on the planet. Not because it was successful in inflicting legislation and regulation on its competition. The only person who is hurt in such an infliction of regulation is the consumer. Translated, everyone suffers a measurable amount. What you are advocating is theft of welfare to advance a technology. It is nothing but a bit of the same old same old with a different set of suspects. So what exactly is it that makes your approach “moral”?

          Here is a link to the BC Carbon Tax summary:
          http://www.rev.gov.bc.ca/documents_library/notices/British_Columbia_Carbon_Tax.pdf

          There are several articles critiquing the carbon tax. I have not read through the details of the legislation to understand its complete structure. From the summary that is precisely what I am talking about. A similar program was also done in Sweden, and has had a positive effect on GDP. The tax simply eliminates the deadweight loss of the cost externality. It will shift consumption patterns and allow for the market to find the new equilibrium point.

          The forcing of buying offsets is a different issue altogether. That is forcing someone to purchase something that they don’t necessarily want or need because you are telling them to do so. It forces an inefficient allocation of capital and acts as a subsidy to the groups who’s commodities are being forced onto poor and unsuspecting souls. This is precisely the type of insidious theft that needs to be systematically routed out. You failed to provide a suitable counter to my original statement of a carbon tax directly and exactly proportional to the damage induced to remove the cost externality.

        • DV82XL says:

          My reply was not placed at the end of the thread but at April 29, 2012 at 9:58 PM above.
          my fault, if it could be moved it would be nice.

      • Brian Mays says:

        Thank you for sharing that deleted scene. There is a great deal of merit to her argument.

        Cal,

        You must be kidding me?! A “great deal of merit”? Where?

        If you’re goal is to convince someone to “believe in climate change,” as the title of this article suggests, then there is nothing of merit here. The only thing that is telling is just how fallacious the arguments of people like Naomi Oreskes are.

        She begins with the claim that the “science is overwhelming,” thereby starting her entire argument with a type of circular reasoning. If her goal is to convince us that the science is valid, then she should actually discuss the science, right? Stating the conclusion she wants as fact is not an argument, it’s merely begging the question (or “circular argument” for those who think that “begs the question” means “suggests the question”).

        If she were actually an expert on atmospheric science or a similar discipline, then this argument might carry more weight (but it would still be a fallacious appeal to authority). However, as a science historian, who formerly worked as a mineral geologist, she has no training or experience whatsoever in this field. Thus, she absolutely needs to argue from the evidence to be convincing, which she does not.

        Next, she mentions, in passing, such facts as the globe is warming. This is something that misses the point. Sure, the globe might be warming, but that does not provide any proof that this warming is due to man, or more importantly, due to carbon-dioxide emissions.

        She brings this up as the first of her red herrings, a fallacy in which she specializes. This could be considered a straw man argument, considering that I didn’t notice where Minchin ever claimed that the surface temperatures on the Earth were not warming, and the vast majority of “skeptics” and “deniers” do not claim so either.

        Then she goes into full red-herring mode, claiming that refusing to believe in AGW is equivalent to not believing that earthquakes are caused by plate tectonics or that vaccines are effective against disease. Her reasoning (an association fallacy) is simply unforgivably sloppy, because global warming, plate tectonics, and vaccines have nothing to do with each other. They are not even in the same fields of science.

        But, hey, she’s on a roll and building up to her forte. Now she launches into an attack on the motives of her opponents. Of course, anyone who is familiar with Dr. Oreskes and her work has been waiting for this moment, because for the past decade or more, she has made a career out of ad hominem attacks against her “opponents.”

        The evidence of this need go no further than her publication list, such as the book she coauthored a couple of years ago that was specifically designed to poison the well by attacking people, instead of the arguments, on the other side. Once again, she invokes the association fallacy to taint this issue with the stains of other issues that have no connection other than the personalities involved.

        Most of her “discussion” with Minchin is one giant circumstantial ad hominem directed against him and others she can paint with the same broad brush.

        The last arrow in her quiver is an appeal to consequences (“the longer we wait, the worse this problem gets”), which is a type of emotional appeal that uses the consequences of her putative alarmist claim to argue that the original claim is real. This is the backup to her original circular argument, in case that didn’t take hold the first time around.

        My two cents: It’s not at all convincing.

        She does more to hurt her cause than to help it if her goal is to convince someone to “believe in climate change” and if we assume that her audience has the slightest bit of sense.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Brian

          I would be interested in a similar analysis of one of the scenes that did make the cut – the one where Mark Moreno explains why he works hard to share the contact information for atmospheric scientists so that his readers can explain to those scientists just how wrong they are.

          You can find that scene at the 32 minute point of the documentary.

        • Cal Abel says:

          Brian,
          You are right. I did not look very closely at her argument and with the degree of how far I missed the boat, need a great deal of work in debate, which I am rectifying. Minchin has not done very well either in bringing people to argue from the point which you are.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Rod – I shared my two cents in your new blog post.

        • Cal Abel says:

          Brian,
          A better statement of what I was trying to get out of Oreskes discussion would be, “She raises an interesting topic as to why someone would act to reject the idea of AGW as being an imminent and profound danger.” I had a hard time listening to her. Thus not lending credence to her argument which I incorrectly and unwittingly endorsed, which still counts as an endorsement that I now retract.

          The other issue that I have with her argument is that she portrays someone who supports growth or even fossil fuel consumption as being amoral. I think her purpose is more to erode the underpinnings of our technological society portraying capitalism as being somehow bad or inherently evil.

          Thanks for pointing out my error.

          Cal

        • Brian Mays says:

          Cal – I never expected Minchin to do very well. In fact, I gave up on this exercise once I reached this quote: “But they’ve both agreed to take part in a journey that might change their deeply held points of view.”

          “Deeply held” is obviously talking about belief, and while deeply held beliefs definitely have their place — such as when it comes to a love of God or a love of country — they don’t belong in science. When two people get together to argue about their deeply held beliefs, of course they are going to talk past each other, and that is exactly what happened.

          A truly scientific mind, however, must not rely on belief, but must instead always challenge and question the foundations on which its conclusions are drawn. Most importantly, one must be willing to admit when one is wrong.

          A fine example of this is the recent comments by James Lovelock, who admits that he has been too “alarmist” about climate change in the past. While he is still unapologetically bullish on nuclear power, he is now (somewhat reluctantly) willing to admit that he is a “skeptic” on the climate change issue.

          It takes a lot of character to swallow a bit of humility like that, and it’s something that I would not expect to get from someone who harbors “deeply held” beliefs on what is essentially a scientific issue.

        • Cal Abel says:

          Brian,
          That quote was in the opening minute of the show…

          That Lovelock article also expressed something about how and why he was able to make such a retraction. He is independent.

          Lovelock suggested that scientists at universities would be reluctant to make a similar retraction based out of the fear of loosing their funding. I think this is something worth exploring and is pertinent to several threads of discussion.

          This time around in school I got the chance to look at more of the underpinnings of the university system. I had an opportunity to read “Science the Endless Frontier” put together by Vannevar Bush immediately after WWII. This report lays the justification for governmental induced research. It is a significant reason why universities are funded the way they are. It is why universities, like GA Tech, are so dependent on federal money. The allocation of such monies is problematic at best and induces significant political influence on the allocation of capital. Politics then has control over which ideas get advanced and which do not, by turning on and off the flow of capital.

          Politics serves to advance ideas more than individuals advancing ideas, and is how I think we were able to arrive at a “consensus” on AGW in the 2007 IPCC report. There is merit in he work done, however there are some omissions. An example close to home is the whole LNT issue. Through omission of data threshold effects that would overturn LNT are excluded. The idea of tolerance dose does not overturn the idea that exposure to radiation causes harm, just that to a certain rate of exposure it is negligible impact.

          The IPCC and many others I think have not looked at feedback effects enough (not a climate scientist here) or have presented sufficient justification of explanation as to why projections have not matched reality. By not addressing these fundamental issues the policy choices become skewed to a certain set of drastic action which are ultimately politically motivated, exactly how and why we got LNT.

          The goal of science, I think, is to be able to explain the “white noise”, or “random” events outside of our control. The better and deeper the understanding the lower the error and the more accurate the model. This opens up possibilities of new avenues of control over our environment and is the font of technological progress.

          Thank you for sharing the link. It was well worth the read.

  9. John ONeill says:

    Australian exports 2010 – coal $17.9 billion, uranium 0.7 billion. When you add on domestic consumption (much the biggest source of electric power) there are a lot of people with a vested interest in not understanding the science, or at least being a bit slow figuring it out. Shame the aussies never got a nuclear navy…

  10. Daniel says:

    I did some research on Dr Stephen Hawking’s position on nuclear energy and climate change. He is after all pushing for nuclear fusion as the perfect source of energy in terms of density, abundance and pollution. He is hoping for a ‘miracle’ in this century. He is quite clear however that climate change is a threat now. Fission has the same benefits as fusion. We can do with fission for a frigging while. The wastes are a political issue, not a technical or scientific problem.

    I will write to tell him that now is the time that all those in favor of fusion put IS in fusion. (or something like that).

    He is worried about population growth and how we will meet the world’s basic need. He wants us to colonise space to find new room to live in. The land requirements of solar, wind and hydro are therefore out of the question.

    I have always thought that he could be a tipping point. I am still convinced. I will do my insignificant bit today and write him a letter.

  11. Daniel says:

    And I donated to the NLP – Nuclear Literacy Project ….

    I AM IN DEEP !!!

  12. gallopingcamel says:

    Cal Abel, April 28, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    “The “deniers” have a legitimate concern over the destruction of their wealth. The zealous AGW promoters are frustrated that the “deniers” don’t want to give up their wealth as they see it is a social and moral obligation for them to do so.”

    Minchin addresses this issue by talking about Australia’s cheap energy advantage. He does not buy Anna’s arguments for giving up this advantage by subsidising expensive alternatives electricity from coal powered stations (= the destruction of wealth). I would like Minchin even more if he were advocating nuclear power to augment Australia’s coal but by removing the legislative barriers rather than subsidies.

  13. Daniel says:

    We have reached the 26th anniversary of Chernobyl. Ukraine is talking about repopulating areas near the reactor.

    But I thought radiations were to last zillions of years …. Well maybe there should not have been an evacuation in the first place.

    This is an opportunity for the pro nukes to shed some light on the madness that took place all over Europe 26 years ago. The greatest tragedy linked to Chernobyl remains, like Bruno Comby said, the sad fact that women ended their pregnancies in fear of harmless radiations.