Postcard from a Herculean guilt trip

Schoolchildren love to play games. One of their favourites is blame-shifting. This is particularly common when they feel (or know) they are guilty. As the name suggests, it is usually an attempt to blame a problem on somebody else, or highlight someone else’s misdemeanors and/or deficiencies in the hope that one’s own will be overlooked or forgotten. On a global scale, blame-shifting is employed by climate change sceptics in developed countries as in excuse for continuing inaction. We are repeatedly told that unilateral action to reduce carbon emissions is pointless because, for example, China is building so many new coal-fired power stations. When it suits them, of course, the so-called “sceptics” will argue that carbon emissions are not causing the problem but, if you tie them in knots with evidence that the emissions are the primary cause, they will quickly revert to such diversionary tactics as this. In this way, trying to defeat climate change denial is a genuinely Herculean task; analogous to killing the multi-headed Hydra – cut off a head and it grows back while you are tackling another… As if this were not annoying enough, our adversaries also engage in blame-shifting on a very personal level: If we manage to – even temporarily – win the argument that the 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the Industrial Revolution is the primary cause of the increasingly-obvious anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD – each of the last 4 decades has been warmer than its predecessor; and extreme weather of all kinds continue to become ever-more frequent – because the dice are now well and truly loaded)… it seems a popular tactic to attack the messenger – question their behaviour; and make them look like a hypocrite.

Movable object meets resistable force

Me fooling about near Everest Base Camp (approx. 5300m ASL)

Oakwood is the most recent person to do this; but he is not the first and – in all probability – he will not be the last… Because people cannot falsify the scientific basis for concern over ACD – the cumulative effects of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere tens, hundreds or even thousands of times faster than the various ways in which the Earth can recycle it (in the formation of sea shells, coral, plants, and ultimately fossil fuels) – it seems almost irresistably tempting to point out that the person who has won the argument is not perfect; and is therefore part of the problem. This, however, does not make the problem go away. As such, I have been criticised for flying to the Himalayas in 2008 and, now, also criticised (at least implicitly) for flying to the South of France in 2011. Any attempt to justify my behaviour would be to indulge in a futile battle to see who has flown the least air miles during their entire lifetime. There is, of course, one very clear way I could reduce my carbon footprint and that would be to kill myself – although I would have to tell all my friends not to come to my funeral; not to send cards or flowers; and it would, of course, have to be a green burial – preferably a sky burial whereby my body is left in the open as food for animals that feed on carrion with absolutely zero carbon emissions (on the part of humans at least). But this too would not invalidate the scientific basis for concern over ACD; and it would not really help solve our problem (much). So, with respect… Will people please stop trying to shift their guilty conscience onto me? It is a tacit admission that you are denying the reality of the problem; and it is not helping any of us to solve it.

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Environment, Fossil Fuels, Palaeoclimatology, Photography, Scepticism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Postcard from a Herculean guilt trip

  1. JZK says:

    Rick, Your hypocrisy has little to do with Oakwood’s ability to refute arguments. It has to do with your choices to cause CO2 to be emitted, so that you can go on recreational vacations. It also has to do with your even considering working for a coal mining company as if you don’t have a choice. Imagine if 7 Billion people caused as much CO2 to be emitted as you do. Remember that you are the one that believes that we are in crisis. When someone that is undecided on the issue sees the most ardent believers spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, it makes one wonder whether the believers are really believers. Of course, you aren’t the worst. Look at the carbon footprints of James Cameron, Al Gore, and James Hansen.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      As a recruitment consultant said to me recently, the time may be approaching when the mining of fossil fuels will become politically, environmentally and/or socially unacceptable but, until it does so, saying that it should be will not help me get a job. Similarly, whether or not I choose to fly in them, or find that I must do so in order to get a job, the planes will keep flying. Therefore, I am not being a hypocrite by doing so. However, the kinds of actions that will make a difference would be investment in infrastructure that reduces the demand for frequent flying and/or commuting for business purposes; and/or making the cost of recreational/tourist flying more expensive (so that it reflects the real environmental cost of our doing it). Moreover, the USA is top of the table of environmentally irresponsible nations in that the cost of fossil fuel use is much lower than it should be; and has been so for many decades (as a result of the stranglehold that business interests have on US politics). So I will not accept any lectures from you on this subject. Given that I have highlighted the intellectual dishonesty involved in your trying to make me feel guilty, your persistence in doing so is truly remarkable. Furthermore, you may also wish to paint Cameron, Gore, and Hansen as hypocrites, but – as much as you might wish it were otherwise – it does not alter the fact that the consensus view of palaeoclimatology and atmospheric physics is that we need to stop burning as much fossil fuel as possible as quickly as possible. This does not mean that we must all go back to living in the Dark Ages, it just means we must start making hard choices: Just as cigarette smoking and binge drinking of alcohol have become sufficiently socially and politically unacceptable that the UK’s Health Minister (Andrew Lansley) can acknowledge that these costs are greater than the economic benefits of supporting sales, so the same must happen to fossil fuels: People must be enabled to make wise choices; and those choices must be made more appealing than they already are. In this way, we may yet solve the problem. You, however, will not solve the problem by denying that it exists; or by denouncing as hypocrites those that tell us it does (although it no doubt makes you feel much better).

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      • JZK says:

        Hey Rick, I am not a denier, yet. I am a skeptic/agnostic. I don’t think CO2 is a problem, but I am listening and looking. Until I conclude that it is a problem, I feel no need to curtail fossil fuel use. So I don’t. I am thankful for the opportunity to heat my family’s home with natural gas. I don’t waste it, however, but that is more of trying to save money rather than trying to limit CO2 emissions. You, however, believe it is a crisis. Seeing believers spew CO2 because everyone is doing it anyway makes me and other skeptics less likely to ever believe. I wonder why people would do that which they think will end all life on the planet. If I thought an activity would end all life on the planet, I wouldn’t do it for recreational purposes nor would I do it for employment. In Manhattan, waste collectors start at a salary of $70,000 per year, so there are always choices. Personally, I think you should go visit Everest, as it sounds like a cool trip. I am not concerned with the CO2 that you are causing to be emitted because I don’t believe it is harmful.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        “I don’t think CO2 is a problem” …Everything must be OK then. Why have I been so silly… As I said, I am not going to waste my time arguing about which one of us is responsible for the greater amount of carbon emissions. What I will never stop arguing, however, is that your dismissal of the consensus as a false alarm is illogical, unsound, and ideologically prejudiced because of your myopic insistence upon settling for laissez faire…

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  2. oakwood says:

    Easy to see where the denial is. Rick, you accuse AGW sceptics of shifting the blame. But that’s precisely what you do in justifying air flight and working for coal. Can you not see that?

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    • Rick Altman says:

      My comments about air travel are entirely legitimate. I am being pragmatic rather than idealistic; but I am in denial about absolutely nothing. I am not working for a coal mining company and have no intention of doing so. Furthermore, if at all possible, I intend to avoid working for someone who might have clients that do so. Meanwhile, you continue to dismiss the vast majority of relevantly-qualified scientists as being either misguided, myopic, or mendacious. Unfortunately for you – and all the rest of us – that is nonsensical; because the clock is ticking – and the longer we delay, the harder and more expensive mitigation gets. But don’t just take my word for it…

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      • oakwood says:

        Science is not about agreeing with “the vast majority of relevantly-qualified scientists”. If it was, we would not have benefited from the wisdom of Ptolomey, Capernicus, Gallileo, Newton, Darwin, Gideon Mantell, William Smith or Einstein. Science (if not actually doing the studies yourself) is about reading the science and making your own judgement about what is plausible and what you agree with. As I keep saying, my point is not about saying we should agree on the science but we should at least aknowledge the debate. Significant uncertainties regarding AGW exist. To deny that is unscientific. If you believe what you say about climate change, you should not fly on a plane again. To do so is to be a hypocrite.

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      • ‘Significant uncertainties regarding AGW exist. To deny that is unscientific’ I don’t think anyone is, but the sceptical movement picks up on uncertainties and misrepresents them. It is designed to sow confusion as those uncertainties do not dispute the direction just variations in the route. It is illogical to argue that just because we don’t know all the detail is a reason to dismiss all the other evidence.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        You (Oakwood) are like a non-Muslim insisting that I be stoned for adultery in accordance with Sharia Law. It is you that is a hypocrite for seeking to judge me for a pragmatic decision (I haven’t made yet) that will not alter the course of history; while insisting we should do nothing (to tackle a problem you say we don’t have) – a course of action that will affect the destiny of millions of people. Please do not repeat yourself again – in many places such behaviour is equated with trolling and results in people being bAltmanlisted.

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  3. I find the issue is the other way round, that is, informing friends and associates who are aware of the dangers of AGW that buying fairtrade, recycling household waste and having solar fitted on their middleclass properties is not the solution. It is part of the solution but it doesn’t let you off the hook. I am a low carbon user, but I am lucky as I bought land and have far more timber off it than I can use so heating and hot water are carbon neutral, I use solar for low power lights, laptop, tv etc and the generator for occasional high power is run off a mixture of recovered heating oil and vegetable oil [rape seed]. My 4×4 is ancient and only used for hauling water or wood or tools, and now off the road so I cycle. I use the bus and car share. Drinking water is gravity fed, the only energy is the manufacture of the plastic pipe [not pvc]. I grow food and had a holiday sometime ago. I even turn all waste wood into biochar equivalent to 1t of carbon a year [does that equal 3t of co2?]. But going onto a CO2 calculator website I still find that even after turning down use knobs/sliders on electricity, gas, fuel etc I am still a major producer. We live in a high energy world and am part of a system that includes the road network, the NHS, UK forces, plus- that accounts for a couple of tonnes of personal emissions. Our collective wealth is because we are able to use additional energy beyond our own calorific intake. As a very mundane instance I renovated a cultivator to do the veg plot, put a 5hp engine on it and it has just prepared half an acre for planting for the energy of a couple of gallons. I am not planning to go back to doing it by hand or find 5 real horses. It certainly is not about going back to the middle ages. The nature of our society of interdependency means short of topping ourselves we need government and big business to assist with the transition from high carbon use to something more sustainable. I agree with your post but, on this occasion, I feel the majority should be focused on doing what they can; and not on the deniers.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Jules. I was pleased to read your penultimate paragraph but unclear as to the meaning of the final one. Please let me know if I have interpreted your intended meaning correctly.

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      • last paragraph in short is that we [collectively] need to focus on explaining the complexities at hand to the majority who accept AGW/D .Complacency will have almost the same effect as denial. But deniers are very irritating…

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Jules. Not wishing to add insult to injury, unless you provide me with an exact wording, I will not edit your original post again. I don’t mind either way but, apologies if I was a little presumptuous. Thanks for not throwing a hissy fit (like some other strange(r) people I could mention…)

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  4. Oakwood says:

    Rick, you present an impressive form of self-satire, and have given me a few days of entertainment. When the next edition of ‘how to win friends an influence people’ is published, you would make a good example – of how not to do it. Good luck with the job hunting.

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  5. Pingback: A brief history of Earth – part 2 « Anthropocene Reality

  6. Hi, Rick. This post has furthered thoughts on the struggles of being green, which I will develop in my own blog at sometime. However, it is clearly not easy being green. The implications of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are, in modern human history, without comparison; but there are parallels with the Cold War in relation to our individual responsibilities and responses. In some respects the ‘right’ are effectively adopting the position of pacifist position of CND; with some seeing Global cooperation as Communism 2.0; whereas the ‘enlightened’ are arguing for greater ‘defence’ spending… The cost and time period of the Cold War are similar to preventing ACD: Converted to 1992 US dollars, the total estimated expenditure for the period between 1950-91 was $13 trillion in the US alone, and globally it was around $18 trillion. Converting these sums to today’s values would be double, which is not far off the International Energy Agency estimate of $45tr, made in 2008, of the cost of the most drastic steps to wean the world off fossil fuels. The UN estimates of ACD mitigation range between $50 billion and $200 billion a year until 2050, which sounds a lot; but is less than a third of US military funding ($640 billion) and is equal to 45% of global spending on defence. During the height of the Cold War even the most anti-red-menace citizen could do little more than vote for a hawk, support spending, build a bunker and stock up on guns. Likewise any responsible citizen of the West would struggle to bring their carbon footprint down to a more equitable level: we are all subjects of our national economies. We can make efforts to make fewer pointless journeys; use less energy; recycle more; and make our lives better by living closer to work so we don’t have endure grim daily commutes… But, ultimately, the solution to the ACD problem will depend upon government intervention. The anti-communist survivalist could never have countered the red menace with tinned food and a hunting rifle; the defence was ultimately a nuclear arsenal. Much of the US economy was based on its ‘defence’ industry, which it still needs to be the world leader it is; and much of the threat was hype and ‘alarmist’ designed to allow the huge spending to continue. Oddly, this is flipped on its head when it comes to the issue of ACD: Sceptics/deniers insist that it is hype and alarmism designed to allow spending as well – only this time supposedly in order bring about political change. I wonder how many libertarians who are in favour of military spending and the military economy have the same views on the defence of the planet. So the hypocrite is not the person who jumps on a plane whilst trying to educate others about the dangers of ACD; or who simply wants to take the opportunity to expand their personal experience; or the geologist preventing polluted water from a mine entering the ecosystem; or the middle-class parent who drops their kids off in the 4×4 at school and buys fairtrade goods in Waitrose… The hypocrite is the person who claims they want the money they have no desire to give to be spent on ‘real’ issues like poverty; or saving the environment. It is all those sceptics who claim they are sceptics but never give a critical thought to both sides ‘of the debate’; sceptics who never contest an opinion expressed on Bishop Hill or WUWT. Hypocrites claim they care; yet display little evidence that they do.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thank Jules. You raise some interesting and intruiging points here. Thanks also for providing all the facts and figures regarding the costs of Cold War military expenditure. The latest estimates for ACD mitigation are that the expenditure by 2100 will be somewhere between 12 and 20 trillion depending on when we choose to start tackling the problem. Also, last year, the IEA suggested that the costs of decarbonising the World’s economies could quadruple if we fail to start by 2020. Unfortunately, the World’s politicians continue to place their hands over their ears and shout “La La La, I can’t hear you”. In attempting to encourage me to keep quiet about my concerns over hydrocarbon exploration, a recruitment consultant implied, as you do, that the solution to the ACD problem will have to come from governments – tax, legislation, investment and/or incentives to achieve significant behaviour modification. Indeed, we see the beginnings of this already, with people buying smaller, more fuel efficient cars and investing in micro power generation and/or growing their own food. Whist we need governments to be consistent, governments also need a mandate to act and, where they are reluctant to act (because of vested interests), this mandate must come from the general public. Most so-called “sceptics” in wealthy countries will get very angry if you claim they do not care; even Anders Breivik says he is a generally nice person and had to de-humanise himself in order to shoot 77 people in the head. I would therefore hesitate to say they do not care. The trouble is that they invariably have a utilitarian attitude towards nature (rather than seeing themselves as part of it). This causes them to invert reality and blame long-standing problems arising from international corruption, unfair trade agreements, and over-population (such as malnutrition, starvation, and premature death) on much more recent efforts to tackle ACD. In so doing, these armchair sceptics overlook the fact that, in many cases, it is now the governments of the World’s poorest countries (who have no time for such “scepticism”) that are the most vociferous in calling for mitigation. Of all the points you make, I think the most significant – and worthy of being highlighted – is this: Whereas “sceptics” endlessly and unquestioningly repeat stuff spouted mainly by non-experts whose work is almost never peer reviewed; they are more than happy to endlessly question the integrity and motives of real experts whose work is almost always peer-reviewed… This is because, to be a “sceptic”, you must believe in the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas.

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  9. Sometimes you have to fly! It will take me some time to read all your posts, but I will.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Awesome commitment levels, DA. I feel duly flattered. If you are really going to try and do this, they are probably best read in chronological order; and every time you need to take a break just create a temporary bookmark/favourite (to return easily at another time).

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