Pythagoras and plate-spinning for fake sceptics

I could have called this post ‘Algebra and Art in the service of Anti-Science’ but, let’s be honest, you would not have had a clue what I was on about; and would have been much less likley to read on. However, if you have read this far, I hope you will continue… First of all, what do I mean by using the term “fake sceptics”? I like this term because it conveys all the key points made in the introduction to my MA dissertation: That, far from remaining resolutely open-minded in the face of uncertainty, those who sometimes call themselves “climate realists” are, in fact, dismissing all the evidence that supports an unwelcome conclusion. This is not scepticism; it is ideological prejudice and/or willful blindness. Despite the protestations of people on contrarian websites such as Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit, the jury is not out on our understanding of climate science any more than it is on our living on a near-spherical Earth. In the face of all the evidence to validate both of the above, which pours in on an almost daily basis, it is simply irrational to continue to dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding the nature, scale and urgency of the problem that is anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Furthermore, such an irrational position can only be sustained by invoking conspiracy theory; and/or the marketplace of ideas (i.e. “I am right and everyone else is wrong”)… But what, you may ask, has this got to do with Algebra and Art (or Pythagoras and Plate-Spinning in particular); and why combine the two subjects under one heading and in one post? Well, if you have not already guessed, I hope that all is about to become clear… The Algebra of Pythagoras Thanks to Pythagoras’ Theorem, we are mostly taught from a fairly young age that, for any right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Like many other things the early Greek mathematicians worked out, this has proved very useful – not least because it provides us with the equation for a circle (the shape traced out by rotating a right-angle triangle about one of its other two corners). With my thanks to the Worsley School website, here is a useful illustration: Fake sceptics are of course familiar with this particular equation, because they spend their entire lives going around in circles and take great delight in wasting the time of those who try to stop them… The Art of Plate-Spinning Back in October last year, I attempted to engage college drop-out and ex-TV Weatherman, Anthony Watts (of WattsUpWithThat? [WUWT] infamy) in rational debate. Sadly, I failed. This was because, even after realising that one cannot use the words ‘denial’ or ‘denier’ on WUWT (i.e. the “D-words”), Anthony got very embarrassed and blacklisted me after failing to appreciate that I am not a published author and that I was not trying to promote a book full of “such ugliness” as D-words; and having a massive sense of humour failure in the process. For those new to this blog and/or unfamiliar with this sorry tale, this all goes back to my reading of Robert Henson’s excellent book Rough Guide to Climate Change; and my re-formulation of his summation of the arguments climate change sceptics make into what I called ‘The Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’. Thus it was that Anthony Watts got very upset by the way in which I presented these on my blog alongside a spoof cover of a book I have not actually written – Tough Guide to Climate Denial. So what has all this got to do with plate-spinning? Well, as Henson acknowledged, no one sceptic believes and/or argues all of these things simultaneously but, as I have argued before, trying to tackle these fake sceptics on any one argument is a bit like trying to kill the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology: Defeat is never admitted; another argument is merely substituted; and pretty-soon you find yourself back where you started. Demolition Progress Report Now you may understand why I combined the two subjects. However, I think that some progress is now finally being made. Here is an update on progress towards the demolition of each of these ‘Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’… 1. Global warming is not happening: Dr Richard A Muller has admitted that 20th Century Warming is real and unprecedented in thousands if not millions of years; and therefore it is not an artefact of the Urban Heat Island Effect; the distribution of Land and Sea monitoring points of the substitution of Surface measurements with those from Satellites. 2. Global warming is not man-made: If it is unprecedented in millions of years, how can it be explained by well-understood natural climate forcings (factors tending to bring about change) that have not changed significantly? (i.e. A 1% increase in total solar irradiance and 4% increase in atmospheric moisture; compared to a 40% increase in CO2). 3. Global warming is not significant: If it is unprecedented and man-made, how can it be insignificant and why would we choose not to stop it? Can you feel a circular argument coming on…? 4. Global warming is not necessarily bad: Ongoing research into the effects of increased CO2 on plant growth clearly show short-term benefits are quickly overtaken by longer-term adverse consequences – especially if increased CO2 is combined with increased temperature. Furthermore, as predicted by climate models, the problem is not global warming it is ACD and, whatever the nature of ACD in any one place at any one time, the impact on agriculture is generally negative – which means food prices are likely to rise. This cannot be good. 5. Global warming is not a problem: May be so but, ACD most definitely is a problem; and the longer we delay tackling it the number of people impacted and incapacitated by it will increase; and the number of people willing and able to solve it will decrease. 6. Global warming is not worth fixing: A variety of entities such as the US Department of Defense (Quadrennial Defense Review in 2010); the Communist Party of China (Climate Change White Paper in 2011), and the International Energy Agency (World Energy Outlook in 2011) all agree with the Stern Review that any delay will be a false economy – as now does the formerly-sceptical American economist William Nordhaus. So what is to be done? There is most certainly much that could be done but, encouraged by the leaders of our big energy companies, our politicians keep spurning every opportunity they are given to make the required changes. Phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies, levelling the playing field for renewable energy and treating the Green Economy as a business opportunity would all be a good start. Instead of which, our leaders are fixated on short-term problems such as a global debt crisis; but are ignoring the approaching asteroid of ACD; which becomes harder to blow off-course the longer we wait to attempt doing so. In the end, as David Roberts has suggested, our response to ACD is simple: Either we do something or we’re screwed.


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, Denial, Economics, Energy Crisis, Environment, Fossil Fuels, Politics, Renewable Energy, Scepticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Pythagoras and plate-spinning for fake sceptics

  1. Great post, Rick. Surely, with what’s happening to climate across the globe, the deniers must be beginning to realise that it’s about more than things getting warmer and the sea level rising. I like both your titles, by the way.


    • Rick Altman says:

      As I said to someone on climatecrocks recently, I don’t generally approve of the sarcastic and derogatory use of a “catastrophic” suffix but when you add it to Anthropogenic Climate Confusion it works quite well – CACC – It’s where we are headed if we do not act fast… 🙂 Both? Do you mean, this post and the imaginary book; or the alternative title for this post?


  2. weatherdem says:

    Fantastic post, Rick. I especially like the spinning plates metaphor – it is something that I have struggled to come up with myself. All of the effects happening simultaneously cannot be explained by the set of irrational theories that skeptics come up with, especially the ideologically driven type. From a philosophical standpoint, anthropogenic climate disruption is an elegant scientific theory in that from it, many other phenomena are at least somewhat explained. I’m impressed you took the time to take on Watts. The first time I heard of him I convinced myself to never engage him since he was clearly a rabid ideologue. The depressing part to Watts and others like him is they’re carrying corporate water nearly for free. I suppose if you characterize their type and level of “fame” as a form of wealth, it’s not completely for free, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to seek out that kind of notoriety.


    • Rick Altman says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I was hoping to find an online explanation for “carrying corporate water for free” but have not done so. What you appear to be saying is that he is promoting the propaganda of others without any relevant expertise. If so, he is not alone because, we are in the sorry mess thanks to the work of Fred Singer (who seems to have been the first to propose a WMO/UN/IPCC conspiracy); as picked-up by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick; publicised by Andrew Montford; given credence by a range of non-climate specialists; and popularised by an array of scientifically-illiterate journalists.


  3. jpgreenword says:

    I’ve always found it incredible how people believe that increasing CO2 will be beneficial to plants – as though it is the only factor that affects plant growth. I think many American and Canadian farmers are seeing how that theory isn’t working out.


  4. Pingback: There is nothing abstract about climate change denial « Anthropocene Reality

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