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An established myth

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted November 2, 2009

As global temperatures become increasingly uncooperative with Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) shilling, certain details about the whole parade are being brought to light. The core data of the hockey-stick graph has been shown to be tilted, perhaps cherry-picked. Edwin X. Berry, an atmospheric physicist, has disclosed how the AGW ball got rolling back in 1988. The exchange he had with the promoter is revealing:

The room was silent. I was the first to raise my hand to ask a question, "How can you defend your global warming hypothesis when you have omitted the effects of clouds which affect heat balance far more than carbon dioxide, and when your hypothesis contradicts the paper by Lee in the Journal of Applied Meteorology in 1972 that shows the atmosphere does not behave like a greenhouse?"

He answered me by saying, "You do not know what you are talking about. I know        more about how the atmosphere works than you do."

Not being one to drop out of a fight, I responded, "I know many of the atmospheric scientists in this room, and many others who are not present but I do not know you. What is your background and what makes you know so much more than me?"

He answered, "I know more than you because I am a lawyer and I work for the EPA."

After the meeting, many of my atmospheric science friends who worked for public agencies thanked me for what I said, saying they would have liked to say the same thing but they feared for their jobs.

There's a certain humor in the disclosure that AGW is science de «EPA lawyer». Given that the EPA was established in Nixon's first term, it can certainly be mined for wisecracks. "Why do the EPA toilets work? Because it's the agency with the best plumbers." "What's a valid EPA scientific credential? An LL. B." "Why are EPA employees so strong? Because they work out by stretching confidence intervals." [In a faux-Nixon voice:]"When the EPA does it, it is not unscientific."

Unfortunately, $79 billion in taxpayer funds isn't much of a laughing matter. Nor is the hijacking of climate science; nor is the widespread trampling upon hallowed scientific conventions. Nor is a group of legitimate scientists refraining to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

A more recent contestant is another physicist, Howard Hayden, whose open letter contains a one-letter disproof of the claim that the "science is settled" (à là «EPA lawyer», most likely.) He points to the fact that there are currently twenty climate-change models extant. Sciences that are settled use one model. There aren't twenty different formulae to calculate gravitational force between two bodies with specified centers of mass. There aren't twenty different models of Darwinian evolution. There aren't twenty different models in Mendelian genetics. There aren't twenty different sets of formulae to calculate time, length and mass changes due to a mass-energy object's velocity with respect to the observer of it. There aren't twenty models of plate tectonics. There aren't twenty different models of a heliocentric solar system. There aren't twenty different models for quantal behavior by electrons. There were two a long time ago, Heisenberg's matrix model and Schrödinger's wave formulation, but they were proven to be equivalent. All of the above "settled" theories have one model - not twenty. And each model works reliably.

Dr. Hayden's proof – the significant 's' – was put in an open letter for the obvious reason that his points were likely to be forwarded to the wastebasket had he not. In doing so, he showed some sense. However, there is an underlying naïvété in the assumption that the AGW plumpers are rational. Thanks to a section in Jack D. Douglas' book The Myth of the Welfare State, there are grounds to think they are not.

Below is a reprinted list of the characteristics of what anthropologists and sociologists know as "millennial myths." These are myths that are clung to by people on the defensive, who fear that their way of life is being eroded. The typical AGW supporter is a devotee of the largely discredited belief in Big Government. As Carter's ham-fistedness turned into Reagan's rhetoric, it became clear that salvation through government has its problems. The collapse of Soviet communism further endorsed that skepticism. For us conservatives and libertarians, the beginning and ending of the '80s provided reinforcement that we were right about Big Government. The verdict of history was fairly conclusive for regular Joes, if not as definite.

However, there were lots of people who believed in central planning. Those beliefs were dashed late last century. People who have had their beliefs dashed, or relegated to the dustbin of history, are easy fodder for millenarian myths. This kind of myth promises a transformation of society through a mass movement under a charismatic leader. It tends to be pugnacious, casting doubters as enemies. Resistance to the myth's dogmas elicits hostility from the true believers. At bottom, a myth of this sort is a miracle cure for status anxiety.

Below is a transcribed list of the nineteen properties of traditional religious millenarian myths. The sections in embedded quotes are by Yonina Talmon for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences' entry on "Millenarism" [vol. 10, pp. 349-60]. The ones that are not are Prof. Douglas' paraphrases. For educative and verificative reasons, I've reprinted them in their entirety. My comments appear after the quotes for each item:       

  1. "Millennialism is 'the quest for total, imminent, ultimate, this-worldly, collective salvation.'" (Myth, p. 255 hc.) The AGW movement clearly has this strain in it.
  2. '"…The new dispensation will bring about not mere improvement but a complete transformation and perfection itself…' and '…the impending redemption is ultimate and irrevocable.'" (Ibid.) Everything will be all right if only we lower our CO2 emissions! No future danger from natural processes will ever bedevil us.
  3. "Millennialism 'assumes that history has its predetermined, underlying plan, which is being carried to its completion, and…this predestined denouement is due in the near future.' Millennialism, then, has what Karl Popper has called a 'historicist' vision of human events; history is fated to develop in only one sequence (evolution) and this fate has been foreseen by the millennial prophet (seer) and, thus, his followers and their leaders." (Ibid, p. 256 hc.) Al Gore is clearly the "seer." The purportedly inevitable process is human – not natural, but only human - emission of CO2 leading to global warming and disaster. The near-future element is still there, even if it's been de-emphasized somewhat recently. Other purported disasters are an avalanche of hurricanes and tornadoes and a rising sea level.
  4. "Millennialism 'is dominated by a sense of deepening crisis that can be resolved only by ultimate salvation.' The crises are not temporary or merely part of life's normal crises; the crises are a 'sign' of the coming redemptive transformation; the crises are part of the 'fated' progress of history." (Ibid.) Remember the ballyhoo when the weather was unusually warm, and during Hurricane Katrina? And the invocation of "one swallow does not a spring make" only when the anecdotes were no longer co-operative? More to the point, the crisis-mongering hasn't stopped one bit.
  5. "Salvation is to be enjoyed by the faithful as a group." Collectivism and, thus, the common welfare are vital parts of millennialism. All true believers must bear the crisis collectively and be transformed into heaven on earth collectively." (Ibid.) According to AGWers, there is no region that can possibly benefit from global warming. As more becomes known about the climate of the distant past, this proposition is becoming more dubious. This facet of the AGW promotion has been most evident in Canada, swamping the common-sensical (and patriotic) observation that global warming would be a net plus for Canada. To take a single example, the opening of the Northwest Passage would make the surrounding (Canadian) real estate more useful than it otherwise would have been. The tree line moving north means more trees, and a warmer globe would lengthen the growing season. These common-sensical points were ignored, or pooh-poohed, by Canadian AGW promoters.
  6. "Millennial myths and movements are basically 'dualist': 'A fundamental division separates the followers from the nonfollowers. History is viewed as a struggle between saints and Satans…' (Ibid.) 'Deniers'? The very word marks the Devil's work!
  7. "Millennial myths have to an extreme degree the common tendency of myths to give an appearance of resolving totally conflicting opposites. The divine power (God, spirit, history, etc.) 'is transcendent and imminent at the same time,' both of this world and beyond it. Heaven (beyond earth) will become earthly, yet remain heaven, in the heaven-on-earth. Progress is historical, and yet will transcend history. Out of destruction and death (crises) will come creation and life (heaven on earth): out of X comes non-X. This is most obvious in the antinomian myths in which 'sin' becomes 'virtue' (in the 'holiness of sin') and 'virtue becomes sin.' (These are 'transformation myths'.)" (Ibid.) This one's a little tricky, as the AGW myth wears the cloak of science. The most evident reconciliation of opposites is the clash between the greenie worship of environmental stasis and Darwinism. Neo-Darwinian evolution is a process; any such process cannot by definition have a final end unless the process itself is eliminated. An honest Darwinian would say, for example, that Man is part of Nature and exerts selective pressure like any other resident of the global biosphere. A scrupulous Darwinian would concede that the snail darter (for example) was endangered because selective pressure overwhelmed it. As environmentalists, AGW believers are expected to be Darwinians. As activists, they're continually eager to stop the process of natural selection in its tracks when human beings are involved or merely implicated.
  8. "Most millennial movements are messianic: 'Salvation is brought by a redeemer, who is a mediator between the human and the divine. Another important mediator between the divine and the movement is the leader. Leadership tends to be charismatic.'" (Ibid.) Al Gore is the leader, and faith in the leader has remained unswayed despite the debunkment of his Big Movie. Like all such leaders, Mr. Gore has unusual latitude to behave inconsistently: we see that in his own carbon-emissions level. The redeemer is currently President Obama.
  9. "Millennial 'movements tend to be ecstatic… we encounter in many millenarian movements cases of hysterical and paranoid phenomena, mass possession, trances, fantasies; and in others ecstatic dance figures prominently. Closely related to these phenomena are the antinomian tendencies, which appear in many guises. In some movements, the antinomian element is moderate and mild, in others explicit and radical. Many millenarian movements deliberately break accepted taboos and overthrow hallowed norms. Sexual aberrations and excesses and unbridled expressions of aggression are very common. Sometimes aggression is turned inward; the members may destroy their own property and even commit mass suicide…
    "'Millenarism usually evokes extreme dedication and fervor… However, in a minority of cases we encounter the direct opposite: religious fervor manifests itself in excessive self-discipline, stringent observation of rules, and extreme asceticism. The Black Muslims, for instance, insist on strict order and decorum; they prohibit any excess and any expression of religious enthusiasm.'" (Ibid, pp. 256-7 hc.)
    With the possible exception of oil-company demonization, which seems to have been inherited, this characteristic is one that the AGW movement doesn't really show. AGW believers tend to ape scientific procedure, as is evident when one of their models fails, but there's no explicit antinomianism regarding the old-style logical positivism. There's been a lot of busybodying, but very little open aggression. We haven't seen an outburst of eco-terrorism as a result of AGW plumping.
  10. "'Movements range from the fairly passive and nonviolent, on the one hand, to the extremely activist and aggressive, on the other…. All millenarian movements share a fundamental vagueness about the actual way in which the new order will be brought about, expecting it to happen somehow by divine intervention.
    "'It should be noted, however, that there is a strong militant ingredient in the millenarian which more often than not outweighs the passive and pacifist elements in it. The assurance of operating in accordance with the predetermined divine plan and the passionate confidence in ultimate triumph may encourage heightened activity rather than passivity.'"
    "'…An alternative and equally prevalent reaction is active revolt. Radical negation of the social order engenders, in many cases, open aggression and violence.'" (Ibid.)
    Like the last attribute, this one isn't all that evident in AGW pushers except for the vagueness. Given the matches so far, it could be because this element and the last one are dormant. However, it could also indicate that AGW activism is not a full-blown millenarian movement – as yet, anyway. 
  11. "Millennialism 'flares up, in many cases, as a reaction to cumulative deterioration of life conditions and as a result of awareness of prospects for further decline in the future. We note also the precipitating effect of sudden and dramatic crises that aggravate endemic deprivation and at the same time symbolize and highlight it… First, it should be noted that the predisposing factor is, in quite a number of cases, not severe hardship but a markedly uneven relation between expectations and the means of their satisfaction. In many cases it is predominantly the inability to fulfill traditional expectations.'" (Ibid.) Bingo. The type of person most susceptible to the AGW myth is someone raised to believe in Big Government, which has become increasingly dysfunctional. Deference to would-be social planners has largely been replaced by derision or disdain. 
  12. "Millennialism 'occurs mainly in periods of transition… In modern societies we find those who have undergone the double transition of intercountry and intracountry migration and are both new immigrants and new urbanites are particularly prone to millenarism. Millenarian movements have proliferated during the transition between premodern and the modern way of life in rural Spain and Italy. Millenarian outbursts abounded towards the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times.'" (Ibid.) The AGW myth has grown with the Information Revolution, and holds an attraction for those who missed the microcomputer and Internet boat. Moreover, the info-tech world tends to be libertarian, adding to the fear that Big Government is becoming obsolete.
  13. "Millennialism occurs especially among groups who are blocked from organizing politically to achieve their goals by this-worldly, practical activity." (Ibid, p. 258 hc.) This blockage amounts to unpopular measures in a democracy. Thanks largely to incessant propagandizing, AGW enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, but it's now waning. In addition, many greenie "solutions" have a hot-house character that makes them unviable without subsidies.
  14. "Millennialists 'are not always the worst-off among the underprivileged. Those members of the deprived group who are somewhat better-off are often better able to take stock of their situation, to react, and reorganize." (Ibid.) Sonuva politico…
  15. "All of the predisposing factors interact with each other and, very importantly, individual actions and historical accidents are important in determining whether they occur or not, even when many of the predisposing factors are there." (Ibid.) One accident is that EPA lawyer mentioned in the previous snippet. Another is the warming cycle that ended in 1998. However, as indicated in points 11 to 13, the soil was fertile anyway.
  16. "'It is mainly when the authorities are not only unresponsive and inflexible but also somewhat ineffective, or at least permit some relaxation of control, that the millenarian movement has a chance to emerge and spread.'" (Ibid.) Regarding AGW promoters, "unresponsive" and "inflexible" amount to gridlock and the recognition that their unrelated pet projects are less popular than they would like to believe. There's been little joy in the land from ObamaCare, and the old-style demagogy doesn't have its old-time magic anymore.
  17. '"The predominant element in millenarism is inner certainty and hope, not despair.' 'Millenarism arouses truly great hopes and therefore can make equally great demands on its followers. By promising complete salvation, it is able to liberate formerly untapped energies and generate a supreme effort without which no major break with the existing order can be achieved.'" (Ibid.) Like #9 and #10, this element is either absent or dormant except for the inner certitude. So far, AGW pushers have largely been talkers, propagandists and subsidy-scoopers. There's been no mass movement to, say, plant vast forests to act as carbon sinks.
  18. "The greatest strength of millennialism, its inspiration of immense hope, is its greatest weakness when heaven does not arrive as predicted." (Ibid.) No comment needed, except for the point that discrediting often reinforces myths. The book When Prophecy Fails makes that clear. We've already seen a slew of tactics whose aim is to protect the myth from debunking and even outside scrutiny.
  19. "'The most important feature of millenarism seems to be its composite, intermediate nature. It combines elements that are seemingly mutually exclusive: it is historical as well as mythical, religious as well as political, and, most significant, it is future-oriented as well as past-oriented. It is precisely this combination of a radical revolutionary position with traditionalism that accounts for the widespread appeal of millenarism and turns it into such a potent agent of change.'" (Ibid.) The clash between Darwinism and stasis-seeking has already been noted. There's also the profound ambivalence towards technology, and indeed towards progress itself. The entire greenie movement has a definite misanthropic streak; it's definitely reactionary in places. Some genuinely believe in turning back the population clock.

The AGW movement does not have all the characteristics of a millenarian movement, but there are enough to make the identification fairly plain. The mythical status of AGW, sad to say, does not bode very well for genuine science. Despite the noble efforts of Lord Monckton, the indefatigable doggedness of Steve McIntyre and the tirelessness of Anthony Watts, plus the increasing realization of AGW core's hollowness and of the brazenness of its subsidy seekers, the AGW promotion is far from being eradicated. Myths are rarely refuted, and only uncommonly rebutted. They have to be debunked, and only after their prophecies fail. The Myth of Revolutionary Communism was remarkably resilient to refutation as long as the Soviet Union was still around.

It's possible that the current debunking will end up wounding the bear - turning AGW into a full-blown millenarian myth. The scientists and writers who have been most effective in combating and debunking AGW are greybeards; they won't be around forever. The evident defects of the peer-review process exposed by the tree-ring scandal indicate an already-ensconced party line. Skeptics have been all-but cut off from government funding, as Dr. Berry notes in his EPA-science piece. AGW looks a lot like Tammany Hall in a lab coat; such machines are very hard to excise once embedded. In a war of attrition, the machine usually wins.

Sad to say, but the only permanent fixes are nearly impossible to implement given current political norms. The first one would be to flunk out any science student who tries to fudge-factor his or her way out of a disappointing lab result, and to strip the epaulettes off any working scientist who does the same. Doing so would engender howls of protest that would likely smother such a reform.

The second is to clamp down on the EPA, in the same way that political correctness was clamped down upon in the mid-1990s. Doing so would elicit even more howls, and would be impossible without a sustained campaign of muckraking. So far, there has been no Upton Sinclair, or Sinclair Lewis, willing to step up to the plate and fill Michael Crichton's shoes. Any one who fills them will find out that the labor needed is comparable to Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables, if not Sisyphus and the rock. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan dances with the Grim Reaper.

 

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