Who is the Smartest Person Who Believes Climate Change Fear-Mongering?

A few days ago I read about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s response to a shareholder complaint about sustainability programs:

At a shareholders meeting on Friday, CEO Tim Cook angrily defended Apple’s environmentally-friendly practices against a request from the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) to drop those practices if they ever became unprofitable.

I support the practices Cook defended. But the incident was summarized by a headline writer like this: “Tim Cook tells off climate change deniers.” I am a climate change denier in the sense that I don’t believe that there is persuasive evidence that humans are dangerously warming the planet.

The headline — not what actually happened — reminded me of something surprising and puzzling I noticed soon after I became an assistant professor at Berkeley. I attended several colloquium talks — hour-long talks about research, usually by a visitor, a professor from somewhere else — every week. Now and then the speaker would omit essential information. Such as what the y axis was. Or what the points were. The missing information made it impossible to understand what the speaker was saying.

I didn’t expect graduate students to interrupt to ask for the missing info but surely, I thought, one of the five or eight professors in the room would. We all need to know this, I thought. Yet none of them spoke up. I cannot think of a single example of a professor speaking up when this happened (except me). Even now I am unsure why this happened (and no doubt still happens). Maybe it reflects insecurity.

I mention climate change on this blog because it is interesting that so many intelligent supposedly independent-thinking people actually believe, or claim to believe, that humans are dangerously warming the planet. The evidence for the supposedly undeniable claim (“97% of scientists agree!”) is indistinguishable from zero. Of course journalists, such as Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker and Bill McKibben (a former journalist), are often English majors and intimidated by scientists. I don’t expect them to question what scientists say, although questioning authority is half their job. Of course actual climate scientists do not dissent, for fear of career damage. It is when smart people who are not journalists or climate scientists take this stuff seriously that I am impressed. Just as I was impressed by Berkeley professors who did nothing when they didn’t understand what they were being told.

It seems to me that the smarter you are the more easily you can see that climate change fear-mongering is nonsense. There must be some other important human quality (conformity? religiosity? diffidence? status-seeking? fear of failure?) that interferes with intelligence in non-trivial ways. To try to figure out what the quality is, I ask: who is the smartest person you know who believes global warming fear-mongering? Does that person do other extreme or unusual things? These might shed light on what the intelligence-opposing personality trait is.

People talk about intelligence quite often (“you’re so smart!” “she’s very bright”). Many people, including me, think it matters. There are tests for it. But this other trait, which can negate intelligence and therefore is just as important…not so much. In my experience, not at all. My fellow Berkeley professors were very smart. But they were also something else, much less apparent.

50 Replies to “Who is the Smartest Person Who Believes Climate Change Fear-Mongering?”

  1. As a reasonably intelligent but not very well educated person, here’s what I figure.

    Earth’s climate changes, it has to, because change = stability over the long term. The “climates” of all the planets in our solar system are changing. Our sun’s activity is changing – or at least not doing what our scientists expect it to do as this recent solar max has been very meek indeed. But most humans don’t think in the long term or see the big picture.

    Maybe it is just plain too scary for most to believe that our climate is something that is out of our control. Maybe people are somehow comforted in believing that humans are causing climate change, because that implies we can fix it too?

    It might also a game of bait and switch. Focus our attention on the evils of carbon and it takes our attention away from all the other nasty crap poisoning our air and water.

  2. People of very high intelligence are especially susceptible to large abstract theories about society. Those of a literary inclination fall for romantic and imaginative theories like those identified by Stephen Pinker: illusions about the Noble Savage, the Blank Slate, and the Ghost in the Machine. Mathematical and scientific types are prone to see politics in terms of engineering; to see human populations as quantities of concrete to be shoveled around. As P.J. O’Rourke said after visiting Poland in the 1970s: “Commies love concrete.”

    In my 2000 article I proposed the following counterfactual thought experiment:

    Suppose that in, say, 1920 the U.S. franchise had been limited to citizens holding a Ph.D. What would the consequences have been? Is there any doubt that we should have had a Soviet America in very short order, and that we should right now be digging ourselves out of the same pit the poor Russians find themselves in?

    Political stupidity is in fact a special kind of stupidity, not well correlated with other kinds. Think of the barmy political programs that issued forth, with such confidence, from Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Norman Mailer and other members of the mid-20th-century preposterentsia, as exposed in withering detail in Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals.

    At the very highest levels of intelligence, the correlation between IQ and sensible political opinions may actually be inverse: the more brilliant you are, the dumber your politics. Albert Einstein thought well of Stalin; Hitlerism got its first mass following in the highly-selective German universities.


    1. Albert Einstein thought well of Stalin? Whew. I knew he thought well of Freud and Veblen. (Freud a fabulist and Veblen a great economist.) Maybe the liking of Stalin is a comment on the information available at the time.

  3. “It is when smart people who are not journalists or climate scientists take this stuff seriously that I am impressed. Just as I was impressed by Berkeley professors who did nothing when they didn’t understand what they were being told.”

    Is there a “not” missing somewhere in there ?

    I think there may be different types of ‘smart’, one practical, another theoretical. People who don’t much come into contact with harsh reality can spin whatever theory their fancy takes, and probably believe it too. The more practical tend to ration out their credulity by the spoonful rather than the bucket.

  4. Something similar happens in company meetings.

    People working for, say, a software startup, tend to be quite competent, energetic and smart. But when the CEO tells them during a group meeting that a sock puppet selling pet food is gonna be bigger than IBM and Microsoft combined, no one stands up and calls BS.

    I’m sure 97% of startups fail eventually. And everyone knows it. Don’t be a hater, bro’. Just smile and high-five the CEO.

    Seth: During the company meetings, when the CEO says something delusional, I think there are three differences from what I observed at research talks: 1. At the research talks to speak up is just to tell the speaker that they left out something essential, presumably by mistake. The speaker is very likely to be grateful. They want to be understood. No one wants to be told they are delusional. 2. At the research talks, the professors in the audience who say nothing are at least equal status with the speaker. 3. At the research talks, everyone in the audience wants to understand. If Professor X asks a clarifying question, everyone in the audience will be grateful. At a company meeting, I suspect reactions to a delusion-challenging question would be more complicated.

  5. I believe the more intelligent you are, the greater you are susciptoble to the pressures of group think. Just from my own experience I’m a graduate of a selective liberal arts college (Williams) and I can guarantee if you went against the grain and questioned global warming you’d have been classified as a kook by professors and classmates. There is intense pressure to accept the commonly held “smart” beliefs. I’ve also believe based on what’s happened to me personally, it certainly does not pay to rock the boat. To be classified as an eccentric in fields such as law, medicine, banking, academia is a sure fire career killer. Thus, the pressure to go along with the group think.

    Whereas a lesser educated person can afford to be a maverick and go against the grain since they usually have much less to lose.

  6. Maybe restating something above, but academics, in particular (and probably Tim Cook too), are former nerds. I think they’ve been battered throughout life by the desire to be part of the cool kids, and once they find a group to hang with, are less likely to do anything to prompt shunning.

    As a former nerd myself, I can say that I’m a “climate change denier”, but the group I hang with doesn’t seem to pay much attention to that particular issue, so I guess I can afford to be.

  7. Challenging a speaker in a room full of educated people feels like a confrontation. Most people can tolerate only a limited number of concurrent fights. Most people probably already feel like they’re fighting on two fronts, work and politics, and some people have relationship/family fights also.

    Also, people don’t like to feel stupid. Sometimes questions ARE stupid, although sometimes questions are smart. Often the person who wants to ask a question has no idea if the question is stupid or smart.

  8. I think that Catastrophic Climate Change Belief/Skepticism has more to do with political world views than it does with intelligence. If you want to delve into the intelligence/motivations of smart Catastrophic Climate Change Believers then Paul Krugman is probably a fine example:


    Am I the only one that finds it surreal that a Berkeley Psychology Professor is challenging the intelligence of people who believe in climate change? Seth, your curiosity about the missing y-axis units is not the only way you stand out 🙂

  9. Seth:
    “But this other trait, which can negate intelligence and therefore is just as important…not so much. In my experience, not at all. My fellow Berkeley professors were very smart. But they were also something else, much less apparent.”

    “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.” Tolstoy

    Moreover, it’s just about impossible to even discuss the climate these days. The vernacular has now been so corrupted by the alarmists (and not by accident) that we might as well be speaking in tongues.

    And while I’m no climate scientist, I refuse to believe that we even have the ability to measure GLOBAL temperature changes, to within a few tenths of a degree(!), in the first place (computer models, or no computer models). I’ve seen no evidence of it. No, not even with satellites, much less with ground-based temperature stations. Tree rings? You gotta be kidding me.

    My hunch is that this is all about politics and nothing about science. And always has been. It’s just another government grab for even more power over our lives, to be able to “redistribute the wealth,” to enact “social justice,” to extract more taxes from us, etc.

    The best thing we can do to these people is to mock them. To ridicule them. To make fun of them. To puncture their balloons. And, of course, to laugh heartily at them. They deserve it!

    PS: I hope everyone is following the legal goings-on between Michael Mann (the actual driver of the clown car that is global warming hysteria) and Mark Styne. Mann is now suing Styne because Styne made fun of him! Everyone SHOULD make fun of him…because he’s a freakin’ buffoon!

  10. Maybe the Berkeley professors already had or wanted a relationship with the guest speaker that caused them not to want the distinction of being remembered by that guest speaker for having publicly embarrassed him.

  11. I see this a lot in what I call “Intellectual Atheism”. Smart people talking about the non existence of God or a higher being. I believe there is a God but if I didn’t, I would spend exactly zero time discussing it. I certainly would not attend a meeting or put up a billboard explaining why I do not think God exists (any more than I would spend any time talking about American Idol or some other show that I have no interest in watching).

  12. Tribe —
    My very short, nearly self-contradictory theory of human nature is that individuals almost never have opinions. Groups have opinions. People belong to groups. And people assert opinions in order to indicate belonging into the groups. Disputing an opinion held by a group is read by almost everyone (both in and out of the group) as being substantially to primarily about attacking the group.

    Only very strange people who are permanent outsiders actually address opinions as being about a topic, and then only because they’re somewhat socially inept, and never figured out how to belong to a group anyhow.

    Belongingness appears nearly orthogonal to intelligence. I can think of very smart insiders, and very dumb outsiders

  13. The category “intelligent but obtuse” is worth investigation no doubt, but isn’t much of what we see just people preferring to stay with the flock?

    Seth: Yeah, I would agree that science is both supported and pushed against by human nature. It’s human nature to be curious, which improves science. And it’s human nature to “stay with the flock” which works against science. That’s an argument for personal science, which is done in isolation. So no effect of what other people think.

  14. I’m not convinced that such an overwhelming majority intelligent people, at least in the U.S., fully buy into anthropogenic global warming.

    40% of Americans in 2013 agreed that climate change was a major threat according to Pew Research. Undoubtedly the 60% who disagreed or had no strong opinion included many intelligent people.

  15. As a proponent of bitcoin and one who talks a lot about it I have observed often that most people will never hold an opinion not shared by most, doesn’t matter what you tell them, they won’t do it. Conversely, they will readily claim a falsehood to be true if it’s held by the group. Nobody ever wants to be the odd man out except those who can’t be anything else

  16. I see quite a bit of smugness in these comments, and while everyone is curious about group think, I notice everyone here seems to come from the same flock.

    There are two issues here. One is, does global warming (or climate change) exist? The other is, if this does exist, is man causing or exacerbating the situation?

    I’m not a scientist, but I think it’s pretty obvious things are changing. And while I have a hard time not falling asleep examining the arguments one way or the other, I want to note that man can cause climate change at least on a minor local way. One example is that tearing out trees and plants and replacing them with concrete and pavement will make an area hotter in the summer – Atlanta comes to mind. And if man can do it in a metropolitan area, I don’t see it as a stretch that he can affect larger areas too.

  17. I think the quality you’re looking for is just religiosity. Environmentalism is a secular religion complete with the notion of a mythical past utopia (when man didn’t yet exist or “walked lightly upon the earth”), a fall from grace, and a predicted apocalyptic future caused by our collective sins against Nature.

    Some people just find that stuff intuitively appealing. Knowing that “the end of the world is nigh” due to scary “truths” you are privy to that others aren’t.

    The exact same characteristic that motivates street-corner preachers (and their followers) motivates climate catastrophists.

  18. Glen says: “The exact same characteristic that motivates street-corner preachers (and their followers) motivates climate catastrophists.”

    I dunno, Glen. AFAIK nobody ever got a government grant to do street-corner preaching.

  19. Various people start out motivated by apocalyptic environmentalism – the idea that whatever people do is somehow “damaging the planet”. They get this meme from their parents, friends, teachers or the media they consume, just as they would get any other religion. Some of those people go into science and then DO their science in a way that helps further their preexisting religious beliefs about imminent environmental catastrophe.

    The belief comes first, THEN the grants. I don’t think it goes the other way around. It’s true that you can make a lot of money promoting alarmism – a lot MORE than you can make fighting it – but I think most people promoting alarmism do so because they honestly believe we are DOOOOOMED if we don’t change our sinful ways and start “listening to the planet”. Which affects what they choose to study and what results they tend to find credible. The money is just an extra bonus on top of the core opportunity to help promote views they find compelling and important.

  20. The Herd instinct, yes. But every herd has some form of common belief (system) which is the religion of that herd.

    Todd Said: “Nobody ever wants to be the odd man out except those who can’t be anything else.” That’s me, perhaps. I share little with most groups, but something with most groups. I grew up in a unique family group and was left free to decide for myself on most things. So by my analysis I am the only person I consider smart enough to decide anything critical to my belief system, but also fully aware that many are smarter than me especially with regards to their own affairs.

    I contend that mankind is responding to global warming, just as the dinosaurs did, not causing it. Does the algal bloom cause the summer heat? Do the krill warm the oceans?

    This is why the smartest man I know says he learns more from the kids in his ‘handicapped’ home than from the university trained. Those kids have a quality one might call, Total Honesty, or at least they are not handicapped by societal moors.

    Joe said: “My hunch is that this is all about politics and nothing about science. And always has been. It’s just another government grab for even more power over our lives, to be able to “redistribute the wealth,” to enact “social justice,” to extract more taxes from us, etc.”

    Every regime needs an enemy, every household needs a boogey man. The church has the devil, medicine has the germs, and now governments have climate change. Like god herself, it is great to be an expert on something that can never be finalized.

    Seth, you must be the smartest person any of us know who is a doubter, as I didn’t notice anyone nominating any other!


  21. I don’t know if he quite fits the definition of your question, but Nassim Taleb is probably the smartest person I know of that supports minimising carbon emissions. I don’t think it’s because he thinks there’s compelling proof of man-made warming, it’s just that he approaches the unknown differently to you. If I could be so bold as to try and read both your minds, you seem to be seeking proof of man-made warming as a prerequisite to large scale action (apologies if I’ve misunderstood your thoughts). He supports action in the absence of compelling proof that man isn’t causing warming. It’s his consistent approach to preference natural over non-natural, with the onus of proof required by the non-natural – same with GMOs etc. In this case, the natural is not releasing masses of carbon dioxide into the environment as a grand experiment. His arguments have logic, but also cost (action on emissions). But he’s not a high IQ conformist, if that’s what you were specifically after.

    Seth: I like Nassim but his logic doesn’t make sense. Pollution is a proven serious problem — living in Beijing, I know — why not work on that? There are plenty of known problems. Work on them. That’s hard enough.

  22. aretae nails it.

    i don’t have an opinion on anthropogenic climate change. i have opinions on the credibility of climatologists and the judgment of believers and skeptics. holding an opinion on the science would be foolish because i am unqualified to scrutinize the evidence.

    it is self-defeating and pointless to deny in the presence of believers and believe in the presence of skeptics when all anyone really cares about is whether you’re an ally or an enemy. unless you can contradict and challenge others with style, aplomb, and grace, you’re better off just agreeing.

  23. Doesn’t starting with the title “Who is the Smartest Person Who Believes Climate Change Fear-Mongering” get this off to a start begging the question? And is the “I’ve met smart people who went along with bad science” part supposed to be an evidence-based criticism of man-made climate change?

    I’m confused about the lack of science in this blog post.

    Seth: I wasn’t trying to convince anyone that the “humans are dangerously warming the planet” idea is wrong. I take that for granted. The post is about human nature, not climate change.

  24. It is very dangerous to paint large groups of people with a single brush because it is easy to find bad apples in any large group and then to use those bad apples as the basis of your comparison. E.g. there are lots of examples of psychologists behaving badly, falsifying research, etc. but it would be foolish to conclude that the whole field is a hoax or should be ignored.

    I happen to know a bunch of people that work on climate science, and in general they do it because they passionately believe in what they are doing. Several of them also happen to be brilliant. I also know some people working in climate science that don’t have a clue how to construct and test a proper model. Same goes for other fields that I have worked in – Psychology, Computer Science, Neuroscience. Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap. The trick is to find the 10% that isn’t.

    Ultimately it comes down to this: the field has been making general predictions for several decades now. Are those predictions coming to pass or not? The evidence is that the world is a fair bit warmer and that there is more volatility in the weather. So those predictions seems fairly solid at this point. That has to be tempered against the fact that this could be mere coincidence. It also needs to be tempered against the fact that predicting complex systems is incredibly difficult at best. However, if it was coincidence then it just as easily could have gone the other way. The question is when there is enough evidence to be sure.

    Personally I think Global Warming is the wrong fight. There are loads of reasons to pursue renewable energy that are hard to argue about. Not relying on foreign governments for our energy for starters. The plummeting costs involved (e.g. solar) as it scales up. As Seth points out there is pollution. Fighting pollution covers lots of the same ground as fighting global warming, but there are not too many people who are “pro pollution.” Ironically I think the argument that has always been used against the pro global warming side – economics – will ultimately be the one that wins for them, just not for the reasons that they think.

    Seth: The current long-lasting “pause” in global warming was not predicted by any model. How do the people you know in climate science deal with this fact?

  25. Seth asked: “who is the smartest person you know who believes global warming fear-mongering? Does that person do other extreme or unusual things?”

    OK. Rather than people I “know of” like Tim Cook of Apple, I will answer this with someone I know personally, whose intelligence I have been able to gauge over many years.

    My “smartest person…who believes in global warming fear-mongering” is an Ivy League educated engineer.

    “Does that person do other extreme or unusual things?”

    He is extremely religious and active in his church and in church politics at a national level.

    I would describe him as a leftwing extremist in politics generally.

    He is a guy who, when he has a strong opinion about something,is unpleasant toward those who disagree with him. He is intolerant toward opposing viewpoints on topics he’s passionate about.

    In his field of work, with which I have been involved at times, he is extremely good.

    Seth: That’s really interesting. I don’t know anyone who is extremely religious. At the heart of cooperation is shared beliefs — a shared belief that what you are doing together is a good idea. If your shared beliefs (your religion) are too strong, too all encompassing, you’ll believe too many things that are wrong and will fail to be persuaded by evidence. But if your shared beliefs are too weak or too few you will be impossible to work with.

  26. There isn’t “Global Warming” because the glaciers are melting to keep the temperature stable. When all the glaciers melt, then there will be “Global Warming”. Also, the amount of CO2 is at a all time high – due to many things – one of them being the big rain forests are not-so-big anymore…

    I would recommend watching “Chasing Ice” with the realization that all the energy it takes to melt ice keeps the temperature constant. For example: if you have a cup of ice water – the water is 32F until all the ice melts – once all the ice melts then the water will heat up to room temperature. Note that the water is ‘cold’ until all the ice is gone…

  27. Joe,

    To determine if average temperature is increasing, decreasing, or staying pretty much the same, you don’t have to have perfect measurements. You just have to have measurements that are taken the same way, and combined the same way, over time. You can be pretty precise, even if you’re not accurate.

    E.g., if your thermometer reads two degrees too high, you can still use it to determine if the temperature is going up, down, or staying the same.

  28. Seth,

    The most recent explanation I have seen for the “pause” in global warming is that there is indeed more thermal energy but it is going into the oceans. So it doesn’t show up as a rise in air temperature. However, at some point it will and air temperatures may rise quickly.

    You’re right that none of the models predicted the “pause.” Various people are now trying to change various models to incorporate it.

  29. Re the pause: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21598610-slowdown-rising-temperatures-over-past-15-years-goes-being

    The explanation is a combination of a) the ocean, b) changes in the solar cycle, c) aerosols.

    As for a smart guy that believes in global warming, Neil deGrasse Tyson is a pretty good candidate.

    Not that it seems to matter. As others on this thread have indicated, both sides are so dug in that very few opinions are going to change anytime soon. What would it take to change your mind Seth? I’m genuinely curious as I really admire many of the things that you have done on your blog. Are there any possible set of experiments, measurements, models, etc. that would change your mind?

  30. “Seth: I wasn’t trying to convince anyone that the “humans are dangerously warming the planet” idea is wrong. I take that for granted. The post is about human nature, not climate change.”

    Sure, but how can you even start to evaluate your human nature hypothesis when you “take for granted” the metric by which you evaluate the hypothesis? Is there any good way to move past a couple of anecdotes and some supposition here and actually improve the way that we learn, model, communicate, and do science? Or are we doomed to have everything be dominated by badly handled data teased to tell the wrong stories?

    Seth: In my experience, the evaluation of any idea involves taking stuff for granted. And I’ve learned to start as small as possible, e.g., with “a couple of anecdotes”.

  31. “One example is that tearing out trees and plants and replacing them with concrete and pavement will make an area hotter in the summer – Atlanta comes to mind. And if man can do it in a metropolitan area, I don’t see it as a stretch that he can affect larger areas too.”

    Exactly. But that doesn’t affect our climate. It affects the temperature is a very, very small area.

    “E.g., if your thermometer reads two degrees too high, you can still use it to determine if the temperature is going up, down, or staying the same.”

    But how do they know if the thermometer reads “too high”? Or “too low,” for that matter? Compared to what? There is no gold standard, so all temperature station results are highly suspect.

    But, again, this has very little, to nothing, to do with climate. It has to do with the temperature of a very, very small patch of ground. Ground that is affected in many ways by changing nearby development, weather (weather is not the same as climate), etc.

  32. Sounds a bit like Cialdini’s bystander effect, but it also reminds me of ideological immunity, intelligence correlated with closed-mindedness to new information. I have no idea if it’s a real thing, but it seems plausible.

    All of the smartest people I know believe in climate change. They tend to be well educated, skeptics, liberal, feminist, and artists. And probably eccentric to those outside our cultural bubble, which is difficult for me to analyze objectively. A couple of them write publicly–maybe you can discern some commonality like what you have in mind:


  33. Among the smarter people I know, all but one believe in climate change. He tells me that most people he knows do not believe in climate change.

    Might be something there.

  34. Dragen, it all depends on how the question is asked. Virtually no one disputes that the climate is changing. It has always changed; it will always change.

    But most of us believe that man can’t, and hasn’t, had much (if any) effect on it. And that there’s nothing that can be done about it anyway, except to ADAPT to the changes as they happen. This has essentially been the case since the beginning of time.

    The CAGW (catastrophic man-caused global warming) crowd (Al Gore, James Hanson, Michael Mann, and all the other Chicken Littles), enjoy running around and screaming that “The sky is falling!” and hope that they can use this scare tactic to raise our taxes, make money off of carbon futures, or fund phony “green” energy projects for their cronies, etc.

    It’s an ANTI-science scam. Please don’t buy into it.

    1. Arrogant? It is arrogant to be unsure? I am unsure if the influence of humans on climate is dangerous. I do not know what size it is — although you are right in the sense that I suspect it is small compared to other influences.

  35. You might find the take Cliff Mass has on climate change fear mongering interesting. http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2014/03/moses-versus-joseph-biblical-lesson-in.html

    He’s at the University of Washington and works on weather, not climate. He has stated in the past that he believes global warming is happening (but the obvious effects won’t happen for quite some time, as they are currently swamped by short term variability). That said, he on several occasions posted criticism of the the way climate change issues are presented by both scientists and the media. In particular he has argued against the extreme and/or overly precise claims of possible futures (especially in light of poor predictions so far), the hype of current weather as climate change driven, and general fear mongering (not all of which are addressed in this most recent post on the subject).

  36. I do notice that the folks buying into climate change tend to be on the higher side of the mean IQ.

    I myself don’t buy the androgenic thing, although pollution is real and controllable with will and money.

    There is another take I have. I have been reading Joseph Tainter on “The Collapse of Complex Societies”. It was written in 1988 but is selling better now than when released. Anyway, Tainter was looking for a more cohesive framework for understanding why complex cultures and societies have collapsed through the ages ( and there have been a lot of them).

    The big idea is that societies and civilizations start out simply. The entire purpose of a civilization is to hoover out materials and energy from the environment and distribute the goodies to members of the society. As challenges present themselves (weather changes, running out of game or resources, threat from other societies, disease) the society must rise to a new level of complexity to deal with the threat and survive. As years pass and challenges are met, complexity increases to an unsustainable point. The society becomes less able to deal with threats or change because of vastly diminished returns on increased use of energy, materials and information flow (administration and vested interests).

    So, after all that, I believe many of the intellegensia in western culture intuit (but don’t articulate) that our own civilization may be way down the path where sustainability of resource and energy use is questionable. This, in spite of stunning technological progress (high complexity).

    So…..maybe the collective consciousness is saying “let’s slow down a bit”. How to do this? Well use less energy and resources for one thing. Yeah, maybe WE have enough for now and don’t need so much growth for now. And – the emerging nations should stop demanding their share of the pie too. So let’s keep them where they are by halting use of the good stuff like oil. Let them have, maybe, solar or wind.

    So, I believe, we may be seeing the climate change movement as class warfare fought on a different front. The “science” is almost irrelevant. The beliefs will follow the unconscious imperative that western culture needs to buy time while figuring out a way to “complexify” even further. The third world is going to get screwed.

    1. I would put it like this: Lots of societies get stuck doing the same thing over and over. They fail to innovate. They overuse this or that resource and, when it runs out, they die.

      For all I know, a misguided belief in AGW may cause valuable innovation. Perhaps that’s why we humans are so credulous — so we will innovate and explore more. Fake crises help us survive real crises.

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