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An ethical question on climate change & snow trolls

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Chris Mooney has a good article about snow trolling, that is using cold snaps to promote the view that climate change is a hoax or has stopped or whatever the propaganda du jour happens to be. It’s worth reading and it brings up a great question for those of us on the scientifically demonstrated side of the issue. First a snippet from Chris’s piece:

MoJo — In one of them, published in the Journal of Politics in 2012, researchers used individual zip codes to examine the relationship between survey responses about climate change and the local weather just before those responses were given. The result was striking: “For each 3.1 ° Fahrenheit that local temperatures in the past week have risen above normal, Americans become one percentage point more likely to agree that there is ‘solid evidence’ that the earth is getting warmer,” the study found. And vice-versa: Cold weather anomalies were associated with decreased belief in global warming.

So the reason the usual suspects snow troll is because it works. The ethical question I pose is, should we do the same thing during heat waves?

My first reaction is to be purist, and say no, we should not. Not unless a specific heat wave can be duly attributed to climate change beyond the usual roll of the die cause and effect response. Then again, when record highs outnumbered record lows by three to one or more, and when the whole point of global warming is that that ratio is data, part and parcel to the record which demonstrates the planet is warming, and then you add that this is a Big Freakin Deal, it could destabilize global climate to the point that resources wars and weather events kill billions, I’m not so sure.

In terms of science and rationale, there is no evidence for global cooling to blame cold snaps on. There is sure as hell is evidence for global warming, so right there we’d be bullshitting way less if at all. But still, it doesn’t feel quite right does it? It’s the age old ethical dilemma, if one side is bullshitting their ass off and it’s working, should the other side bullshit a little bit?

Comments

  1. says

    Bit OT, but according to WikiP today is the anniversary of the execution of poor Thomas Aikenhead:
    1697 – Scottish student Thomas Aikenhead became the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy.

  2. Dunc says

    Not unless a specific heat wave can be duly attributed to climate change beyond the usual roll of the die cause and effect response.

    This doesn’t really make any sense to me. If you’re playing a game with loaded dice, the odds are skewed for every throw. There is no way to say that this 6 was because the dice were loaded, while that 6 wasn’t. The only relevant fact is that the dice are loaded. Would you keep playing with someone who admitted the dice were loaded, on the basis that you can’t prove which rolls were fair and which ones weren’t? Of course not – you’d say the whole game was rigged and leave it at that.

  3. Alex says

    As you can tell from the plot, change in average temperature is not very big compared to weather variations. So you can neiher blame the increased temperature during a heat wave on global warming in a simple algebra kind of way by adding the global warming to the temperatures (the problem is not that summers are .8 degrees hotter on average, that alone does not a heatwave make), nor is the opposite argument valid for a cold snap (who cares wheter its -31 or -30.2 Centigrade.)
    Rise in average temperature is indicative of more energy in the system, leading to more extreme weather. This explains BOTH heat waves and cold snaps. The less misleading wording is therefore climate change, because he naive addition on top of the average temperature is not the mmost important effect when it comes to day to day temperatures.

  4. cope says

    Climate change is CLIMATE change. Discussing individual weather events should not enter into the conversation of climate in my point of view. Bullshitting is still bullshitting no matter how noble the cause. The real goal here is to educate people. That’s my ethical view, anyway.

  5. Emu Sam says

    I think you don’t have to heat troll. People will probably do it for you even if you try to stop them. How likely is this scenario: ethical climate scientist is invited to news program on the hottest day of the year, spends half their time disagreeing that that particular day has any significance.

  6. sbuczkowski says

    We should absolutely not engage in the same kind of disingenuous game. We need to keep working to provide basic education about how nature works and how changes to the system alter that behavior. We can’t prove that any particular storm is linked to climate change but we can make compelling arguments that such storms are fully consistent with a warming climate and that they are likely to become more prevalent. We have to keep making that case while people’s preconceptions (misconceptions) change. Once those preconceptions are corrected, these silly word games become much less effective.

    It’s a long road and filled with speed bumps. The average person needs to learn things about their planet that have always been there but they didnt know before (polar vortex, anyone?) and learn to filter out the cute (but wrong) analogies used to help them absorb it (‘polar hurricane’, Al Roker? You can go home now. Please.). It’s a long road but, it’s the better road.

  7. mattb says

    I agree with the general consensus that we should not be bullshitting.

    Your problem is that the trolls are winning the war of ideas by being underhanded? Seth Godin addresses the marketing problem that climate scientists face in his blog. Global… sounds good. Warming… sounds pleasant. Nothing to get too upset about or certainly make any changes over. He suggested we call it “CLIMATE CANCER” or “pollution death”.

    These are probably a better description of the problem we face. Rising ocean temperatures can lead to decreased salinity, which could ultimately mean much colder weather for the Atlantic coast of Europe, for example. If we continue to call the problem “global warming”, people may miss the connection.

  8. John Horstman says

    I’m not a fan of people arriving at correct conclusions through faulty reasoning – I want to motivate good reasoning, since it produces more-consistently-valid conclusions about a wide variety of topics without the necessity for third-party intervention every single time (to borrow a metaphor, teach the person to fish and hook zir up with tackle, don’t just hand out fish while lying about how you got the fish; OT, we might need a new metaphor soon in light of our overfishing). As such, I would view any bullshitting to advocate correct conclusions to be only marginally (and trivially) less problematic than bullshitting to advocate incorrect ones.

  9. Holms says

    But still, it doesn’t feel quite right does it? It’s the age old ethical dilemma, if one side is bullshitting their ass off and it’s working, should the other side bullshit a little bit?

    No, never. If you reject certain behaviour, don’t fucking emulate it. Not only for the straightforward reason called ‘blatant hypocrisy’, but also because doing so plays into the hands of those that are already engaged in that behaviour. Once both of you are doing it, you legitimise it and you can no longer point out the bad behaviour of the other camp. You have given them the retort “yeah, but so are you!” and it only gets more childish from there.

  10. says

    The ethical question I pose is, should we do the same thing during heat waves?

    No, we should do it all the time, because it’s the demonstrable truth. That’s what those who accept the AGW hypothesis have been doing.

    Seriously, who, specifically, IS “heat-trolling?” It’s not like I only hear about global warning in the summer. Don’t just IMPLY there’s wrongdoing by posing an “ethical question” — that’s a well-known propaganda tactic; tell us whose behavior, specifically, is allegedly forcing us to address this question

  11. Randomfactor says

    If asked whether the current heat/tornado/hurricane/earthquake is “that global warming thing,” I generally respond:

    “Not yet. It gets WORSE.”

  12. says

    Steven, can you provide a citation for this graphic? I’d like to be able to use it in climate change discussions myself, but I need to be able to show where it came from (i.e., where it was initially published, under what study, etc). Thanks!

    ~David D.G.

  13. Holms says

    Seriously, who, specifically, IS “heat-trolling?”

    Basically every evening news program in Australia, every time there is a heat wave / cold snap / flood / drought / bushfire anywhere in the nation. It’s also a favourite of talkback radio and news programs at every other time of day as well; especially those that take a less formal panel approach tot he news.

    Don’t just IMPLY there’s wrongdoing by posing an “ethical question” — that’s a well-known propaganda tactic; tell us whose behavior, specifically, is allegedly forcing us to address this question.

    Looks to me like the point was raised not in response to an occurrence of ‘heat trolling’, but as a response to the opposite instead.

  14. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @12. mattb :

    Seth Godin addresses the marketing problem that climate scientists face in his blog. Global… sounds good. Warming… sounds pleasant. Nothing to get too upset about or certainly make any changes over. He suggested we call it “CLIMATE CANCER” or “pollution death”. These are probably a better description of the problem we face.

    I think the best term to use is Human-Induced Rapid Global Overheating because it states simply inplain english what the issue is. A climate that is globally getting too hot, too quickly induced by our human emissions.

    I agree that “warming” is far too mild a term for it. I think “anthropogenic” is a bit too jargon-y and euphemistic for most whereas human-Induced cuts through directly. I think the Global scope and rapid speed are aspects of the issue that deserve emphasising.

    I also think we should avoid bullshiting and saying stuff we know isn’t true but there is a reality behind the fact that heatwaves are more likely to be more severe and worse because of the Global Overheating that has already happened and so I do think we can point this out maybe without always adding the caveat that this is not necessarily directly caused by Global Overheating just probably a major contributing factor.

    The climate is changing and the heatwaves and droughts and storms that area result of and supporting evidence for that in a statistical sense as well as an experienced one – yeah, let’s point that out. Its not a lie or bullshit to note that an unusually bad heatwave could well be linked to HIRGO.

  15. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @12. Mattb :

    Rising ocean temperatures can lead to decreased salinity, which could ultimately mean much colder weather for the Atlantic coast of Europe, for example. If we continue to call the problem “global warming”, people may miss the connection.

    See for instance :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_lYbp2zxVg

    on the “Winter Weirding”phenomenon.

    The same source – one of my favourites for things Climate Denialist and HIRGO~wise also discusses the the whole “its cold so no Global Overheating” :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDTUuckNHgc

    In addition to one or two clips on heatwaves like this one :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVh7z-0oo6o

    as well.

  16. says

    The media delight following the “ship in the ice” tells you everything you need to know about denial. Literally dozens of sites are dancing for joy. The Koch roaches are delirious.

    This is a juicy cherry to be picked, of course. Who would have expected otherwise?

    Look at the NASA temperature anomaly map. It records global temperatures.

    http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a004000/a004030/

    If you look carefully at this world map you can find a “colder” region (in blue). It’s a tiny little portion amongst the “hotter”red regions. Someone found one of the very rare blue areas (Antarctica) and the Priests of Drivel are howling their victory.

    Did anyone mention that Australia had the hottest year on record? Pretty extreme, as predicted.

    Denial kills. The Koch Bros. and Friends who have pumped hundreds of million into anti-science distraction/delay has conservatives tied up into knots.

    Example: a typical page from the anti-science denier playbook goes like this, given the following hypothetical.

    Let’s say scientists predict that 100 year floods will occur five times more often, every 20 years. So, for 19 “normal” years (on average) deniers would crow and hoot, “so where’s your climate change?’ Then on the 20th year (on average), after a massive record breaking flood, their standard meme will be “one cannot say with certainty that THIS flood was the result of climate change; we had a big flood in ____, too”

    Can’t lose, right? If climate had actually changed as above, deniers would simply ignore the fact that the odds (and the frequency and the cost to life and property) of destructive floods have increased fivefold.

    H0w do they sleep at night? Seriously.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Very recently a neighbor hit me with a variant of cold-snap trolling, to the effect that we should expect more such events.

    I replied, “Maybe so, but I’d bet the ice caps will still continue to melt.”

    He agreed, and I left it to him to work out whatever cognitive dissonance may ensue.

    The trick in such discussions is the same as in martial arts: respond where they don’t expect it.

  18. jamessweet says

    I agree with Emu Sam. There’s already going to be plenty enough “heat trolling” from people who don’t know any better; there is no need to do it intentionally.

    The only thing I will say, is that in an effort to avoid heat trolling, people have sometimes gone overboard. Phil Plait mentioned a couple times last summer that (I paraphrase) “As much as I don’t like to attribute specific weather events to climate change, at some point you have to say ‘yeah, this shit might very well be because of global warming'” — and he caught a LOT of flak for it.

    To be clear: One should never say “This weather event was BECAUSE of global warming”. However, when there’s been a series of events that all could have been caused by global warming, I think it’s okay to say, “Yeah, maybe it was.”

    Even on a pair of loaded dice, you can never say “I rolled snake eyes this time BECAUSE the dice were loaded.” But the third time in a row you get snake eyes, it’s okay to say “Come on, this is getting ridiculous…”

  19. stripeycat says

    My response is along the lines that we expect more and worse heatwaves in a warming climate. Since, I don’t have to deal with the sort of ideologues who avidly believe in non-warming, I don’t need to be specific about the causes of this particular warm day.

  20. naturalcynic says

    Maybe we should say

    Thank God for global warming. If we didn’t have it, it would have been -11 degrees instead of -9.

    Is that beyond the simpletons understanding?

  21. blf says

    No, “heat trolling” must not be done. In addition to the ethics problems (plural) already discussed, there is the practical matter of What happens when the deniers find out you have been “heat trolling”?

    It’s easily to image the field day they would have: “See! We told you so! Climate Change is all a lie. Another in a long series of lies to prop up this ridiculous fraud is they are lying — scientists admit they are lying — when they say ‘…'” and so on. And, for this specific example of “heat trolling”, they would be sufficiently correct to add weight to the incorrect “arguments” they spew.

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