Monday, January 24, 2011

Minor myth: Russian scientists don't believe in global warming

I came across this meme at The Blackboard recently:

By the looks of the 1970-2010 map, it looks like Russia has warmed by over 1.6, yet we never hear them talking about the warming in Russia.

Strange assertion. As I recall, the Russians were fairly screaming about global warming last summer when half the country was on fire. This particular denialist does not have a firm grasp on reality at the best of times, so I didn't think much of it, but then, further down in the thread, it appears again:

Dave Andrews (Comment#67052) January 24th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

One of the areas that GISS always highlights as a ‘hotspot’ is Siberia.

Why then do Russian scientists seem unimpressed with the evidence for AGW?

There seems to be no basis for this nonsense in fact, as the members of the Russian Academy of Sciences is in agreement with thousands of other scientists around the globe:

“In 2005, the Academies issued a statement emphasising that climate change was occurring and could be attributed mostly to human activities, and calling for efforts to tackle both the causes of climate change and the inevitable consequences of past and unavoidable future emissions. Since then the IPCC has published the Working Group 1 part of the Summary for Policymakers of its fourth assessment report, and further reports are expected later this year from IPCC. Recent research strongly reinforces our previous conclusions.”

This myth may have originated with Yury Izrael, a science adviser to Vladimir Putin who, much like the science advisers of right-wing politicians in the West, feels global warming is no big deal. He is a "lukewarmer" in that he agrees with the scientific consensus that the world will warm significantly by 2100 -- 1.4 to 5.8 degrees, in fact. But, he thinks people will do just fine with that level of warming.

The first instance I can find of denialists attributing particular scientists' views with Russians in general -- "Ruskies call Global Warming Rubbish" -- refers to Habibullah Abdusamatov, who supposedly (we have to remember, Abdusamatov's views are being filtered through journalist, translator, and blogger) thinks that we are at the peak of a natural warming cycle and global cooling will begin in 2012.

The third Russian to make headlines in the denialist blogosphere is Oleg Pokrovsky, who last April, nine months before 2010 became the warmest year on record, projected global cooling. This was, of course, celebrated by WUWT and its commentators, always ready to find a reason to celebrate the like-minded:

H.R. says:
April 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

If anybody knows cold, it’s the Russians.

As best I know, the Russians don’t have a dog in the AGW fight, other than a strategic interest in how the rest of the world can wreck their economies by taxing carbon, so I think their researchers are probably less likely to be looking for a predetermined outcome.
wws says:
April 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

What irony! The Russians have embraced empirical scientific standards, while our elites have embraced the scientific standards of Lysenko!

Dave Stephens says:
April 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm

God bless the Russkies! They’ve been saying, “Nyet!” for quite a while now… And the warmistas ignore them at their peril just like they ignore India and China. Consensus? Not on this planet and not on Lenin’s Birth/Earth Day either…
Bill Tuttle says:
April 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm

…an Arctic cold snap that began in 1998…

Buh-buh-but what about the melting muskeg releasing all that methane? And the vanishing ice cap, and polar bears bursting into flames?

Darn pragmatic Rooskies, looking at actual temperatures instead of computer models!

So to sum up, we have three Russian scientists out of many thousands who seem to be "skeptics" as their American counterparts style themselves. Like their American counterparts, they all disagree about what is happening. Yury Izrael thinks warming is happening and will continue to happen, but will not be harmful. Habibullah Abdusamatov thinks warming is happening but is not caused by human activities and will shortly reverse itself (in 2012). Oleg Pokrovsky blames the urban heat island effect for measured warming and promised cooling last year (in 2010). Despite the fact that these scientists are repeating discredited denialist claptrap, despite the fact that they all disagree with one another, denialists stand ready to celebrate them not just as individuals, but as "pragmatic Rooskies" who "know[] cold" and have "embraced empirical scientific standards."

A more parsimonous explanation is that Russia, like America, has its deniers and its lukewarmers. As the members of the National Academy of Sciences have demonstrated, deniers there, like deniers here, are a tiny minority of scientists who do not espouse any single coherent critique and offer no evidence to support their "skepticism." Which is why, denialist fantasy to the contrary, most of those "practical Rooskies" are practical in their agreement with their colleagues all around the world in support of the theory of AGW.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The myth of the denialist public

The rhetoric of the deniers would seem to imply a massive mob armed with torches and pitchforks, ready to unleash its fury on rent-seeking scientists, power-hungry governments, and civilization-hating vegan-eating Birkinstocks-wearing hippies. What has been insufficiently attended to, to my mind, is that this mob does not in fact exist. It is purely an artifact of cyberspace, a virtual mob, a mob consistenting of prolific commenters and right-wing bloggers and politicians. Unlike, say, the issue of abortion, or taxes, or the war in Iraq, there is no real political movement on the skeptical side that cares about this issue apart from their reflexive adherence to the party line of the Right.

This may seem harsh, but let's look at the evidence. From a Gallup poll in May:

Meanwhile, 35% say that the effects of global warming either will never happen (19%) or will not happen in their lifetimes (16%).

After all the shouting, all the slander, all the hysteria (most of it not audible to the public outside a fairly narrow group of high-information voters) only 19% of the public believe the "skeptic" line that global warming isn't happening. Those voters are clustered overwhelmingly on the right. Let's compare that to another scientific theory that fell afoul of right-wing groupthink, evolution:

You read it here first: more people absolutely reject the theory of evolution than the theory of global warming. But wait, there's more. Experts broadly agree that the American health system is a disaster, with poor access, unsustainable costs, inconsistent, non-evidence-based practice, and dangerous error-ridden hospitals. The notion that the United States has a fantastic health system, tops in the world, is a ignorant notion promoted, again, by the right wing, to stave off calls for government action to improve the system. How's that basket of lies doing?

 Boston, MA - A recent survey by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Harris Interactive, as part of their ongoing series, Debating Health: Election 2008, finds that Americans are generally split on the issue of whether the United States has the best health care system in the world (45% believe the U.S. has the best system; 39% believe other countries have better systems; 15% don't know or refused to answer) and that there is a significant divide along party lines.  Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) believe the U.S. health care system is the best in the world, compared to just three in ten (32%) Democrats and four in ten (40%) Independents who feel the same way.

Yep, forty-five percent of Americans are "skeptical" of the findings of every major comparative study of health care outcomes and health care economics. Especially if you're a Republican, we've got the best damn healthcare in the world, period.

I humbly suggest to the very smart people working on climate scientists' "communication problem" with the public that no such problem actually exists, which is why they have made so little headway. Judith Curry and Michael Tobis are each in their own way wrong. It is the editors of the Economist who have got it right:

And what of those who were happy Copenhagen had failed? For them, climategate was a more comforting reason for that failure than the real ones. Copenhagen did not fail because governments didn’t want action on the climate, or even because no one is willing to take any action. It failed because they all wanted other countries to take more and different actions than the other countries would agree to. For people who don’t want there ever to be action, though, it is obviously happier to think that the case had been undermined by some dodgy emails than to recognise than that it still stood—and indeed still stands—but had simply failed to compel action. 

Resolve, not belief, is the problem. The mob is an optical illusion created by apathy on the one hand and the new media on the other. People believe in the existence of the mob because the science implies that we must act, a vocal minority say the that we can't trust the scientists, and we don't act. In a rational world, #3 would happen only because people compared #1 and #2 and concluded the latter case was more persuasive than the former. But this isn't a rational world; it's a world in which apathy and denial -- denial the old-fashioned primitive defense mechanism, not denial the political war cry -- lead us to ignore all sorts of festering problems that are not causing us great personal harm just yet. The deficit. Entitlement spending. Public education.

Among the deniers, those that believe create prolific commentaries that can dominate an online discussion and drive out the other side with volume and repetitiveness and no small degree of personal abuse; look at the Dot Earth threads for many examples. This functions much like an old trick of a Confederate general, who would march the same piece of artillery through the same small clearing visible to the opposition, until it seemed like twenty guns rather than one.

Deniers claim this apathy as a judgment on the science and a victory for their blogging and their commenting and their interviews on Fox News. But the sad reality is, the public often fails to take action every when there is not a well-funded interest group stirring up confusion. People fail to act because it is hard and because they identify with a particular partisan outlook, not because a small number of deniers manufacture one bogus allegation after another. Remember, if you are reading this, you are part of a tiny minority hungry for detailed information on climate change.