Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Simon's climatic battle over higher powers

Because I just now stumbled across this, I thought I'd write about a good article from 2011 by Simon Donner on how thousands of years of cultural beliefs that weather and climate are controlled by supernatural forces, not people, constitute a major barrier to action on climate. Key sentence:

It is unreasonable to expect a lay audience, not armed with the same analytical tools as scientists, to develop lasting acceptance during a 1-h public seminar of a scientific conclusion that runs counter to thousands of years of human belief.

Simon concedes the obvious that people have thought they could ask supernatural forces for help, but argues that still reserves the power to make changes to those forces themselves.

One thing I'd add to his points is the last two centuries of adding science to our understanding of weather have argued that we can't control the weather, even indirectly via prayer to the supernatural. So thousands of years of religious cultural beliefs saying the supernatural controls the weather is reinforced by two centuries of scientific cultural beliefs saying we humans have not even indirect influence via supplication. People have to overcome both biases to accept climate change. And there are plenty of people who can hold both biases - the randomness of weather lets them accept basic meteorological predictions and still find their prayers "rewarded" on an occasional basis.

So it's good, but I'm not quite ready yet to say I'm convinced. People don't seem to be that resistant to dropping supernatural explanations of weather (e.g. lightning) for scientific ones. Why does that willingness to end supernatural control stop when it involves human control? OTOH, the religious resistance is undeniable. The Creation Care movement seems to have been stymied so far, when it could have been a groundbreaker. My conspiracy theory I've floated before is that climate denialists sought out the marriage with evolution denialists more than the other way around, despite the fact that creationism has even more scientific disrepute, because that was the way to bleed the Creation Care momentum. I think influential people should consider what they can do to get Creation Care moving again, especially among Hispanics.

I'm sure Simon's right that we have to handle religious sensibilities with respect, although I'm not sure it's any more of a problem for climate than in any other area involving religious issues.

More generally, we had a huge blowup over "framing" several years ago. Ironically, the pro-framing bloggers did a bad job of communicating, and their antipathy to New Atheism was a mistake, but the framing concept of using language that appeals to the relevant audience is a no-brainer. They've won on that issue.


Gaz said...

This explains why airlines spend so much money on advertising - the need to overcome thousands of years of human belief that people can't fly.

Anonymous said...

So "religious sensibilities" are not "any more of a problem for climate than in any other area involving religious issues"?!?

By this do you mean we are in deep doo-doo or that you desperately need to take careful inventory of the issues caused/worsened by "religious sensibilities."

John Puma

silence said...

Creation Care probably isn't so stymied as you might think. There are denominations (eg: the Lutherans) where it appears to be making some inroads.

badger badger badger said...

Who is "pro-framing"? What does that even mean?

Hank Roberts said...

For badger cubed, who didn't read to the end of the main post, "framing" is explained there:

"... the framing concept of using language that appeals to the relevant audience ..."

Want to talk about why biodiversity is important?

"... remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."

My personal theology -- I foresee the Deity coming back from long absence, looking at the state of the planet, and saying:

"You nitwits, I gave you a variety of life that would work on every planet you'd be able to get to, they're out there just waiting to be planted -- and you've eaten or burned most of that. You've got the Earth in worse shape than I did after I sent that flood. Didn't I make you any smarter than me??"

Brian Dodge said...


Hank Roberts said...

Brian, thank you, that's wonderful.

Russell Seitz said...

Bravo Brian- fortified with bacon, the new theology must surely prevail.

Brian said...

John P. - I'd use abortion as an example - it's deeply involved with religion now, but wasn't at all for Protestants 50 years ago. Despite how recently it became a religious issue for some Protestant churches, religion is as entrenched (or more entrenched) as part of the abortion issue as it is on climate.

Silence - I hope you're right. The evangelicals are the ones really need, though.

badger badger badger said...


Thank you for taking the time to explain, but I meant I don't understand who or what "pro-framing" is. It sounds vaguely anti-deficit model. Framing as such I got.

Hank Roberts said...


Brian Dodge said...

"Greenwashing" describes subverting environmentalism for profit. What's the equivalent for subverting religious belief?

"The opinions expressed on RealCatholicTV.com are those of the individuals responsible for [realcatholictv.com]...all of whom are Catholics in good standing who strive to conform to the teaching and laws of the Church."

those opinions are:
"global warming accomplishes:
1. Population Control
2. Global Governmental Cooperation
3. Earth Worship instead of God Worship

Global Warming is a Government power grab via population reduction.
Pseudoscience and Hyper-sensationalism are being used to promote the global warming agenda, just as they were in the early 20th century eugenics movement. In fact, global warming is the evolution of the early eugenics programs."

Actual Catholic teaching on AGW (from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20080630_week-prayer-2009_en.html) is:

"God created our world with wisdom and love and when he had finished his great work of creation, God saw that it was good."

"Today however the world is confronted with a serious ecological crisis. The earth is suffering from global warming as a result of our excessive consumption of energy."

"With the apostle Paul we can affirm: creation has been delivered into the power of destruction, it groans as in the pains of childbirth."

"We cannot deny that human beings bear a heavy responsibility for environmental destruction. Their unbridled greed casts the shadow of death on the whole of creation."

"Together Christians must do their utmost to save creation. Before the immensity of this task, they must unite their efforts. It is only together that they can protect the work of the creator."

I wonder if it's a sin to lie about being a good Catholic?

Mal Adapted said...

Then there's the Cornwall Alliance and their Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming. Excerpt:

"We believe Earth and its ecosystems – created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence – are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history."

John Christy, Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, inter alia, are signatories.

Is it ad hominem to say that the scientific arguments of anyone who signs that are a priori dubious? "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself" (Feynman), but the signatories of the declaration are announcing their willingness to fool themselves about the evidence for AGW.

Hank Roberts said...

> if it's a sin to lie about
> being a good Catholic?

Probably a sin of omission.

Ed Darrell said...

But of course, reality is inaction against climate change will produce "population control" in a much more dramatic fashion than could be achieved through governmental means -- if by "population control" we mean indiscriminate reduction in population contrary to the wishes of the reduced populations.

The unwillingness of scientists to quote the racist screeds of denialists, and to find odd quotes that could portray they as advocates of genocide, is a barrier to making that argument.

It's an ethical barrier, but so long as we continue to try to act ethically, we're going to face that reality.

On the other hand, it's not unethical to point out that the best way to reduce population growth, according to the experts, is to make people educated and relatively wealthy -- that is, to help the poor become non-poor. Wherever education and disease fighting take hold, population growth drops. We should point that out at every opportunity.

In short, to the extent that fighting climate change contributes to economic growth and well-being of a population, freedom of choice tends to prevail, and population growth sags.

We might make some inroads talking generically and metaphysically about the benefits to personal liberty of fighting climate change.

Russell Seitz said...

It is proof of his preterition that the serpent in the garden taught the adders to multiply.

David B. Benson said...

Well, no. He planted trees and after the trees had matured cut the trees down to make boards. From the boards he made log tables and then the adders could indeed multiply by adding.

Russell Seitz said...

And on the E th day he rested, for snakes find cutting down trees very hard work.