A Pox You Say?

“As ever you see but do not observe.” Sherlock to Watson, BBC’s Sherlock Season 2.

I started to reply to Zolltan’s comments in this post on Mulcair and the NDP that somehow got sidetracked into a discussion on environmentalism and the political right, when I noticed that I’ve just about had it up to here with WordPress’s comment reply system. Fix this shit, WordPress. So let me set the record straight here as this probably deserves a full length post anyway.


I’ll get to Zolltan’s lengthy comment in a second, but first lets discuss an article he linked to: What we have and haven’t learned from Climategate. That article is essentially on the ball. While the article itself doesn’t focus on it too much, the key phrase (from said article) for the purposes of the point I’m making is this:

Whatever legitimate issues there may be about the responsiveness or transparency of this particular group of scientists, there was nothing in this controversy — nothing — that cast even the slightest doubt on the basic findings of climate science.

Precisely. The science got overshadowed by the scientists.


Had WordPress allowed me to comment properly on Zolltan’s lengthy comment (to my comment on Zolltan’s previous comment on my comment), this is what I would a written, essentially fisking his statements.

“The question of how wind farms are to replace oil sands is a question for policymakers.” Really? This isn’t a question for both to address? How the hell is a policymaker supposed to make a decision without input and advice based on science? For a start, a comparison of how much energy is being consumed from burning fossil fuels vs. how many wind farms you need to generate the same amount of energy would be useful to the policymaker. And a scientist would be needed to give the amounts.

“But it does point to the necessity of some sort of science-policy intermediaries that don’t exist in the current system.” Yes, basically. I don’t know if intermediaries is the right word. They two basically need to understand what each of their roles is and stick to it.

Zolltan on the scientists at the center of the Climategate Scandal: “That is somehow an indictment of their science?” No, its an indictment of the scientists. Its the old Watergate lesson on why some scandals are Scandals with a capital S: “It’s the cover-up, stupid.” When the wider public can smell something inherently wrong, it gives legs to the scandal. The only reason the idiots at Fox were able to make this particular scandal stick was because of the “responsiveness and transparency of the scientists” (versus Fox’s lame attempts at manufacturing other enviro-scandals). I think it was a particular shock to the public when words like “transparency” and “scientists” were used in the same sentence. For the particular segment of the public that fits into Fox’s target market, it was oh so easy to build a media narrative around “transparency” and “science.” Notice the word-switcheroo? So what was it that the wider public smelled? And that takes me too…

Zolltan on the Conservatives in Canada now being able to implement their shitty enviro-policy vs. the Liberals or Greens or NDP’s shitty enviro-policy: “And since only one of these policies is being followed and it is the one that is the worst for the environment, there is an imbalance.” Hopefully by now, my dear readers have come to the realization that biggest issue here is one of credibility. In the public perception, no politician is credible and neither are any of their policies. You would think that the scientists aren’t interested in advancing agendas, but are essentially like your doctor, i.e. they are here with the diagnosis. See the previous paragraph to realize your wrong and this is the great tragedy of Climategate. Now in the public perception, no scientist is credible and neither is the science (and by extension, neither are the policies/politicians the scientific community happens to be backing). Zolltan and Zuuko know that statement is bullshit. But, public perception takes years, if not decades, to change.  You don’t think that Fox newsrooms, where it is decided how to “spin” the news, wouldn’t have been able to figure out that you can damage the credibility of science by damaging the credibility of scientists. Spoiler alert: they did faster than sharks smelling blood in the water and you can read all about how that worked out in the above linked article on lessons learned from Climategate. Obviously, the dream is credible politicians are advancing strong policies, backed by credible scientists that have vetted the science. When statements are made on whose policy is better, I shouldn’t have to sit there figuring out the credibility of the person making said statement based on my preconceived notions on what their agendas and ideologies are. While you have to accept this as a fact of life in public discourse and debate, you shouldn’t have to do this when it comes to science. And so the dream remains a dream. And the wider public smelled something off the second Climategate broke.

“I don’t know why you think carbon taxes wouldn’t incentivize conservation and/or technological advances in alternative energy sources. Free markets are like this altar at which conservatives worship but suddenly in this situation there is no way they would work even slightly.” Those conservatives who believe free markets are the answer to everything are as stupid as this attempt at getting me to support a policy to which I might be ideologically inclined (see previous paragraph re: my dream). The big assumptions being made with this statement is that all conservatives believe free markets are the answer to everything and that I am a conservative as defined in the current all-powerful media narrative. Firstly, those on the right-of-center don’t buy into everything Fox is selling (Fox targets a particular segment of the right). Secondly, coming up with policy prescriptions based on ideology is the ass-backwards way of solving any problem, not just the environmental one. I’m just not interested in judging which shit policy stinks more. It’s also why I continually stress that looking at every problem that needs solving through the lens of “Right v Left” is just not helpful at all. Lets stop doing this please?


I stand by my point:

Why is a pox on both your houses not a valid statement? I do believe it has nothing to do which side is in power. To me, its almost very simple. Humans have impacts on the environment. Governments should have environmentally sound policies and scientists should be advising the crafting and implementation of them…

Governments are acting like shitheads and so are the scientists. And until that changes, environmental policy is going to advance just like everything else: slowly and stupidly.

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5 Responses to A Pox You Say?

  1. Zuuko says:

    I feel better after getting that off my chest.

  2. zolltan says:

    Drunk and pissed off (Canucks game) but here goes.

    WordPress comments: they work poorly but in a very predictable fashion: you can only nest 3 deep. So if your comment is a reply to a reply to a reply, then it won’t post there. Just reply to the previous comment to avoid confusion.

    Climategate: okay, you may or may not be right in psychoanalyzing why people cared about Climategate. What does that have to do with what you think is correct policy? If you admit Climategate in no way invalidated science of climate change (which you do), how is this not a good argument for the science being sufficiently value-neutral for your liking? Look, take a step back to what happened here: scientists had their private e-mails stolen and it turns out in those e-mails they disparaged people they disagreed with! Oh no fucking way. You want scientists to stop doing that? Well it ain’t gonna happen, cause scientists are people. For example, there is a lab (at another university) that because of an injoke and some graffiti our lab routinely (and basically exclusively) refers to as “those asshats.” But we actually communicate and even you could say co-operate with these people! Does this invalidate our work? Their work? Our communication? No. But this is the exact kind of nonsense that would be a scandal if we were on one or another side of a politically important issue. No one, and not scientists, are immune to mistaking scientific opinions with personal ones. When something in science is in doubt, you bet your ass its acceptance will vary depending on the peers’ personal opinion of the people involved! The point is climate change is not at the point of the personal anymore in terms of whether scientists believe it’s happening. We are past it. We know it is happening. So I am coming at this from a point of view that’s basically somewhat one of desperation: there is a problem (global warming), you agree there is a problem (you find the science credible, if not the scientists themselves), but you don’t want to hear about dealing with it because you think the people who point out there is a problem (scientists) are doing it badly (controversies)? Does it matter how they’re doing it or whether they’re even doing it at all as long as you think the problem is real?

    Further, you say worshipping the market is a right-wing cliché and you want to get away from this dynamic. Bravo, I agree worshipping markets is stupid. But I got news for you, you ain’t such a rebel in this case – NO ONE on the right supports carbon taxes (maybe Gordon Campbell?). But look, Pigovian taxes aren’t perfect, but they certainly achieve reduction in consumption (e.g. cigarettes). Is there a good (or even bad!) argument as to why they wouldn’t work here? Enlighten me.

    tl;dr: problem is real whether you like scientists or not. Pigovian taxes do work to reduce consumption. Which of these two points do you disagree with?

    • Zuuko says:

      Sorry for the late reply. my posting and commenting will be at a minimum until my eye strain goes down. I don’t disagree with anything you wrote except the vague insinuation that I dislike scientists. It was a tragedy that the science got obscured by a bunch of dicks in the science community. Like all communities, its too bad that the face of the issue obscured the issue. It’s like when those gay republican preachers get outed in bathroom stalls.

      Pigovian taxes can work in tragedy of commons type situations but only over the long term. They induce behavioral modification by removing incentives for an activity. However to used your cigarette example, was it increased cigarette taxes that drove their consumption lower, or education about health costs, or the trials of tobacco companies, or what was it? You can’t really point a finger on any one thing. But even taking this analogy further, you can’t pretend that the monies raised from that tax have been used to fund solutions for all the health ills they cause.

      Simply having a carbon tax is a very small, small, small part of any solution/policy on how to mitigate human impacts on the environment. They certainly will not be immediate. I don’t mean to discount the use of Pigovian taxes. My point is that the arsenal of policy responses should be thought through and used appropriately. It is very idiotic to say we should used pigovian taxes because it appeals to the followers of Rand.

    • Zuuko says:

      I just realized that my gay republican analogy doesnt work

  3. Pingback: Worst Book Review Ever | Rated Zed

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