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« More Singh | Main | Up With That Watts! »


With Simon Singh's somewhat crude contribution to the climate debate still ringing in our ears, my mind turned to an email I received recently on the subject of taxonomy in the climate debate. The message was from David Henderson and contained an excerpt from an article he had written which considered the subject of suitable terms to describe friend and foe alike in this most heated of debates.

It is often claimed that there now exists a world-wide scientific consensus on climate change issues, sometimes described as ‘overwhelming’. I believe that such language is inappropriate; but I think it is correct to say that alongside the official policy consensus (which is a reality), and providing both rationale and support for it, there exists an established body of what I call prevailing scientific opinion.

Predictably, received opinion is not universally shared. It remains subject to challenge by a varied collection of doubters, sceptics, critics and non-subscribers: I will label them collectively as dissenters. Against these, and greatly outnumbering them, are arrayed what I term the upholders of received opinion. Among economists, a clear majority of those who have expressed views on these matters can be classed as upholders.

Within both groups — and this is important to note — there are different schools thought: a whole spectrum of opinions can be identified. Each of the many subject areas, including ours and those of the different sciences involved, has a spectrum of its own. At one end of each spectrum are what may be termed strong or full-blown upholders, the dark greens so to speak. Prominent among these are Lord Stern and the team that worked under him to produce the Stern Review: the Review takes the position that AGW ‘presents very serious global risks and demands an urgent global response’. At the other end of the spectrum, strong dissenters — the dark blues — argue that such warming, if indeed its extent can be shown to be significant, is not a cause for alarm or  concern: hence measures to curb emissions should be eschewed — or discontinued, where they are now in place. In between these two far removed positions, there are upholders and dissenters who hold more limited or qualified beliefs. I count myself as a light-to-medium blue — a limited dissenter, though a firm one.

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Reader Comments (32)

"No matter how thin you slice it, it's still bologna." -- (chiefly US) 20th Century adage

Feb 7, 2011 at 6:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

That is not an unreasonable assessment. I'm not quite sure what my color or shade would be. What color would someone be who is not opposed to the notion of Anthropogenic Global Warming, just unconvinced.

Feb 7, 2011 at 7:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterpluck

"Among economists"

Are we discussing views of different groups of economists?

Seems apt since economists are little more than sentiment managers.

Feb 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I think it wrong to identify with a personal part of the spectrum. That implies a closed mind and it provides old documents that can come back to bite you on the bum.

Surely the scientist should have an open mind, not a positioned one, because so many new theories start as a minority view and steadily gain acceptance.

Is there a gain in stating a personal position? I think not.

Feb 7, 2011 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

No doubt Mubarak is trying to work out why people do not believe in him any more, and trying to classify the dissenting population into groups.

Whereas, the notion that he is an outdated, corrupt has-been, means the rational position to adopt, for many different reasons, is to want him gone

Feb 7, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Well, of course it is more polite to call someone a 'dissenter' than a 'denier', let alone a 'numptie'.

But this debate isn't about politeness. And I see no prospect of the warmists (with very few exceptions - notably Judy Curry) having the honesty and intelligence to stop and look at what their opponents are actually saying. The majority will fight like ferrets in a sack to avoid losing their research grants.

And I couldn't care less what they call me, because I have I have absolutely no respect whatever for the likes of Ward, Monbiot, Romm, Schmidt, Hansen and co.

Feb 7, 2011 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

david wrote:

"It is often claimed that there now exists a world-wide scientific consensus on climate change issues" and therein lies the rub.

as a former believer in CAGW - because i was informed by monbiot and similar that 2,500 climate scientists independently verified the figures - i now wonder at my own gullibility.

had the CAGW alarmists NOT morphed into CC zealots, i might still have an open mind on the issue.

the moment i hear anyone use the words CC to mean CAGW or, as in most cases, CAGW REQUIRING IMMEDIATE TAXING/COMMODIFYING OF CARBON DIOXIDE, i turn off.


p.s. give thanx to the Climategate whistleblower, WUWT, CA, Jonova, the Bish, Christopher Booker and many more too numerous to mention who keep up the good fight to save the scientific method. no return to the "science is settled" dark ages, please.

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Certainly 'dissenters' and 'upholders' are less loaded terms but which is which?
I claim to be an 'upholder' of what has been the scientific method and the scientific consensus while those who would propose a new hypothesis are the ones dissenting and on whom lies the burden of proof.
Einstein was a dissenter; Newton was a dissenter. Both were proved right eventually.
Mann is a dissenter; Jones is a dissenter. Both may be proved right eventually.
At the moment that has not happened. We are being asked to accept a new scientific belief on the flimsiest of evidence and the scientists are bullying us into accepting a terminology which itself turns the principles of scientific research on its head.

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Pat, I hope you keep an open mind about global warming. I believe it's too early to judge the issues, I plan to revisit the case in 50 or 60 years when we will have more and better data and there will have been a chance for the dust to settle little bit.

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterpluck

Since there is no conclusive scientific evidence that man either is, or is not, having a significant effect on the climate, the rational position seems to me to be close to the middle (WHITE?) - while keeping an open mind and seeking replicable, quantifiable evidence to test competing hypotheses.

As we know, this situation is analogous to the 'is / is not' a God where emotions and vested interests also drive the debate in the absence of scientifically testable propositions and hard evidence either way.

The missed opportunity in mainstream climate 'science' is to properly apply scientific method and to rigorously test hypotheses, while applying the body of knowledge accumulated by physicists, chemists and engineers over the past century. Most climate 'scientists' take the soft option, relying on belief and rhetoric and so the emotion fuelled debate just runs and runs.

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterR2

The views of economists, qua economists, on the plausibility of CAGW doctrine are of no more interest than the views of ice cream salesmen. By contrast, the views of particular economists who have studied the topic in depth (e.g., Ross McKitrick) are of considerable interest. But then the same is true of mining consultants ..

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

Technically the colour opposite of green is magenta.

Who want's to help for the Magenta Party?

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

re ^^ 'FORM' not 'FOR'

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Their is no doubt in my mind that human activity is affecting the climate in many regions of the world and our actions (or inactions) have been detrimental in very many cases. However, i do not think that C02 plays anything other than an insignificant part. I think that the "Precautionary Principle" is responsible for persuading the majority of the non-scientific community that action needs to be taken and It has been well and truly oversold without the cost benefits being rigorously calculated or explained. This principle allows those people in power to justify any action regardless of its cost or merit, in order to promote their own agendas. Accepting the precautionary principle allows subscribers to ignore any controversial or contradictory evidence because it is deemed to be not very important.
This is a very frightening principle IMHO and needs to be abandoned.

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Whilst driving this morning I caught a bit of Radio 4's "Start the Week" with Andrew Marr. Not something I usually listen to but my attention was taken by Margaret Heffernan's plug for her new book "Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril".

"Why do we avoid seeing obvious threats and instead choose to keep ourselves in the dark? When we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth, how can we turn away? In her new book, Wilful Blindness, academic and writer Margaret Heffernan examines what it is about human nature that makes us dodge the unpalatable to avoid action and debate. She explores the dangers to people and organisations of ignoring what is right in front of us and suggests steps institutions and individuals can take to start combating wilful blindness."

I haven't read the book but Heffernan's comments came across as perceptive.

We were then treated to Jocelyn Bell Burnell:-

"Will the world end on 21 December 2012? The date marks the end of the Mayan calendar and, some believe, the end of everything. Astrophysicist Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Visiting Professor at Oxford University, talks about astronomical fact, prediction fictions and what apocalyptic scares can tell us about the communication of science.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell will be giving the Faraday Lecture on “The end of the world in 2012? Science communication and science scares” at the Royal Society on Thursday 10 February."

This started out quite interestingly, discussing the Mayan Calender and astrophysics. But she then discussed why people are attracted to apocalyptic predictions and then launched into an amazing attack on "climate deniers" (who apparently deny that the climate changes at all and she hints that this is because they profit from doing so.)!

Even warmista Andrew Marr had to ask whether her analogy was exact, in that 'deniers' were, in essence, asserting that there was nothing very much to worry about. But even after a 'warm up' session on 'willful blindness', La Burnett stuck to her guns on mendacious 'deniers' and their wiles.

I think it is re-broadcast at 21:30 tonight. Recommended if you like a good laugh. And another indication of the quality of the 'scientists' who hang out at the Royal Society.

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Frankly, I am sick of all this labelling, introduced by those with a political agenda rather than scientists. it is very sad,but not surprising that those scientists who use such labels are also political activists, thus perverting science.

So call me an opponent - of the cAGW meme, and of those who use the term 'climate change' a pejorative and as vehicle for their political ends.
What I don't oppose is the proper use of scientific methods to investigate our climate, and to find out how it changes and what drives those changes. So I resent the label 'denier' fiercely,because it is a political label.

Oh, and btw - haven't all those greenies ever pondered that a warming planet might actually imply that we won't need so much fossil fuel to keep warm in winter, and have larger areas available for agriculture to feed the hungry?

(Not holding my breath for the answer ...)

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

Jane Coles said

The views of economists, qua economists, on the plausibility of CAGW doctrine are of no more interest than the views of ice cream salesmen.

There are a few truths that interact with this view.

First, Economists in general wouldn't know if their arse was on fire.

Second, Stern and his gang are trying to be more like actuaries than economists, but failing.

Third, actuaries and bookmakers are the most pragmatic. They both work on a zero sum game + x%. If you want to get a truly costed CAGW hypothesis, look at bookmakers & actuaries.

Fourth, some insurance companies are moving to cover some CAGW risk - advised by their actuaries. This is contra to the advice of Pielke Jr.

The truth of the hypothesis - to you and me - is whether our costs go up or down based on actuarial analysis. At present it looks like up.

Perhaps actuaries need to attend a few day camps to get closer to reality?

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

This is an interesting and potentially very important task, this taxonomy of alarm linked to CO2. The displacement of reasonable scientific speculation and everyday work by a massive PR campaign to demonise CO2 and organise societies around it, was and is a truly remarkable phenomenon. How can such an impact be produced based on so little of any substance? It points, in my opinion, to serious weaknesses in our politics, and indeed in ourselves. The more we can learn about our vulnerabilities to such orchestrated scaremongering, the better we shall be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of further episodes. Getting a clear, widely accepted taxonomy could facilitate better debates and investigations, and help clarify and organise relevant data and theories. It seems multi-dimensional, with axes for subject matter expertise, for political inclinations, and for one or more aspects of personality, as well as axes for interventions such as those involving mass media, educational systems, and legislation. Your correspondent David Henderson is making a lively start, with his 'collection' (or hierarchy or network?) of participants, and the idea of ranges of opinions for each complete with colour-coding.

Feb 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

As commented in the WUWT that thread

I don't remembering seeing this on here or WUWT Bish - a very highly respected source.

Feb 7, 2011 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

pesadia at 10:22 AM said: "the "Precautionary Principle" is responsible for persuading the majority of the non-scientific community that action needs to be taken .... to justify any action regardless of its cost or merit, in order to promote their own agendas."

And for most promoters of CAGW, their chief agenda has been the huge "skim" that can pocketed from the CAGW scam, one signature example being Al Gore's Generation Investment LLP, which was/is staffed by 18 of 21 partners being ex-Goldman Sachs, a firm which by the way has also been deeply involved in many of these CAGW scams - as a partner, owner, and promoter - for the last decade. Al Gore was one of only three partners at his own firm who was *not* ex-Goldman.

Many people are under the misimpression that Gore has made millions from his CAGW activities. This is not true. He made *all* of his money as a consultant with Google since 2001 (undoubtedly with many thousands of very lucrative stock options), and from his public speaking fees. I would guess that all of his CAGW activities have been marginally profitable at best, and probably money losers for the most part.

Feb 7, 2011 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterGarry

There is a distinction to be made between opinions on the science (the extent to which AGW is an influence on the climate) and opinions on what actions should be taken about it, if any. It is unclear to me what David Henderson ("I count myself as a light-to-medium blue — a limited dissenter, though a firm one") would propose should be done about the Climate Change Act. In the UK we have a black and white issue with respect to action - of for or against the Climate Change Act - which is, I think, unique in the world.

My own opinion, FWIW, is that AGW science is anything but settled. To me it is unsettled, uncertain and unsupported because the foundations are built on sand. It does not provide a sound basis for the action taken by Parliament. For this reason the Climate Change Act is an unjustified imposition on the UK economy and should be repealed. Alternatively its measures should be put in suspense while Parliament reconsiders the Act and the basis on which it was passed in the first place.

Feb 7, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

As another oldtimer - I would like to support oldtimer's comments 100%.

The UK's whole energy/climate change position does not stack up. I see the rest of the world is rushing to shale gas (interesting article at GWPF today), but it hardly features here yet.

Feb 7, 2011 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave


Remember terror futures? [An almost great idea, but a PR disaster.]

More seriously, actuaries need data in order to do anything useful. With car accidents, house fires, heart attacks, bridge collapses, etc., the data streams in all the time. But, with CAGW, there hasn't actually been any significant GW for the last fifteen years. So recent data must be a bit thin on the ground.

Feb 7, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles


I cannot see something as detached from reality as the CCA standing the test of time. For all the rhetoric about it being a 'legally binding' commitment within the EU framework, it can be repealed.

The stipulated reduction in UK emissions is unachievable. The economic damage done by trying and failing to hit the target is unacceptable. This is already becoming evident.

When it starts to become a vote-loser, it will be binned.

Roger Pielke Jnr has published an analysis which may be of interest. From the abstract (emphasis added):

[...] the UK would have to achieve the 2006 carbon efficiency of France by about 2015, a level of effort comparable to the building of about 30 new nuclear power plants, displacing an equivalent amount of fossil energy. The paper argues that the magnitude of the task implied by the UK Climate Change Act strongly suggests that it is on course to fail, and discusses implications.

Feb 7, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Jane Coles said

Remember terror futures? [An almost great idea, but a PR disaster.]

An interesting concept, but how did they settle the futures contracts? Trading on Chicago Pork Belly futures relies on an actual contract of sale of real pork bellies at the end. How do you settle futures in terrorism? Go out and do a bit or terrorising as required to settle the contract? Odd.

Feb 7, 2011 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Jane Coles; Jerry

An unpleasant example of how the cost of AGW is manufactured (in this case by the insurance industry) is covered by Roger Pielke Jnr on his blog:

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has an revealing article today about the creation in 2006 of a "short-term" hurricane risk prediction from a company called Risk Management Solutions. The Herald-Tribune reports that the prediction was worth $82 billion to the reinsurance industry. It was created in just 4 hours by 4 hurricane experts, none of whom apparently informed of the purposes to which their expertise was to be put.

See the rest here (it is jaw-dropping):

Feb 7, 2011 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I remember reading the draft of his Energy and Environment paper which appeared somewhere in the blogosphere ages ago. I felt great solace at that time that at least someone close to the Treasury is not yet blinded by the triffids, particularly with his illustrious CV and hopefully influence. There is a fairly recent summary piece on GWPF. Could the shoots of realism be sprouting there? Resisting the full Green Bank ambitions?

Feb 7, 2011 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Dissenters and Upholders of catastrophic AGW? I would prefer Skeptics and Believers. Certainly the Believers are taking it on faith - unsupported by science - that mankind can "stop global warming" or "prevent climate change."

Feb 7, 2011 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney


Although they were called 'futures' (in the press, at least), I think they were really just a simple bet with one set of parties believing an outcome likely (e.g., an attack on WTC in 2001) and the other set believing it to be unlikely. The problem with the scheme (apart from the PR aspects) was that the objects of the bet (i.e., terrorists) can themselves study the odds and react appropriately (even to the extent of placing bets on outcomes they themselves determine). 'Climate futures' wouldn't have this problem, of course. They may even exist (sounds like the kind of thing JfR would know). If they do exist, then the revealed odds might be very interesting.


Yes, I vaguely recalled RPjr's post -- it's a classic. And it shows, I think, that traditional actuarial notions don't currently loom large in the 'climate insurance' industry.

Feb 7, 2011 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

Jane Coles

Yes, I vaguely recalled RPjr's post -- it's a classic. And it shows, I think, that traditional actuarial notions don't currently loom large in the 'climate insurance' industry.


Feb 7, 2011 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

There is a category that we should allow to get greater consensus, and very relevant to what we do about global warming. That is to answer the question
"Will current policy to combat global warming - both actual and proposed - make the world a better place for future generations?"

If you are a sceptic, the answer is no.

If you take the figures in the Stern Review assumptions, but start allowing for uncertainties in the climate models and the forecast catastrophic consequences, then the costs are likely to outweigh the benefits - so the answer is no.

If you believe the science is spot on, but look at policy theory, then you will find that it makes wildly optimistic assumptions about the power to generate technological change by subsidy and regulation and wildly optimistic assumptions about the ability of pulling economic levers to reduce CO2 emissions when there are no viable alternatives; and wildly optimistic assumptions about the ability to chose the best combination clean energy sources in the face of very partisan views. So we may have huge problem, but a near useless and costly range of policy options - so the answer is no.

If you believe all the above - that catastrophic climate change is almost certain and we have a viable policies action theory, there is still the practical policy issue. There is no prospect of all economies to sacrifice their economic growth to reduce CO2. Most of the emissions growth will come from emerging economies, which will more than offset any reductions Britain or the UK will make. (Pielke Jr's position.) Then, even if there is global agreement, there are no means of monitoring, let alone effectively project managing the myriad of global emission reduction programs in place. So future generations will be poorer, but the catastrophe will not be averted - so the answer is no.

That many answer yes, is due to highly charged atmosphere where the science is settled and the policy is obvious and without doubt. Alarmism has effectively shut down more balanced analysis of the science and the policy.

Feb 9, 2011 at 12:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterManicbeancounter

The big problem with the "scientific community" is that its academic machiavellism is incompatible with the scientific method. Please check out Pure science Wiki. That is an Internet platform for the real scientific method.

Dec 12, 2012 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin J Sallberg

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