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Climate change rhetoric

Philip Eubanks, a professor of English at Northern Illinois University, has written a short tome about the rhetoric of the climate change debate which may be of interest to readers. As normal for academic books, however, it's grossly overpriced so is likely to remain unread.

Eubanks is a scientific layman and is therefore inclined to take predictions of catastrophe from scientists on trust, but he is also quite capable of calling out extremism on both sides - he discusses an ad-hominem Amazon review of The Hockey Stick Illusion at one point. He's also an engaging writer and the 130 pages of the book have a chatty style that make it an easy read.

His hypothesis is that the climate debate is in a rut, with attempts to win the scientific arguments locked in a kind of trench warfare, which seems unarguable. He goes on to analyse why this is and then offers what he sees as new ways out of the debate. In a jacket quote, Brigitte Nerlich says that the book "opens up a space for mutual understanding", but in the closing pages you find that it's another of those "how can we frame the debate so that we win" efforts that amuse BH readers from time to time.

Eubanks's ideas for change include, for example, toning down the anti-humanism: might at least be useful for those in the mainstream to talk less of humanity as a disease or as agents of harm and to talk more about the human capacity to solve problems...

...and emphasising home and hearth rather than the planet:

... it may be more to the point for us to speak not about preserving the environment, which calls to mind the wilderness (which is indeed important), but rather to emphasize protecting our cities and towns and farmland.

This is fair enough, but as he continues, his own settled view of the climate debate take over and some underlying antipathy towards dissenters seems to creep in. So when he consideres that staple topic of the climate debate, the use of the d-word, we discover that he is not not a fan of the term, but before we can congratulate him we also learn that he wants an alternative, but preferably a rude one:

Should skeptics and deniers be called carbon addicts or some such disparaging term? Perhaps so. But whatever the precise phrase, it would be more direct and it would define the problem more accurately if they were challenged not about their attitudes toward science but instead about their attitude toward climate negligence.

Elsewhere he notes that we argue in order to try to plot a way forward where facts are uncertain. With that argument deadlocked in mutual rancour, an attempt to open "a space for mutual understanding" would have been a valuable contribution. But if he had really wanted to do that, he would have maintainined a studiously neutral position on the climate debate and would hardly have dedicated a paragraph to the consideration of the correct disparaging term to use for dissenters.

It's dressed up better than the previous efforts, but ultimately it's nothing that we haven't heard before.

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Reader Comments (32)

There is a difference between attacking someone for "climate negligence” and attacking someone for "denying the science".

The former is based on a different view of risk. We may not agree but it is a tenable position.

The latter is based on a falsehood. We don’t deny the science. We engage with it and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, discussing the weaknesses is what distinguishes us from the alarmists.

So I can see how moving the debate on to this form of disagreement is progress.

Jun 16, 2015 at 11:29 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Essentially still rancorous shouty name calling and then running away - dressed as "conciliation" and "understanding"

It's pious grasping onto self defined "moral high ground" - yet again.

These latter day adherents of the haruspices are little more than net trolls.

Angling for an honorarium and nice travel for some future junket of hollow pontification no doubt.

Not related to another Eubanks this side of the pond is he? Quite a bargain at a mere £80 for the Kindle edition.

Jun 16, 2015 at 12:32 PM | Registered Commentertomo

You can read the first few pages on Amazon. I got as far as

"A great majority of scientists have raised an alarm about rising temperatures and the all-but-certain devastation to follow"

before switching off. I don't think that the opinions of a Prof of English with clearly very little understanding of science who starts off from such a false premise are worth reading.

Jun 16, 2015 at 12:33 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

What academics most resent about the climate "debate" and the reason they attack us so vehemently is that they've lost control of what counts as "scientific truth".

Academics are suffering very much the same fate as the pope when the printed word bypassed the authority of the "omni-science" head of the Catholic church. Printing effectively gave Church “sceptics” the ability to read the evidence themselves in the printed bible (hitherto controlled by the church) and then to discuss it amongst themselves. All without going through the catholic church hierarchy. When this happened the sceptics no longer needed the church and so stopped accepting the authority of the church.

In the same way we sceptics can now obtain the scientific evidence from the internet, and the internet allows us to discuss that evidence and we need never involve academics. So academics are no longer in charge of the climate debate and boy do they resent it!

This recent alliance between Pope and academia should really be seen as two old hierarchical self-proclaimed “omni-science” systems of “church” and “science” coming together to try to control the "truth" of their subject and stop the new flatter social structures on the internet taking over.

Because the internet is not only a technological revolution, but like printing it is also creating a social revolution. The new flatter power systems of the internet & the ability to talk peer-to-peer is bypassing the old traditional power of academia which it exercised by limiting access to its journals through peer review. Now the internet is taking over not just science, but politics and even religion!

Academics have lost their authority over "scientific truth" in 2015 in the way the church lost its authority over "religious truth" in 1520.

... and boy do they resent it!

Jun 16, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Just another example of what the we all face, before the general delusion, in both science and politics, can be overcome. He is a "canary in the coal mine", a warning to everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. He is a deluded academic, the archenemy of good, dispassionate reason.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Presumably Bob Ward will soon pen a cutting takedown of the professor, after all he is not a professional climate scientist and his opinion is therefore irrelevant.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

M Courtney : "denying the science".

That's an interesting phrase, because by "science" I'm sure they don't mean science as we sceptics usually use it. Instead "science" here is being used here as a collective name for "scientists" - or the sum total of the views of these acadmics, something akin to the 97% "consensus" of academic [views]. It is not real science based on evidence and scientific experimentation - because sceptics don't deny actual evidence.

So, what this really means is not "denying the evidence" but instead "denying the truth as expressed by academics".

In other words, we are challenging their authority to decide what counts as truth in science.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:13 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Well said, MikeHaseler. To which I can (again) add the words of Prof Phil Jones:

"I recall giving lectures in the past when there would be one person who would disagree with something or all I said in an invited talk. The internet has allowed all these people to find one another unfortunately." -Climategate email #2621

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Right now it does not seem possible for the two (or more) factions with views on climate change to genuinely debate the subject for two reasons:

1. The followers of the so called consensus will often refuse even to be in the same room as, let alone speak to anyone who admits to doubting their theories.

2. The format of ALL the debates I have ever seen makes it almost impossible for there to be any conclusion.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:16 PM | Registered CommenterDung

" His hypothesis is that the climate debate is in a rut, with attempts to win the
scientific arguments locked in a kind of trench warfare, which seems
unarguable. "

That is just incorrect. Just match the evidence against the hypothesis and see if they fit.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Sorry OT

Anybody else watching the BBC swooning over Michelle Obama.
40th anniversary of Jaws ,gonna need a bigger sick bucket.
Apparently the gossip is the Obama,s have separated.Separate bedrooms at the Whitehouse.
His and her separate Jets to Paris.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

michael hart - a good quote. Printing didn't suddenly create a dislike of the corruption in the church so much as to allow people to bypass the church's control and express their views to the multitude and let the sceptics hear that they weren't alone.

Likewise, academia was corrupt long before we sceptics & the internet came along. But who was there to reveal this corruption before us sceptics and the internet?

Do you think academics journals would even hint that their subjects are full of academic corruption?

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:29 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

MikeHaseler, the other point that is not often emphasised about the Phil Jones quote is that if an academic at an invited talk often gets an audience member who disagrees with something or everything he says, then many of his peers disagree with him. A damn site more than 3%, as anyone who has ever been in such an audience will know.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

In the excitement over the Pope’s encyclical and the upcoming Paris conference, people are not talking about how CO2 mitigation efforts, if successful, would put civilization onto an unsustainable path.

Jun 16, 2015 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon C.

A Professor of English writes stuff that has been written before. Did he get paid? Was it plagiarism?

His contribution to science is to add the term 'addict' to those used to describe people he does not agree with.

He won't object to being called a collaborator in condemning people to premature avoidable death.

Jun 16, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Little will change in 'Climate Change' science until the current crop who've swallowed AGW theory hook line and sinker are out of office and indeed influence. Reputations are too ensconced now for retractions.

This one really DOES need a new broom to sweep clean.

OT but Breitbart & GWPF have an astonishing revelation re a pair of RS 'scientists' who have stated they won't change their minds on AGW for 50 years, regardless of any evidence! Just goes to prove my point above.

Jun 16, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

Wow a £85.00 home study guide for Global Warming activism. The Dale Carnegie books are general purpose and probably a much better deal.

Jun 16, 2015 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in Sweden

I would like to know who is NOT a “carbon addict” and if they are “addicts”, and acknowledge that, what steps they want to take to cure their “addiction”. Whatever they do propose, I would try to talk them out of it, as it would surely lead them to being truly cold turkeys, as carbon is as essential to life as water.

Jun 16, 2015 at 2:58 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Different subject; same argument
The medical profession doesn't like it either and in their case the deaths come quicker.

Jun 16, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

As someone pointed out above, it will be fascinating to see how alarmists play this:

a) Will the Pope be soundly panned for opining on this because of his lack of chops as a climate scientist and the absence of peer review of his message?

b) Will alarmists eagerly embrace the Papal blessing as one more arrow in the 'multiple lines of evidence' quiver?

Jun 16, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

Good comments above.

I wonder what guys like this expect to see different if there were no climate sceptics? Does he think windmills would be any less unreliable? Does he think politicians would write blank cheques for green projects? Does he think anybody would embrace expensive bills and power cuts? Does he think it's our fault few people want an electric car? The only reason sceptics get called names is because warmists refuse to own up to their own inadequacy. If we're addicts 'physician heal thyself' I say.

Jun 16, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Thanks for the link. I read the 20 or so pages that are available via Google books. Apparently he has not written an article on this subject though he has given speeches to groups who see climate change as an imminent catastrophe. Alas, though I agree Prof. Eubanks writes well, he presumes that science discourse is the same as non-science discourse and thereby makes a fundamental error. The scientific method is a method of argumentation that is distinct. It presumes a readiness, if not always the ability, to jointly agree on the relevant facts, methods and modes of reasoning. Eubanks simply does not think like a scientist. For example, he cites approvingly of a description of Typhoon Bopha by Mr Sano, a Philippine delegate at the climate talks in Doha in 2012. But he ignores the historical record of other super typhoons and uncritically accepts the link between this typhoon and Climate Change.

Jun 16, 2015 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

Tiny CO2, if it was not for us 'sceptics', no one would know how unreliable the so called renewables are, because climate science collaborators have denied honesty a look into their secretive world.

97% are content with this state of affairs, it is almost as though without faith in climate science, they have no credibility, or income. Where would climate scientists be without income? Reading tea leaves and sacred entrails

Jun 16, 2015 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

There are no customer reviews for "The Troubled Rhetoric and Communication of Climate Change" on Amazon, yet. If anyone has actually read the tome, please let the world know what its quality is. The existing reviews are blurbs from the publisher and, of course, do everything but nominate Banks for sainthood.

Jun 16, 2015 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

'climate negligent'?
I think I prefer 'climate procrastinator'
fits more my lifestyle

Jun 16, 2015 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Smith

It would help if the book title were in the article. Change "short tome" to "The Troubled Rhetoric and Communication of Climate Change: The argumentative situation"

Jun 16, 2015 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric Gisin

bernie1815 + 1

Scientific hypotheses and theories progress by being tested against empirical data and are rejected when their predictions are contradicted by data, as the AGW hypothesis should have been by now. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis approach to the evolution of ideas outlined in the summary of this paper may be applicable to the humanities, but it's not to science. Scientific thought rarely evolves by synthesising opposing views to a new view somewhere in the middle, but by the leaps and bounds of data tested inspiration.

Jun 16, 2015 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterGuy Leech

The title of the book itself contains an Orwellian rhetorical device namely ‘Climate Change’™ which, like ‘carbon pollution’ and any number of other propaganda tactics specifically invented by the industry, is designed to corrupt the general public’s understanding of the issues.

Jun 16, 2015 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hanley

Climate Science can add another failure, to the lengthening list.

Science FAIL
Maths FAIL
Geology FAIL
History FAIL
Religious Studies FAIL
English FAIL
Psychology FAIL
Archaeology FAIL

Is there a Special School somewhere for their Special Needs? (Money mainly)

Jun 16, 2015 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Perhaps Prof. Philip Eubanks could demonstrate to us "Carbon addicts" how to live "Carbon free". Just a month would be sufficient to prove his point. Of course his nearest and dearest should be included in his demonstration. After realising how dependent he is on fossil fuels he (assuming he survives) he make take a different tack. I am always annoyed by statements like "We must do something" but the people making the statments tend to have the highest "Carbon footprints" of anyone in the world. The moment they reduce their "footprints" to less than mine I might (just might) take some notice of them, but only after they have done so for some time and permitted independant audits of their "carbon" usage.

Jun 16, 2015 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard of NZ

Stuck-Record says

'Presumably Bob Ward will soon pen a cutting takedown of the professor, after all he is not a professional climate scientist and his opinion is therefore irrelevant.'

Stuck is absolutely spot on. Bob Ward is not a professional climate scientist. He is a shill for an American stock market speculator.

Jun 17, 2015 at 7:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Same old tart dressed up in a new outfit.


Jun 17, 2015 at 9:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

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