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Discussion > Self-exaltation as a driver of climate alarmism

The astonishing political success of climate alarmism can scarcely be explained by physical science since the case for alarm using physical theories and observations is such a feeble one. Thus the success calls out for further explanation involving other disciplines such as sociology, psychology, political science, and so on. The success seems to expose or illustrate some societal vulnerability to scaremongering. It may also do the same for a phenomenon captured in the title of this book by Thomas Sowell 'The Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy'.

In his later book, 'Intellectuals and Society', Sowell also uses the notion of self-exaltation by those with the 'vision of the self-anointed'. I'm reading this book right now, and just came across a quote from T S Eliot given on page 184:

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm - but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

Sowell goes on to illustrate this with the example of Carson and her 'Silent Spring', and the consequent demonisation of DDT. He observes that 'Rachel Carson may have been responsible for more deaths of human beings than anyone without an army. Yet she remains a revered figure among environmental crusaders'

He goes on to note 'The point here is not that one particular crusade had catastrophic effects but that the crusading spirit of those with the vision of the anointed makes effects on others less important than the self-exaltation of the crusaders.'

Does this help explain the promotion of bio-fuels despite the starvation that higher food prices bring to the world's most vulnerable people? Or the promotion of renewables despite the burden of higher energy costs on low-income people who are faced with choosing between heating or eating? Or the destruction of large numbers of birds and bats with turbines - death rates that if caused by wicked oil companies, for example, would have these self-same crusaders out on the streets with their banners as if the world was about to end. Or, the defacement of our countryside and seascapes with whirling distractions perched on tons of concrete that will never be removed, and which serve to reduce our industrial competitiveness and thereby weaken our ability to reduce harm from climate variation in the future? And what of the harm to young minds from bombarding them with scare stories about the end of their world, the destruction of nature, and so on?

Meanwhile, the anointed ones award themselves prizes, put full-page ads in the New York Times pleading for even more billions of dollars than their cause has already diverted from better uses, and generally agitate and conspire to control all our lives. They do seem to be really enjoying the crisis they and their like have done so much to invent. They do seem to exalt in it.

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:53 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I've always thought Sowell is painfully on the money (and prestige, and feelgood factor) with this one. Thanks for putting this up John. The TS Eliot reminds me of his contemporary CS Lewis (they had very different tastes as literary men but came together as Christians towards the end of their lives). Lewis once memorably wrote: "She's the sort of woman who lives for others - you can tell the others by their hunted expression."

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Ah yes, they were good at quotes in the olden days!

The climate alarmers are not all driven by an urge to self-exaltation. Some may find financial gains motivation enough, as Donna has discovered from the above mentioned NYT ad: Or perhaps the combination of exaltation and lots of loot coming in is just too much to resist?

Sep 18, 2014 at 7:46 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Yes, imho a toxic combination John. Mixed in with the lure of the inner ring as Lewis put it. You can see that at a low level in the SkS secret forum or the Climategate emails. It would be surprising if it didn't also operate at the Crispin Tickell or Maurice Strong levels. But money and self-exaltation are strong there too.

Sep 19, 2014 at 4:28 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Having just watched the BBC announce that the Noes have won the Scottish Referendum I wonder (strictly O/T - sorry John) whether Tom Sowell hasn't also got something of great importance for these Isles in his urgent warnings against grievance politics - the kind of approach that has led to such disaster in Sri Lanka:

The painful irony is that, when the British colony of Ceylon became the independent nation of Sri Lanka in 1948, its people were considered to be a shining example for the world of good relations between a majority (the Sinhalese) and a minority (the Tamils). That all changed when politicians decided to "solve" the "problem" that the Tamil minority was much more economically successful than the Sinhalese majority. Group identity politics led to group preferences and quotas that escalated into polarization, mob violence and ultimately civil war.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, fervent proponent of independence, just said something brilliantly constructive about the result on the BBC panel, followed by something else right out of the community organizer's playbook. I think we need to listen to the sage of Palo Alto in many areas.

Sep 19, 2014 at 5:42 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

A sage indeed.

Another wise man is Richard Lindzen. Here is an extract from a recent piece by him which I came across via The Hockey Schtick:

Climate alarm belongs to a class of issues characterized by a claim for which there is no evidence, that nonetheless appeals strongly to one or more interests or prejudices. Once the issue is adopted, evidence becomes irrelevant. Instead, the believer sees what he believes. Anything can serve as a supporting omen. Three very different previous examples come to mind (though there are many more examples that could be cited): Malthus’ theory of overpopulation, social Darwinism and the Dreyfus Affair. Although each of these issues engendered opposition, only the Dreyfus Affair led to widespread societal polarization. More commonly, only the ‘believers’ are sufficiently driven to form a movement. We will briefly review these examples (though each has been subject to book length analyses), but the issue of climate alarm is somewhat special in that it appeals to a sizeable number of interests, and has strong claims on the scientific community. It also has the potential to cause exceptional harm to an unprecedented number of people. This has led to persistent opposition amidst widespread lack of interest. However, all these issues are characterized by profound immorality pretending to virtue.

Key phrase for this thread: 'profound immorality pretending to virtue'

Sep 19, 2014 at 3:30 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

The sundry folks who try to sail through the NW passage, paddle to the North Pole, live on icebergs or whatever, to publicise their take on the climate system are candidates for the 'self-exaltation' tag. They surely want to be seen as heroic. In practice they are often incompetent buffoons who waste the time and threaten the wellbeing of those of who rescue them. Here is a warm water one who looks like he has a bit more smarts: he's going to take his kayak from Canberra to Paris, mostly by air, but with some paddling in sheltered bits and some trundling along roads (he wheels he can attach for that):

Naturally, in the time honoured tradition of climate activism, activist Steve Posselt plans to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by our modern fossil fuel powered economy to achieve his goal. Not only does his kayak appear to be a modern plastic construction, lightweight and safe, rather than the kind of fire burned dugout effort you would expect from a truly committed eco-warrior, but Steve’s route to Paris includes a couple of long haul airline flights.


More like a big holiday then. Maybe I am being unfair to him. Maybe he just fancies a bit of publicity for himself.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:10 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Before we get too carried away, we are guilty of this too. Don't we here believe we are crusading on behalf of the spirit of science, the good of the economy and our children's future? I think sometimes the underrated side of "wanting to think well of ourselves" is the "not wanting to think we could have done something" attitude I find amongst the cadre of scepticism.

Neither of these is a bad thing, but it's well to point out planks in eyes.

Jan 16, 2015 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

As always, you make a good point, and we ought always to be aware of our own failings in these affairs.
On the other hand we are not preaching self-denial while refusing to practise precisely that same denial ourselves. Hypocrisy (which in small doses is a social lubricant, so to speak) is just a bit too blatant when activists behave in ways that suggest they don't even believe in what they are preaching.

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:24 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

TBYJ has made a good point and a sensible caution, but I don't think of myself (and many others who are reacting to alarmism and its consequences) as being on a crusade so much as being on the receiving end of some, and trying hard to be observant of others. I also think there is quite a leap from wanting to feel well about yourself, to wanting to pursue self-exaltation, and it is the latter I am drawing attention to.

For myself, I feel I am on the sidelines and sometimes howling at the moon by reacting to those who are indeed on a crusade using self-exalting scaremongering to do one or more of 'save the world', 'make a lot of money', 'win power', 'win research grants', 'become famous', 'massively interfere in the lives of others', 'destroy capitalism', 'destroy industrialised societies', 'weaken the West', 'increase government control', 'scare people, including children', 'deal with their own terrors and imaginings by spreading them more widely', and perhaps a good few other motivations besides. There is a huge selfishness and sheer irresponsibility in these crusades that I do not care for. The selfishness of the fanatic who cares little for the effect on others. If they stopped, I would not be rushing in with a new crusade of my own. I'd merely be relieved, and spend more time on things I'd rather be spending more time on - none of which would fit under any of the aims in quotes just listed.

That said, the germ of an idea for helping support or encourage resistance to climate crusades has been distracting me for some weeks, and that is to look for ways that my own blog could provide more information and encouragement to help people directly tackle damage being done to their own children and schools by climate extremists. I suspect there is an extensive mess out there to clear up. I hope to get that started shortly, and I think it has a sort of crusady spirit. I will keep TBYJ's words in mind if and when I do so!

Jan 16, 2015 at 4:13 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Thanks for starting this discussion up again (I missed it first time round). Climate Resistance commenter Jack Hughes introduced me to the name of Thomas Sowell and I'd forgotten his name and felt embarrassed about asking on the net (Black guy … went to Harvard … votes Republican...)
And thanks to BigYinJames for the Christian warning about planks in the eye, (though I prefer the twinkle in ours to the self-satisfied beam in the other bloke's).
I've just read Sowell's introduction to his 20-year-old Visions of the Anointed to which you refer, and a chunk of chapter 1 of Intellectuals and Society , thanks to Amazon. This is someone we on the left should be taking very seriously indeed.
Richard Drake's references to wise words of TS Eliot and of CS Lewis (and a frequently quoted observation of GK Chesterton) remind us that there's another strain of right wing thinking - High Church, High Tory, and light years away from Thatcherism or the Friedmanism of Stowell - that has much to teach us.
After that, and given that I take my economic teachings from Evan Pritchard in the Telegraph, and share the saloon bar opinions of Nigel Farage about geopolitics, it may seem strange that I still think of myself as a leftist. Yet one could return the accusation of hypocrisy on Stowell, who seems to provide a class analysis of contemporary politics in “Intellectuals and Society” of which the author of the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” would have been proud.
I've long been arguing for a sociological analysis of climate hysteria. Stowell has put us on the right path with his analysis of intellectuals, as has Emmanuel Todd in France with his brilliant linking of the propagation of further education with the rise of economic inequality, and of an intellectual class immune to the opinions of the population.

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:03 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff - I haven't followed the subject closely but this essay by Martin Cohen is probably the best sociological analysis of the AGW thesis I have seen:

Beyond Debate? THEs, December 10 2009. [keywords: Cascade theory, Madness of Crowds]. There were some excellent comments from non clisci academics also, but unfortunately these have not been archived (and the essay may have been cut short - having re-read it, it does seem to end abruptly).

Jan 18, 2015 at 9:20 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Some great links in this thread - thanks to those who contributed.

I agree with John Shade that many of us who are fighting the Green Blob would rather be doing other things - I certainly would. But aside from security issues, to my mind the destructive force of the Blob is the most important policy issue facing the West. It's not just about the criminal waste of resources to chase phantoms, or even the degradation of science that makes me say this, although both are appalling enough.

Rather, my principal motivation is the onslaught on liberty and democracy which the fanatics have pursued without a second thought about the consequences. It seems that no price is too high to pay in these people's minds. We have had open calls for the suspension of democracy. We have had numerous coercive measures in the form of laws which we are obliged to comply with under threat of prosecution. We have had blatant lies told to the public for The Cause. And so on, and so on.

It takes a very high degree of self-exaltation to justify this kind of behaviour.

Jan 18, 2015 at 7:05 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

lapogus - thanks for the reference. I wish I had read it when it appeared.

Martin Cohen is editor of The Philosopher, and himself an environmental activist involved in many campaigns....he is actively researching a critique of climate change for Pluto Press provisionally titled Climate, Chaos and Irrationality: How the Green Agenda Was Hijacked by Global Warming Theorists.

What became of it I wonder.

Jan 18, 2015 at 7:38 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I wish I had read it when it appeared.

Well, if you had been following my (then very new!) blog, you could have done ;-)

My impression at the time was similar to that of lapogus, including about the comments:

There are a good number of (good!) comments following Cohen’s essay; however, while the level of discourse was more elevated than one is likely to find on a typical media blog, the alarmists contributed little except dismissive, demeaning demonization of anyone who does not fall into line. I wonder if they realized how clearly they were making Cohen’s case for him!

But I did capture excerpts from a comment by Peter Taylor (author of Chill) including:

At first i could not believe the delusions of the modellers had taken such a hold – it ranks as the worst scientific error in the history of science - that is why it is so hard to get the orthodox to admit to a problem! [emphasis added -hro]

From Cohen's Amazon profile, his book doesn't appear to have been published; but my guess is that he may have incorporated the text in some of his other works.

Jan 18, 2015 at 10:57 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

" principal motivation is the onslaught on liberty and democracy which the fanatics have pursued without a second thought about the consequences."

We certainly get to see green hypocrisy at work in this arena, Johanna. Some of their self-appointed "thought" leaders have recently been bemoaning that democracy is a problem in the West because it hinders their ability to impose planet-saving plans on the unpersuaded.

And on the flip side, today we have a BBC article about how democracy would be a good thing for China because of their environmental problems. There is grudging admission about how economic growth is transforming China, but still tempered with shaking’s of the head about where it is leading. I detect little genuine concern for the Chinese people, mostly concern for the BBC's environmental objectives. Putting the cart before the horse, as so often.

Like the West, China will remediate it's pollution problems in due course, based on Chinese needs and desires. In some decades time it will be far improved. Japan did the same and the world is still turning on its axis. It may even help promote democracy in China, which will probably be good for world peace as well as domestic China. But the basic freedoms doesn't strike me as the primary concern of the BBC author.

We see more and more of this environmental mission creep at the BBC. They now try it on in the business sections too.

Jan 19, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I don't know if it's OT or not, but I was about to put up a discussion based on two twitter exchanges I've had this week. The first was a tweet to Kevin Anderson, who said that the Tyndall Centre had made input to a parliamentary committee sitting this week, I've forgotten which one, but it's not germaine. I tweeted back that I hoped he'd made the point that the introduction of fracked natural gas had reduced CO2 emissions in the USA.

Up popped a person called Robert Broderick who tweeted it wasn't true that natural gas had reduced CO2 emissions in the US, and in fact they'd increased pointing me to the EIA data Where sure enough I found that the net reduction in CO2 output in the USA was down 500,000 MTons between 2006 and 2013 entirely due to natural gas and clearly to be seen in the data.

He came back with a graph showing CO2 emissions rising, I asked him for the provenance of this graph and it turned out HE had produced it. What he appears to have done is to take the produced FF in the US and given them as the actual emissions, when quite clearly the EIA stated that US emissions were down 10% in 2013 from 2006. That's the actual empirical data, but Tyndall put forward their CO2 based on the potential output from produced FF making it look as though USA emissions had increased. There is no way a parliamentary committee is going to pick up on that, so the Tyndall Centre got away with deceiving parliament.

However the big lesson for me was that neither Anderson, nor Broderick, saw anything wrong with deceiving parliament in this way, it dawned on me we were in parallel universes, they had a battle to win, and as they're really nice people (or so the think) they can put forward data they've made up for US CO2 output as evidence, even while the US authority is saying the opposite.

The second instance was this morning. For a few days now I've been asking questions about environmentalism to a member of the green party, and had raised the DDT ban and Golden Rice. Blow me if I didn't get a tweet this morning saying there'd never been an EPA ban on DDT it was all the lies of people trying to smear the environmental movement, and pointed me to a website which quoted William Rucklhaus as saying DDT could be used for fighting malaria and had never been against it, it was all lies from those who wanted to make out the environmentalists were evil. So tooled of the EPA site and got the press release from December 1972 banning the manufacture, exporting and use of DDT in the US from 1st January 1973.

Again the question to be answered is how adult educated people can put up outright lies and nonsense and have others believe them when a simple search shows the truth?

Is that cognisant dissonance I'm seeing? Are they evil people? Are they well intentioned people who see their goal as subsuming any other priorities?

Can the Tyndall Centre really deceive Parliament with impunity? Or have they not really deceived Parliament?

Jan 19, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Registered Commentergeronimo

Lapogus's link no longer works for some reason, but you can find Martin Cohen's article at
and a second one at
in which he defends Phil Jones and the Climategate gang by saying that all scientists cheat, it's only human nature etc. Presumably philosophers are just as corrupt, which is why he never published his exposé of climate catastrophism, since it would have put him at odds with the reading public for his other dozens of books of the “dummy's guide to what we intellectuals are saying” type.
In 2003 he published a review of Broswimmer's “Ecocide” in which he swallows all the usual dud catastrophic statistics without question. Having noted that the author “.. ignores the fact that half of all the species lost in modern time have been in Australia”, and saying “such claims have been made before by Greenies and there is indeed reason to be sceptical” he ends up recommending it as “an valuable [sic] and all too timely contribution to the debate”.
(See Wikipaedia for a useful summary of Cohen's many successful book ventures, none of which actually seem to involve doing philosophy.)

Jan 19, 2015 at 12:39 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

thanks, good article well worth reading... And Lapogus' hyperlink did work for me.
Excerpt . \\He then asks "Do they go together?" and extends the lines on the graph to terrifying..//
.. seems time for someone to make a new Gore Co2 temperature graph VIDEO with recent values ..and ask the same question.

Jan 19, 2015 at 3:53 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen