When I foolishly wandered over to Climate Audit to see the polite and open-minded reception I was promised there (hint: nope) I made the comment that there are “more than two camps”, one of the few comments that met with any approval. I call them “camps” rather than “sides” to avoid this oversimplification.
Hilariously, (I laughed out loud) somebody proposed “alarmists, lukewarmers, skeptics and deniers” as the four camps. Well, no, that’s not what I meant.
I propose to think about this for a while; it seems to tie into the varieties of advice we are getting from various, um, camps. The key insight, for me, was in this entry, wherein it became clear to me that I and Joe Romm are not in the same camp at all.
At that time, I envisioned the conversation as
1) advocates for green power
2) advocates for “no” government intervention in the market (*)
3) journalist/referees (including RP Jr.) who are studiously neutral on everything
4) people who think scientifically, who will go where the evidence leads
The things about groups 1 and 2 is that they will play up scientific evidence which suits them, downplay evidence which doesn’t, defend dubious actions by their allies, and blow them out of proportion when undertaken by their opposition.
(Note: Not all scientists by job title fit in group 4, and not all people in group 4 are scientists.)
If I have one point in everything I write it is that group 4 is underrepresented in the public conversation. This may be because group 3 controls the conversation, and there is a natural competition between groups 3 and 4 vying for the middle ground.
One reason to think about these encampments is to imagine how to design it so it’s more healthy. Which groups are really needed? What motivational structures can we set up so the motivations of the various camps are more benign and less hidebound and destructive?
Of course, it’s possible to refine these groups, and add others. (Politicians, regulators, pundits, energy solution vendors…) One refinement that occurs to me now is among the scientific group: there are definitely shades of engagement:
a) Leave me alone! I am a scientist. Figuring out what to do with the information is somebody else’s job.
b) Lip service to outreach, but avoiding anything important. Spend a little effort teaching junior high kids about cloud formations, etc.
c) Occasionally willing to talk to a church group or the optimists’ club about policy-relevant science but generally reticent and controversy-averse.
d) Engaged in science and policy debates and willing to take whatever lumps that entails.
e) Let other people do the science; I’ll try to stay in touch but this policy debate is too important and interesting for me to leave it alone.
The denial camp perceives only subgroups d and e! So one of the ways they fail to be realistic is to treat people like Steven Schneider as representative. Really the first three camps are dominant; a little less so than previously, though, as the (d) group has been much energized in the last few months due to the excesses of the malicious trumped-up allegations related to the CRU emails.
Anyway, everybody has a hand in the present mess, but journalism and other compulsive difference-splitters are not outside the dynamic. Until the journalists are willing to put themselves under the same lens they focus on the other groups, I think we will have a lot of trouble making progress.
(*) As if the “market” weren’t a government artifact.