28 October 2009

Have You Stepped on a Secular Religion?

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John Stewart has Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt on The Daily Show, and asks about the "sh*t" he has received from certain climate activists. Will Stewart now get the same treatment? The following comment surely won't win Stewart many friends among Levitt's critics:
Have you stepped on a secular religion?


jgdes said...

This is the funny part. The activists somehow didn't realize that saying it's already too late because CO2 is so long-lasting leads directly to the conclusion that we need to actively remove it rather than wait for thermageddon. When they then reject removing it as a solution it's crystal clear that the true goal was an idealistic fossil-fuel free society and that everlasting CO2 is a total fiction in order to force policy in that direction. The ever-accumulating chemical idea was of course used in the CFC scare so they must have thought it'd work again. Swapping out CFC's was relatively easy though compared to CO2.

Similarly greens were truly naive in not realizing that nuclear energy would rear it's ugly head again via green-washing.

I wondered whatever happened to acid rain the other day and I found the answer in "the skeptical environmentalist". Apparently the US taxpayer paid for a half billion investigation that concluded it was largely harmless and then US consumers funded the sulphur cleanup costs which the report had said weren't necessary. And now the issue has disappeared because those original dying trees were affected by local pollution, not wind-borne pollution.

Now I'm as keen to protect the environment as the next guy but history is telling us that this type of unjustified hype can cost us a lot of money for zero return. Imagine if we'd spent that half a billion on researching alternative fuels for example.

Stan said...

Imagine if we had let the taxpayers use their half billion to create jobs and invest in building wealth and a better world for their kids.

SBVOR said...

The alarmist reaction to Levitt daring to even DISCUSS alternatives to CO2 mitigation demonstrates that the agenda is NOT about some fantasy that we could actually stabilize the climate and never has been.

The agenda is ENTIRELY about Socialists -- such as Carol Browner (Obama’s Energy and Climate Change Czar) -- grabbing control of what PBS described as the “Commanding Heights” of the global economy.

And, there is no “Commanding Height” any higher than the global energy sector.

Globally, Socialists already control the large majority of the energy sector. But, the USA -- and it’s potential for global wealth redistribution -- is the coup de grace the power mongers really lust for.

Click here for the climate science overview.

cruelmistress said...

A reply:


W.E. Heasley, CLU, LUTCF said...

That dog-gone Levitt applying Micro Economic Analysis! Unbelievable! There are alternatives to the Secular Religion of Global Cooling/Warming/Changing or what ever they call it this week. Wow!

Maybe Levitt’s Micro Economic Analysis of Prostitution from the original Freakonomics is applicable to this case as well!?!

Romm, DeLong, Krugman and the rest of the clergy are getting very upset. Bet their Mood Rings are looking very cloudy.

ourchangingclimate said...

The way you fram this story gives the impression that you approve of the global warming chapter in superfreakonomics, or at least that you disaprove of the "sh*t" that the authors have received from "climate activists. Could you clarify your position in this respect?

I note that it's not merely activist who take issue with this particular section of the book. See for a collection of links to what is wrong with this book here:

I would certainly hope that you don't allign yourself with what this book attempts to say about global warming (or was it cooling?).


Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


You may have missed it, but I previously wrote that I have not seen the book, nor is it on my short list of things to read. I am already on record being strongly opposed to geoengineering via stratospheric injection of sulfates, so if the Freaks argue for it, I guess I'd disagree.

A more direct clarification of the message of this post is that if all the sh*t given to the Freaks puts off Jon Stewart -- who really should be a friend to action on climate change -- what does that say about the tactic of foaming-at-the-mouth attack as a strategy of public debate?

What is more harmful to the cause of action, the views of the Freaks or the response to them? Easy question.

The Cunctator said...

Roger -- what's your answer to the question you posed?

I'd hope that you'd take a look at the book, since it's going to be the first deep impression millions of Americans get about global warming policy. Your analysis would be welcome.

The Cunctator said...

I'll posit that anything Joe Romm, William Connelly, and Roger Pielke Jr. can agree on as being wrong probably has problems deeper than challenging a "secular religion."

W.E. Heasley, CLU, LUTCF said...

There is likely no one more gifted in Micro Economic Analysis than Levitt. Chicago School of Business and Economic just had to have him.

Levitt takes no political stands. He merely applies Micro Economics to some of the oddest subjects and his findings are enlightening. Levitt using the subject of Climate Change merely enlightens people that other alternatives exist. That how you think a subject works, may well be not how the subject really works.

You have many views of climate change. However, the Joe Romm’s of the world get the attention and their agenda seems to get the vast majority of the media attention. All the other alternative views take a back seat.

All Levitt did was spot light the “alternatives”. That is, the alternatives deserve a look as well. That the agenda of the Joe Romm’s of the world may not work exactly as advertised.

ourchangingclimate said...

I have the feeling that I would answer your easy question differently than you would.
I have only read a fraction of the commentary on this book, but I found those very to the point, while pointing out very severe problems with the book. (RC, William C, Deltoid, a.o.)


bernie said...

Leavitt simply stepped into the same bear-pit that Lomborg did.

For me, at least, discovering that environmentalists did not quite fit the "rational man" models of economists did not come as a big surprise.

SBVOR said...

-11-OurChangingClimate (sheer genius in THAT observation) sez:

“I have only read a fraction of the commentary on this book, but I found those very to the point, while pointing out very severe problems with the book. (RC, William C, Deltoid, a.o.)”


Are these really “severe problems with the book” or merely regurgitations of the credo of your phenomenally intolerant secular religion (which you -- no doubt -- find very reassuring)?

Click here for the climate science overview.

SBVOR said...

VERY briefly surveying the landscape, we now have:

1) The quantitatively Leftist Slate.com worried about the establishment of an eco-extremist state religion.

2) The demonstrably Leftist Jon Stewart describing a “secular religion”.

3) The co-founder of Greenpeace admitting the movement he helped to found is now a purely political movement which has NOTHING to do with REAL environmentalism (watch the entire video).

How much MORE evidence do we need to conclude that the climate alarmists are nothing more than a totalitarian, political religious cult?

In truth, this is -- BY FAR -- the single MOST dangerous (and intolerant) religious cult in the ENTIRE HISTORY of humanity.

Po said...


Given that Leavitt agrees with that there is some AGW going on and posits that it is too late to do anything about it with conservation per se, does he mistakenly assume that we have passed a tipping point or is the tipping point some where in the future, and therefore conservation could have a positive effect on avoiding that actuality? Notice that I am carefully avoiding saying that AGW is happening or whatnot as I do not wish to excite the animals in your zoo ;-)

Trey said...

climateprogress and grist are complaining that Stewart was too easy on Levitt.

Don't they get it? The purpose of Stewart's interview wasn't to look for errors in Levitt's book. Maybe that would have been the purpose if the book had had an ordinary reception. Instead, the purpose was to point out that AGW takes itself too seriously -- so seriously that it is essentially sacrosanct. Any GW rhetoric that is counter to the gospel of all-CO2-catastrophic-AGW is heresy. Hence the 'secular religion' comment.

Howard said...


It does not matter if CO2 will cause a warming calamity. In both cases, CO2 reduction is very long term process and very expensive. The main gripe from the catastrophists with geoengineering is it does not address ocean acidification. Also, the lack of compulsory hair-shirts upsets folks as well.


The climate is not "ours". The feral possessiveness indicated in your moniker is very close to a loonytoone tipping point.


You and Bart should get a room... make sure it is well padded.

jgdes said...

In any event it's always good to air these issues because we can more easily separate out the zealots from the genuinely concerned. Whether it's the idealists of the left or the paranoids of the right, the irrational fears that guide them become exposed for merit judgement.

Often assumed costs and benefits are based on too much myth and too few real facts. Just two from many examples;
1. modeling costs from deforestation when the planet is actually greening (a lefty trick).
2. costing electric car charging on the basis of extra energy burden while ignoring that they would soak up the current enormous overnight base-load wastage (a righty trick).

Obviously Stern takes pride of place in eco-econ trickery but his opponents are almost as sneaky. The for and against calculations about wind or nuclear power are notorious for using idealistic fake data instead of real data.

So we need more reality-based assessments from the likes of Lomberg and Leavitt and less BS from ideology-restricted dullards.

ourchangingclimate said...


Levitt attempts to portray his critics as environmental extremists. In this post, and your reply to me (7), you seem* to disapprove of his critics more so than you disapprove of his very erroneous chapter on GW/C. I think that is a serious mistake, as it lends credence to Levitt’s twisted views on climate change.
As this book may reach an audience of millions, it is very important that it is communicated to the public that it is far removed from our scientific knowledge about the topic. This book has the potential to do a lot of damage to the scientific literacy of many.

How do you think the criticism could have been better communicated than it has so far? (I’m having in mind Gavin, MichaelT, WilliamC, Deltoid). I think your energy could be better spend in such a direction (perhaps combined with your own critical review of the chapter), than in labeling the critics as being somehow ‘harmful to the cause of action’ (and thereby attempting to disqualify them as being worth listening to).


* I assume here that your own reply to your question (7) would be “the response to them”. I beg to differ.

TokyoTom said...

SBVOR: "In truth, this is -- BY FAR -- the single MOST dangerous (and intolerant) religious cult in the ENTIRE HISTORY of humanity."

Right, and the Pope, all of our academies of science and now Exxon have all fallen prey to it!!! Oh no!!!

Roger, I think that Ben Hale has most of the right response; economics IS about our preferences, which have an enormous social component. The role of morality and moral suasion in our social institutions and choices - one of the main focusses of Elinor Ostrom and many others - cannot be overstated.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


Perhaps you missed the part where I explained that I have not read the book. I have not said anything about the substance of the Freaks' arguments in the book.

I have seen criticism of the book based on allegations that the Freaks' are liars and intentionally have misrepresented interviews. When asked about this Ken Caldeira directly contradicted these claims (and yet they persist). I got dragged into this by Brad DeLong somehow trying to smear me while smearing the Freaks.

So in response to your question, how could criticism been better communicated? Well by not making the issue personal out of the gate. Did you see Romm's comments about wanting to "trash" the Freaks and then making up a quote for Caldeira? I see that you neglect to mention in your list the commentator with the biggest bullhorn.

Also I find your statement that "This book has the potential to do a lot of damage to the scientific literacy of many" to be just silly. Public opinion on climate change has remained remarkably steady in the context of Michael Crichton, Al Gore and many others. It'll also survive Superfreakonomics. I'd argue that the foaming-at-the-mouth reactions have more potential to influence opinions than does the book itself. Take Jon Stewart's reactions as anecdotal evidence in this regard.

If you want to read a book that'll change the dynamics of the climate policy debate, just wait until next summer ;-)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-20-Tokyo Tom

"economics IS about our preferences, which have an enormous social component"


SBVOR said...

Howard (Dean?) sez:

“The main gripe from the catastrophists with geoengineering is it does not address ocean acidification.”

OMG, pH is changing! Somebody save me from change!

Oceans are currently on the alkaline side of neutral and are expected to remain substantially alkaline well beyond 2100

“Recall that the oceans' pH was around 8.17 in 1800, now it is around 8.10. The figure is decreasing as we are adding carbon dioxide (or carbonic acid, if you allow me to combine it with water) to the system. It will stay above 7.8 at least until 2100.

Related commercial break: Prof Roy Spencer: More CO2, please

The neutral value of pH is 7.0 and it is the average optimal pH for living creatures. While Coke has around 2.5 :-), fish tend to tolerate pH between 5.0 and 9.0. The readers with an aquarium know much more. Some of the fish prefer the lower values and some of them prefer the higher values. You should not be surprised that I think that 7.0 might be the optimal ‘democratic’ value of pH. We are helping the oceans to get closer to the optimal value but we are still extremely far from it.

However, the environmentalist conclusion is very different. The pH is changing and everything that is changing is always changing in the bad direction. By definition, a change is bad. That's the main reason why the tautology known as ‘climate change’ should also become a reason for concern, according to some people. But is the decrease of the pH a bad thing?”

Click here to read the rest.

SBVOR said...

-20-TokyoTom sez:

“the Pope, all of our academies of science and now Exxon have all fallen prey to [the single most dangerous totalitarian political religious cult in the entire history of humanity]”

Ah, once again the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority. The part about appealing to the authority of the Pope was especially “interesting” in the context of this thread.

As for ExxonMobil, they figure the lawyerly tyrants will have their way to one extent or another -- they’re just trying to cut their losses. The saying in Washington is “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.

I suppose I should not be surprised to discover that an eco-lawyer (like Tom) is confused even on the question of where there is and is not scientific consensus.

Click here and cut through the confusion.

ourchangingclimate said...

Let me try to rephrase my main point.
There are many scientists and science minded people who try to correct egregious mistakes about climate change being made in the public sphere. This superfreak story is just the most recent example. I think they generally do a positive service to increasing the public’s knowledge of climate science (with some exceptions if people go overboard in the namecalling or rhetoric) in exposing the errors and falsehoods that get spread.
Implicitly or explicitly disapproving of all of these efforts is harmful to the cause of scientific literacy regarding climate change.


Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


I'm all for education (being a professor and all;-), but I don't see scientific literacy regarding climate change as particularly problematic. Do you?

casey451 said...

Here's my response to Romm's rant on this subject today. It was removed within ten minutes:

"Hilarious. When Jon Stewart gets something in his eye and digs it out on national TV, ya gotta know the jig is up. Emperor has no clothes. It's over, man.

A lot of people who didn't know anything about "Superfreakonomics" do now, and "secular religion" as applied to your brand of evangelism has officially entered the national discussion. Stewart is, indeed, a superb comedian who would claim no other title for himself. He's so good at what he does that you and yours are suddenly a joke."

SBVOR said...

-27- Casey 451,

Excellent point!

As I noted in this post, I knew the jig was up for ACORN when Jon Stewart weighed in. What I did NOT know at the time was that jig was up for ONLY ONE MONTH! GEEZ!

Now that Stewart has weighed in on the “secular religion”, the jig is also up for the AGW alarmists.

GAME OVER! Time to find a new shtick!

ourchangingclimate said...

Roger (26),
Yes, I do see scientific literacy on climate change as problematic. The public at large has a very different view of climate change than climate scientists do. On the one hand, this book widens that gap. On the other, we have people who try to set the record straight. Insinuating that the latter group are all (or mainly) extremists not worth listening to is a bad thing in my framework.


TokyoTom said...

SBVOR: "I suppose I should not be surprised to discover that an eco-lawyer (like Tom) is confused even on the question of where there is and is not scientific consensus."

I`m sorry you`re having a tough time following or jumping to unjustified conclusions, but this frequently happens to those int the grip of a religious-like belief that one does not wish to examine.

My point was not at all addressed to whether there is a scientific consensus of any sort, but whether everybody, or even the most influential, of those who express concerns about the relationship between climate change and man`s activities are in the grip of some type of religious hysteria. I think demonstrably not.

If you need any more help following me, please don`t hesitate to ask.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


Any evidence for this set of claims?

And if you are referring to me, I don't think I've called anyone an extremist. I have said that "foam-at-the-mouth" attacks are likely to backfire.

ourchangingclimate said...

Roger (31),

As for my claims re the views of the public vs those of climate scientists, see eg Doran and Zimmermann in EOS earlier this year (http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf)

The GW/C chapter is full of errors and will reach a wide audience. Logical inference is that it will widen this gap, if anything.

You're smarter than calling someone an extremist. Your framing or paraphrasing of the issues as "sh*t he received from climate certain climate activists" tends to lower the credibility of the many valid criticisms, and, as a result, increase the credibility of the book. Which is exactly opposite of what we should be striving for (re scientific literacy re climate change).


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