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What scientists SHOULD talk about: their personal stories

Posted on 20 September 2013 by dessler

This is a guest post by Dr. Andrew Dessler

Anyone who's dipped a toe into the climate debate knows the water is hot. And much of this heat stems from a fundamental distrust between the sides. Scientists could play a role in bridging this divide if they did a better job explaining who they were and telling their personal story of why they're worried about the climate.

Climate skeptics and those opposed to action on climate change make trashing climate scientists a key part of their arguments. They routinely claim that scientists are (pick your favorite): communists, socialists, fascists, Nazis, ivory-tower liberal elitists, corrupt sycophants feasting at the teat of government research funding, evil masterminds, manufacturing data to push their hidden agenda, or incompetent and sloppy scientists who don't understand any physics.

Like most scientists, I have always ignored these attacks because they're obviously absurd. But that's a mistake. Cognitive research tells us that, if you want people to believe you, it helps if they know you share their values — in other words, people listen to those who are like them.

This reveals the core strategy of these ad hominem attacks: by criticizing climate scientists' personal values, they are telling the audience that the scientists are not "like them". This opens the door for motivated thinkers to ignore the real experts on climate and substitute their own group of experts — a group that ironically includes few who actually study the climate.

Scientists need to start engaging on this argument with their strongest weapon: their personal stories. Why did they get into science? What are the things that concern them about the world? Why are they personally worried about climate change? In so doing, the audience will realize that climate scientists are just like them.

This is hard for scientists, who by-and-large tend to be modest and unassuming. And it goes against the culture of science, which emphasizes the collective and de-emphasizes the individual — there's a reason, after all, that science papers tend to written in passive voice. But it's a skill climate communicators need to learn.

Even if you avoid policy and only talk about science, it is crucial to build trust first by talking about your backstory. After all, there is a lot of science out there and people have the choice of which science to believe. In the end, the audience will listen to scientists who share their values.

So here's my story. My route to becoming a climate scientist started on Wall Street in the 1980s, when I was doing mergers and acquisitions in the energy group for an investment bank. I realized then that I was not particularly motivated by money, but rather I wanted to work on hard science problems. So I went to graduate school, where I studied stratospheric chemistry. By the mid-1990s, that problem was pretty well understood and I began looking around for the next big problem to solve. Having done some work on stratospheric water vapor, I realized that I could apply that expertise to tropospheric water vapor, which is an important player in our climate system. Thus, I was reborn a climate scientist.

At first, it was just a physics problem, but by the mid-2000s, I began to see the potential for human suffering in the equations and data. I never wanted to get into politics, and I still don't, but I also feel that history will one day judge harshly scientists who understood what was going on and did nothing. Even more importantly, I also care deeply about my two kids and the future they will inherit.

As a proud born-and-bred Texan, I am naturally suspicious of the government telling me what to do. But I also recognize that a balance between free markets and environmental protection must be struck, and that past environmental regulations (e.g., the U.S. Clean Air Act) have delivered tremendous benefits for society at low cost and little loss of freedom. So my judgment as a citizen is that we need to begin a decades-long effort to substantially reduce emissions by the middle of the 2050s.

I should also say that I absolutely love having cheap and reliable energy. And I'm optimistic enough to think that, if humans put our minds to it, we can develop the technology to have that energy without harming the climate.

While you may not agree with my policy preferences, I do hope everyone can see that we care about the same issues, which is a first step towards turning down the heat in the debate. And I hope that other climate communicators will realize that they need to be a little more self-centered and start talking about themselves. This could save the world.

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Comments 1 to 38:

  1. I could not have said it better.  Arguments made by "people who are not like me" tend to fall on deaf ears.

     

    It isn't just ad hominen attacks though; there are also misunderstandings of the science leading up to the main conclusion that we are putting our own future at risk.  The main conclusion is both scary in and of itself, and avoiding it requires changing our behavior. Change itself is also scary.  The science that leads up to the conclusion, that we are better off stepping into the unknown of at least attempting mitigation rather than continuing down the path of unknown climate dangers, is complicated.  So, it is extremely easy to take a misstep off of that path in any number of ways.  At a certain level it is easy to say, "Well, I'm OK where I am for now; I'll keep going a little longer."

     

    I think we are best off communicating that the unknown of mitigation is not as scary as some make it out to be, in addition to letting the listener know that we are not so different from them.

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  2. Andrew
    Very wise advice, but I find this culturally very difficult. It is possibly even more difficult in the UK- many my colleagues consider the American's too brash and self promoting. I do not come across many "skeptics" apart from my brother in law who dropped out of high school and is 'invincibly ignorant'. To him facts do not matter - the fact that I have a PhD and professorship in Physics makes no difference and he has no interest in understanding Climate Science - just feels it's wrong. I get very annoyed debating him - he feels that I am contemptuous of his tabloid driven factoids (and he is right).
    Sean
    P.S. I know the US reasonably well having done my PhD experimental observation work (in High Energy Gamma Ray Astronomy) at the Harvard Smithsonian observatory (now Fred Whipple) Arizona and Sandia Labs New Mexico.

     

     

     

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  3. Andrew, you're just another crypto-fascist commie!  /sarc

     

    Just a grammar note: "job explaining who they were" > "job explaining who they are".

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  4. I often start off my conversations by pointing out that I haven't seen or read An Inconvenient Truth, and that I don't plan to.  That's often a foot in the door.  I avoid name-calling like the plague (toward everyone--not just the interlocutors), and if I'm allowed to persist in explaining things using an even-keeled, rhetoric-free style, I often get an explicit statement of respect and am considered distinct from those socialist "libtards."  

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  5. I see a major contradiction in Dr. Dessler's short essay:

    On the one hand you write "if you want people to believe you, it helps if they know you share their values — in other words, people listen to those who are like them."

    But you also say, "it goes against the culture of science, which emphasizes the collective and de-emphasizes the individual."

    That's the problem: Deniers (and reactionaries) tend to individualist oriented, and scientists (and liberals) tend to cummunitarian oriented. Their value systems are very different, and communication between them is very difficult.

    The rules above say "Political ... comments will be deleted" but Dr. Dessler's essay speaks to the essentially political underpinnings of the difficulty scientists have communicating their "truth" to the (largely) scientifically illiterate public. How can you remove politics from discussions about the intersection of science and public policy?

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  6. I disagree, louploup.  The goals of individualists and collectivists are often the same.  They just see different ways of achieving those goals.  And it's really no good to divide people into camps when they so clearly share so much in their actual behavior.  I've met few people who wear their individualism on their sleeves who don't engage in a number of behaviors that require them to engage in collective behavior.  I've also met quite a few self-proclaimed collectivists who are the worst sort of hermits.  

    It always annoys tea party types when I point out that letting the climate situation get out of control will almost assuredly lead to a strengthened federal and world government.  This works with an idea they readily accept: large crises result in a strengthened bureaucracy.  War is the obvious example.  The move from there is typically toward specific solutions, and that's a win for science.  We can talk about solutions.  There are many, and many are palatable to both collectivist- and individualist-oriented folk. 

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  7. louploup - Actually, I see this essay as a worthwhile discussion of avoiding depersonalization, simplistic depictions of scientists as "the other"; very common in politics, conspiracy theories, and intense discourse. 

    If you cast your opponent in the role of the inhuman "other" it's easy to blithely dismiss their arguments. If you regard your opponent as a person, with their own motivations, you may be more likely to take their arguments seriously.

    This is something I attempt to keep in mind in any discussion - while I may find someone's honest opinions silly, I try to respect their reasons for holding those opinions, as they likely have strong personal evidence or support for those reasons (evidence I may, mind you, have interpreted differently). And you are unlikely to change someones mind on a topic without addressing that reasoning. 

    It's all too easy to mentally reduce ones opponents to caricatures, and not consider the evidence. Understanding peoples reasoning makes that less likely. 

    [ Caveat: I don't expect lobbyists of any persuasion to present 'honest opinions', but rather. the opinions they are paid to project. ]

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  8. Good article and an excellent point. Aren't plenty of our leading climate scientists grown up versions of the kids at school that never needed to cheat to top the class? Aren't they predominately from the maths, physics, chemistry side of academia rather than law, humanities and political science side? That could be worth pointing out too.

    One ongoing wish of mine is to see is a new and highly publicised "Audit" of climate science, conducted by the US National Academy of Sciences or Royal Society or equivalent, video documentary style, suited to prime time TV. I am imagining it would look at the institution(s), it's achievements in general and it's achievements in times of greatest national need. What it means to become a Fellow or whatever. The selection process for Panel or Commission or whatever it gets called, finding the right balance of first hand knowhow and independent distance. 

    And some biography on the people invovled - their personal stories as people and as citizens as well as their achievements as scientists.

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  9. Thank you very much, and we need other scientists to do the same.  We've got to somehow weaken the climate change denial movement, and hearing scientists speak out on the personal behalf could certainly be helpful.

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  10. Aren't plenty of our leading climate scientists grown up versions of the kids at school that never needed to cheat to top the class? Aren't they predominately from the maths, physics, chemistry side of academia rather than law, humanities and political science side?

    Yep, nerds the lot of them... arrogant bastards. Let's beat them up ;-/

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  11. This is a great post.  It is why, I, a playwright with a deep interest in climate change, wrote "Extreme Whether" in order to tell the story of climate scientists up against climate deniers.  Stories are absolutely essential to changing people's minds.  We art working, now, to gather the funds to produce this play in NYC and around the country.  Three readings have been great successes, with the Festival of Conscience post-show participation Drs. James Hansen and Jennifer Francis.  www.theaterthreecollaborative.org We will present the play with a Festival of Conscience every night; scientists will be able to dialogue with ordinary audiences who have just seen a moving play about the lives of climate scientists.

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  12. Thanks for the post; I agree. I have to recommend a recently published book that does just that - by Bill Hay: Hay, W. W., 2013, Experimenting on a Small Planet – A Scholarly Entertainment. Springer, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London. xvii + 983 pp. ISBN 978-3-642-28559-2 (doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-8560-8).

    It’s well worth getting a copy; much of it IS essentially auto-biographical in that he includes an “Intermezzo” at the end of each chapter. It’s a history of science - especially, but not exclusively, as it pertains to climate science (see http://www.colorado.edu/geolsci/faculty/hay.html ). I've known Bill since my paleoceaongraphy grad school days – a peer to my advisors W. A Berggren and John Imbrie and peer to Wally Broecker and Bill Ruddiman. I recently heard him talk at a local climate symposium August 15th. His talk can be seen in 2 parts at the following link: http://www.owenperkins.org/Golden_Symposium_8.15.html

    Most of the time I see posts that anyone supporting global warming are labeled “alarmists” and any poor choice of words or factual error brought up in ridicule. So be very careful of what you say and how you say it or write about it. It comes down to a statement I recently saw in the NPS Bryce Canyon’s “The Hoodoo”: “Nobody likes bad news and because so much of climate change is (perceived as) bad news, many prefer to ignore, be skeptical, or just plain deny valid data” – parenthetical addition mine.

    Likewise – I wish we could recognize the issues and instead of ridiculing and dismissing climate scientists, accept the science and discuss what should be done – it’s complex: it involves economics, future energy directions, population, socio-economics. Climate change is part of nature, except we are causing it at a rate unparalleled in Earth History; its sustainability for our way of life!

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  13. The basic attack is on the credibility of the scientists and therefore the science. Telling one's own story is a step in the right direction. But I think it misses the point. It should not merely be an attempt to identify oneself with the public to build trust. More is required.

    Scientists must defend their credibility. It is no good letting the science "speak for itself" because it is dumb. "Denialgate" worked because credibility was not fought for from the start. Scientists see such attacks as absurd, as you say, but the ordinary public believe that science works by forging links in a chain - break one link and the argument fails.So, finding a weakness is very damaging in the publics eyes. But, statistically based argument is like threads in a rope - the argument still holds up in practice.

    The problem with the links in the chain idea is that when one link is tested and replaced or strengthened by scientific methods, there is always another link for the deniers to move on to. But the previous fuss is not forgotten in the public mind. The "new" problem just adds more fuel. And it is endless and relentless.

    It is not clear to me how to defend credibility. It is an unfair fight, because the sequence of attacks become threads in that other rope denying credibility. Perhaps the scientists should stop explaining themselves and correcting their critics and demand that the critics justify their own arguments. Put them on the back foot.

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  14. If you want personal stories, then you must listen to why people voted for Romney.

    I worked for our state helping to dispense benefits to the poor.  I am a college graduate and also worked on campuses.  In my first year of school, I scored "gifted" and my school exam scores went even higher in the next years.  I am part Asian.

    (-snip-)?

    (-snip-)

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are skating on the thin ice of sloganeering and going off-topic. Please read the SkS Comment Policy and adhere to it. Posting on SkS is a privilege, not a right.

    [DB] Ideology snipped.

  15. All: The last two comments posted by Lei have been deleted because they were off-topic sloganeering. 

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  16. Can Lei perhaps give the proposition after the rhetoric has been scraped off?  I've seen the rant (it's only commented out).  I could paraphrase it, but I'd rather see if Lei is serious about engagement.

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  17. When you use terms like "denier" you are insulting someone right off, who may be questioning climate change in the back of their minds.  You move them further to the right as you are not using your vast knowledge of social science or human psychology that I know you all have minored in.  Your wives should be able to advise you in this area. 

    No insulting words should ever be uttered by gentlemen and scholars.

    It's not a war. 

    Taxpayers are utterly helpless.  I feel sorry for ALL of them. 

    (-snip-). 

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Moderation complaints snipped.

  18. Lei @17, if you read the works of "climate change skeptics", you will find the full of the most virulent insults.  It is habitual for some to accuse the IPCC and the UN to be part of a plot to generate world governance.  Others cannot help but compare defenders of climate science with Nazis on a regular basis.  I personally have been compared to the KKK (although perhaps inadvertently).  If people are influenced as you suggest, there should be a tidal wave of support for climate science and the IPCC.

    People are not, I think, influenced by such mild terms as "denier", (ie, somebody who denies some well established body of knowledge) unless they are using the term as a pretext.  And if they are that desperate for a pretext, they would have found another one no matter what we do.

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  19. Whoops.  I took DSL's hint and checked Lei's original comment, which contained the gem:

    "My biggest question is what do you want people (voters) to do about climate change besides hand YOU and YOUR co-workers VAST amounts of tax money?"

    So, it is OK in Lei's book to insult us (and climate scientists) by suggesting we are involved in a conspiracy to defraud tax payers, but woe betide us if we should suggest some people are in denial about climate science.

    I believe Lei has provided a perfect demonstration of my point @18 - and will prove it further by being unable to concede the point.

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  20. Lei, I read your deleted comments.  They were not geared toward engaging in conversation.  Setting that aside, though, I appreciate your re-engagement.

    Also, you provide evidence for some of the stereotypes when you say, "You move them further to the right."  Are these people so easily moved by irrelevant information?  Is that not one of the points that is being made by people who argue that "conservatives" are not equipped or are unwilling to accept relevant evidence?

    Terms like "denier," "liberal," "conservative," and "catastrophic" should be rarely used, because they immediately require explanation.  Witness Michael Fumento needing a long essay to define "conservative."  Richard Alley identifies as conservative, as do many other prominent scientists working in climate-related areas.  Identity and practice, as you know, are often quite different.

    And while I agree with you on the name-calling bit, there is a target audience for the term "denier."  The term, for me, is meant to be provocative.  My use is intended to make the claim that the person with whom I'm interacting is well-aware of the evidence but is intentionally disregarding it and is not willing to discuss that choice.

    Here's some of what scientists have to put up with (pjones is Phil Jones of the UK Met Office).  I wouldn't call these people "deniers," though.  They are, however, the people who are led by the nose by deniers.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Fixed text.

  21. "Denier" is a reasonable term for someone who effectively puts fingers in ear and cries "la la la" when confronted with published science. A fake "skeptic" is someone who challenges every piece of published science (good) but swallows without question any half-cocked blog commentary that happens to coincide with their views.

    Scientists are paid fairly modest salaries that arent linked to funding. More funding means you could employ more scientists and could fund more experiments (read satellites) to find the answers.

    However, what most scientists want is for people to stop burning fossil fuel, simple as that. Doing that will mean frankly that you will probably pay more for your energy (but you might pay less tax if you killed off all subsidies to fossil fuel industry).

    You will improve engagement if you provide supporting statements to your assertions.

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  22. Lei said... "No insulting words should ever be uttered by gentlemen and scholars."

    The problem is that "denial" is a clinical term that has been used for about 150 years.  Suddenly, when it's being applied to a group of folks who are clearly in denial (thus, "deniers") the term is redefined as offensive.

    The outrage over being labeled what is an accurate term is, in itself, a form of deflection.  Denial of denial.

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  23. Moderator -I had a comment here in response to Lei's first two comments from 9/23 that has been removed.  Was that because one of the two comments from Lei was removed and the other largely snipped so my comment was out of context - or because i broached the SkS Comments Policy? I think others have responded to Lei's commnets better than I did but I was just wondering.

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] On behalf of the moderation staff, it is unfortunate that sometimes, in the process of moderating out egregious violations of the comments policy, direct responses to such deleted comments are perforce also moderated out.  This policy is designed to engender on-topic dialogue and open discourse based on the science, free from intemperate atmospheres as are found in many other venues.  Unfortunately, sometimes innocent responses such as yours get caught up in the action.

    One suggestion is to familiarize yourself with the comments policy sufficiently to recognize the violations of others...and to not respond to them, knowing that the moderation staff will deal with them.  Typically a wide latitude is given, but repeat offenders get shorter leashes.

  24. Moderator - got it -thanks for taking the time to explain. I will familiarize myself with the policy. 

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  25. Ah, there are so many aspects to this problem.

    But, you must not forget that "deniers" FEEL powerless in regard to their taxes and that they will welcome anyone who tells them there is HOPE that their taxes will not increase.  Wouldn't all scientists like it if there was a way to reduce their taxes?  Of course they do - they want any taxes spent on the military or smokers to go away.  Or welfare. 

    And, in fact, if you want taxes for welfare to go away, you are in good company with government workers who cannot come out in the press to say it - but they are some of the most adamant about the gross waste and outright fraud.  You should aid these people because many citizens would rather gentle scientists (if you are gentle) are funded than ex-cons or women who deliberately have children to push up their housing aid.

    If you think taxes are unimportant and unrelated to the discussion of climate change then you are a denier. 

    I own beachfront in a northern, wet, climate and tourists cancel when there is too much rain.  Twice this summer (colder and rainier than normal) the rental managers have stated there was a rash of cancellations due to rain). 

    I wouldn't mind at all if the climate changes for the hotter ranges, but it doesn't appear to be to many of us. 

     

     

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  26. Beyond taxes, the implications of impending climate change for landowners in warm climates is huge.  Human emotion is directly tied to one's investments and one's livelihood (in scientist's case). 

    Emotion is paramount in these discussions. 

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  27. Lei:

    Your obsession with taxes blinds you to the reality of manmade climate climate change. Do you have absolutely no concern for the world that we are bequeathing to our children and future generations?

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  28. Lei - "Emotion is paramount in these discussions."

    Indeed it is. And your emotions, not to mention your stated personal investments and livelyhood, appear to be overriding your ability to view reality. 

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  29. I agree, lei -- and thank you for the reasoned response.  The situation is not simple.  The economic interest is overwhelmingly the most powerful interest that drives human decision making--at least under the current economic mode.  It's not the only interest, and it's not in the driver's seat all the time.  To ignore it, though, is to deny reality.  Worse is to expect to change that reality overnight.

    At this point, the problem becomes one of ethics: right behavior.  Do you think it's better to avoid addressing problems that aren't yours personally (you may be dead by the time significant economic impacts occur), or are you willing to address a potentially significant hit to the global economy if the evidence is reasonably good, even though you may never have to face the hit personally?

    This is where Michael Fumento's piece from a few years ago comes in handy.  Fumento, a former Reagan advisor, argues implicitly that the new Right (read: Tea Party) is no longer concerned with the future.  They no longer see conservatism as the natural compliment to liberalism.  I would say that this is the natural progress of postmodernism: a cultural logic that encourages the individual to pick and choose evidence in order to construct reality to his/her taste with no system of accountability beyond economic security.  Some celebrate this situation; some condemn it.  

    If you refuse to fund projects that propose to help make life more bearable for future generations, do you do so from instinct, from ideology, or from evidence-based reasoning?  

    And then how do you answer this problem: what happens to government and taxation policy in a world where what you might call "alarmist claims" actually play out as reality?  In other words, can you think of a better way to grow government and taxation than to push the global climate out of kilter (think: three+ billions living in cities, highly dependent on the cheap and consistent delivery of food, water, and energy)? 

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  30. Lei,

    There are many different opinions represented here on SkS.  Taxes are not usually discussed so there is no agreement on what is best.  I have never heard any scientist suggest that a carbon tax should be diverted to fund scientists, only deniers suggest that such a tax is an option.  Where did you come up with this proposal? Please cite references to support your wild claims.

    One prominent scientists' proposal to address AGW is tax and dividend, from James Hansen (who is an independent).  This would tax carbon emissions and 100% of the tax would be refunded to the people on a per capita basis.  There would be no money diverted to any other spending.  The government would get nothing from this proposal.  

    Why do you so strongly object to this proposal when net taxes for most people would be decreased?  My impresson is that you are uninformed and are just looking for a fight.  You used very strong language to introduce yourself and were then offended when people replied with less offensive terms.

    As a beachfront landowner I would think you would be concerned about sea level rise.  The ocean is currently about 9 inches higher than it would have been without AGW.  How high is your property above sea level?  Will another foot or two of sea level rise endanger your property?  I have visited Tuvalu which is about to go under due to AGW.  Are you willing to pay to relocate the people who live there?   This is happening now, it is not a theoretical idea that might not happen.

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  31. Lei, according to the fake skeptics, US has spent $79B on climate since 1979. You have to add in every satellite with a climate related instrument to get that but still, that's a lot of tax payer money. However, credible estimates of US subsides on fossil fuel range from $14B to $52B annually. If you thought taxes were such a big deal then surely killing these subsidies would be your priority?

    I have simple no-tax solution to climate change - kill the subsidies and ban building of any more FF-powered powerstations unless all CO2 emissions are captured. This still leaves steel production (comparitively minor) and gives coal and thermal asset owners a much longer twilight than say asbestos asset owners got when science made that industry untenable. If you have other alternative plans that would mitigate CO2 without taxes, please post them here.

    As to your personal climate position, then have you looked at what AGW regional predictions for you actually are? (in general, the wet get wetter and the dry get drier). However, I seriously wonder whether your personal circumstance is valid basis for voting for policy (and is absolutely irrelevant to whether a theory is true). You would vote on the basis that something was good for you even if you knew it was bad for the majority?? How do feel about the fact that those likely worst hit by climate change have contributed very little emissions to the problem? Is that right?

    By that logic, I should be a denier as I get no climate funding but instead get petroleum funding. Come on people, kill my funding stream.

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  32. I am not offended by anything that scientists say to me.  I have a thick skin from working with the poor who will give you a blistering scolding right after you pick up the phone.

    One of my goals is peace.  I don't think talking amongst yourselves and not allowing other opinions (or snipping them) looks right. 

    I think illegal immigration is wrong and is harmful to the US, but the party that upholds it is on your side.  How do you justify millions of resource users going to the US where the most resources are used? 

    I took a class on Population and know it is the growth of the human species that is going to harm the planet.  In fact, if the growth of our species was smaller, we would have fewer problems with climate change.   One problem is the outgrowth of another.

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  33. Our beachfront is far above sea level due to fear of tsunamis. 

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  34. Lei...  Please note:  You don't get snipped for your opinion.  You get snipped for not following the comments policy.

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  35. Lei,

    The posters at SkS do not represent any "side".  Some are conservatives and some are liberals but all care about the future of our children and the scientific process that predicts problems for those children.  You demonstrate your personel bias and lack of knowledge when you comment on "sides".

    Since you advocate having people move when they are displaced by AGW, how many are you willing to take into your state from Bangladesh?  They have about 100 million people who will need a new place to live in this century.  Oh what is that- you don't want to take them!  That means your solution of having people move will not work. Or is your solution having someone else take the refugees that you create with your pollution.  Does it really seem fair that someone else will have to fix all the problems that you are making?  Do you think those people who have to clean up your mess will be happy with you about that?  What might they do after they are homeless?  

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  36. Sorry, I am not even a US citizen! Are you claiming that all climate scientists are pro-immigration or something? The absolute worst thing going on is people linking a stance on climate change to their political tribe. "The other tribe supports action on climate change; ergo climate change must be fake". Can we have some rational, evidence-based thinking please?

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  37. Lei

    Just putting scaddenp's numbers into context that is an average of 4 billion a year (the start date was 1989 not 79 Phil). $13 per person. Contrast that with US military spending - 682 billion in 2012 - over $2000 per person. And that is still only 4.4% of US GDP.

    Recently the news in Australia reported on a series of arrests related to an international ring that was fixing sports matches around the world 100's of them. Included in the radioi report I heard was the level of spending on the Indian sub-continent on sprts gambling - 100's of billions, perhaps as high as a trillion dollars per year. Just on sports cambling in India!

    $4 billlion is chump change, and money well spent.

    The issue for me with people who get upset about tax and how it is spent is that they seldom build their argumenta around the relative quantities involved and often get hot under the collar about the insignificant parts.

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  38. The issue on perception versus reality was shown very clearly in this UK survey on things like welfare fraud, crime rate, composition of welfare etc. It would be very interesting to see a similar survey for the USA. Thanks for that correction Glenn - got my 79B confused with start year.

    The value of these personal stories is highlighting how data can change a reasonable person's mind. I think the core of science training is learning to change your mind - something non-scientists are not so good at. We are all guilty of defending an entrenched attitude, but science teaches you to ask the question "what data would cause me to abandon my position?".

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