Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Lewandowski loves Sandy 

Lugubrious Australian-based American psychologist Stephan Lewandowski keeps making attempts to brand climate skeptics as psychologically deficient.  And in his latest effusion he thinks big storm Sandy helps make his case.  Everything he says however is vitiated by his failure to get his basic climate facts right.  He puts up a list of "extreme" and "record" weather events which he says prove global warming.  But direct measures of temperature show no warming for around 16 years so he MUST be wrong.  If warming does not exist, it cannot explain ANYTHING, let alone Sandy.  What a laugh!  Lewandowski is a strange psychological specimen himself

But is it really a matter of mere “stupidity” to deny the link between climate change and Sandy’s fury — a link that has been drawn carefully but quite explicitly by scientists around the world, including in Australia?

No, it is not a matter of stupidity.

On the contrary, it takes considerable, if ethically disembodied, intelligence to mislead the public about the link between climate change and Sandy as thoroughly as our national “news”paper has done for the umpteenth time.

It is not a matter of stupidity. It is a matter of ideology.

People who subscribe to a fundamentalist conception of the free market will deny climate change irrespective of the overwhelming strength of the scientific evidence. They will deny any link between climate change and events such as the unprecedented Frankenstorm Sandy, or the unprecedented Texas drought, or the unprecedented series of Derechos, or the unprecedented flooding in Tennessee, or the unprecedented Arctic melt, or the unprecedented retreat of Alpine glaciers, or the unprecedented tripling of extreme weather events during the last 30 years.

There is no longer any reasonable doubt that climate change is happening all around us. There is also no doubt that ideology is the principal driver of climate denial.

So what effect will Sandy have on public opinion?

On the one hand, the deniers will likely double down and their claims will become ever more discordant with the reality on this planet. Their denial will continue even if palm trees grow in Alaska and if storms such as Sandy — or far worse — have become commonplace.

On the other hand, the vast majority of people who are not in the clutches of a self-destructive ideology will likely wake up and smell the science. Even before Sandy, a recent Pew poll (PDF) revealed that acceptance of climate change among the American public rebounded by 10 percentage points in the last few years. There is every reason to expect that Sandy will accelerate this trend towards acceptance of the dramatic changes our planet is undergoing.

Much research has shown that people’s attitude towards climate change depends on specific events and anecdotal evidence. For example, people are more likely to endorse the science on a hot day than on a cool day, all other things being equal. Even a seemingly trivial stimulus such as a dead plant in an office can enhance people’s acceptance of the science (three dead plants are even better). This human tendency to focus on scientifically irrelevant anecdotes rather than on data can be unfortunate, especially because it lends itself to exploitation by propagandists who haul out every cool day in Wagga Wagga as “evidence” that climate change is a hoax.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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