How a Fiction Novel Helped Bush Shape Climate Policy, and the Attendant Myth of the Self Regulating Earth and Related Climate Change Argument Patterns
THE LATE pseudo climate change denialist Michael Crichton – great author, awful objective scientist – in one sense started it off:
Crichton didn’t just write an influential best seller with extremely bad – but appealing – rhetoric, misrepresentation, and false logic. He greatly influenced presidents with it.
And Crichton’s belief driven interpretation approach – the very opposite of what real science is – led him to the novelish conclusion that climate scientists were not just wrong, but dolty hoax perpetrating frauds or simple idiots; with environmentalists, of course, evil wrongdoers.
This, he established, by a piece so manipulative, and so bad….
…So maniuplative, and so bad…it captivated, among many people, the former President of the United States.
A president who, although he almost never met with climate scientists, nevertheless met with Crichton for an hour to discuss climate change, specifically.
And who, along with many others, moved backward on the issue, while the avalanche of misunderstanding and rhetoric on it – rhetoric that sounds good but is not only egregiously wrong but, even more tellingly, fundamentally misconstrues what the issue even is, simultaneously came into full swing.
And still continues, to this day. Even, in some ways, increasing, and dominating much of the increasingly far right leaning GOP, a good portion of the Internet, and even many ostensibly objective news sources.
At the same time, the great bulk of the U.S. and other Western countries and leading Internet media, for instance, still don’t assess the actual claims of the so called, ironically named, and self reinforcing belief led “skepticism” movement; let alone do so in the context of the actual relevant facts on climate change, nor why, more importantly, the relevant facts are what they are.
The rare – let alone long – Crichton climate change meeting with the U.S President and his insiders wasn’t the only direct influence of the book. The fiction in fact received widespread coverage:
Unfortunately, very little of it placed its outlandish claims and illogical but still today erroneously but almost religiously used belief that because the precise impact of an enormous ongoing geological energy dump can’t be exactly predicted, therefore the fact that major atmospheric energy alteration is in fact changing climate can’t be very significant, into any type of accurate context whatsoever.
On the other end of the spectrum, in fact, the AEI, which numbered a remarkably high twenty alumni among just the Bush Administration itself, even gave Crichton its keynote spot: in a day, of all things – and in a bastardization of the term that would have made Orwell proud (although one, sadly, that was self believed, as all most good Orwellian doublespeak ultimately becomes) – devoted to”Science Policy in the 21st Century.”
Thus at the same time, in its quest for false balance and fear of the far right jumping up and down and calling it even more names, and similarly beguiled by the belief driven rhetoric and fervent self reinforcing belief driven and veiled manipulation in Crichton’s novel itself, and elsewhere similarly passed off as science, most of the media wouldn’t even objectively assess the book in relation to the relevant facts, wasn’t being given the tools to do so, or some combination of the two.
Crichton meanwhile, later showing how “reasonable” he of course was (arguably slightly fooling some otherwise highly laudable climate change reporters, and perpetuating enormous myths of presumption that moving to smarter energy and agricultural practices is not only not growth but some sort of huge cost – here in Crichton’s own words, and borrowing from Bjorn Lomborg – covered here – 558 trillion dollars), also liked to say that of course the phenomenon of climate change is real, it’s just that the earth is “isn’t that sensitive.”
This is a critical point – though rarely covered – because it’s at the heart of much of the misunderstanding, and misinformation that helps feed, support and even increase the self righteous furor and zeal of the ongoing onslaught of appealing sounding climate change isn’t a big deal rhetoric. (Rhetoric that unfortunately, on the outside, many of those concerned about climate change downplay far too much, as if those hundreds of millions that buy it – many influential, and representing even nearly a majority of our U.S Congress today – can’t or don’t actually believe it, failing therein to see the constant patterns – and poor framing – that reinforce widespread belief and self reinforcing ideology, on a complex unprovable futuristic long term global energy pattern integrated issue.)
If the earth “isn’t that sensitive,” why, then climate change can’t be much of a problem. I.e, because,. it…just…isn’t “that sensitive.”
Since it’s in the future, and commingled with the fact that “climate” exists regardless of our actions (our actions just help impact it), the issue – since the earth “isn’t that sensitive” anyway – is then easy to trivialize.
This is something which those who don’t see climate change as trivial continue to often fail to recognize, and thus as a result often frame communications in a sort of either presumptive, conclusionary, evilly motivated, or blaming sort of way that only furthers the needless polar divide over not what to do about the issue, but the very reality of its potent geologic existence and attendant widspread powerful and uncertain long term risk range to the conditions that support our world in the first place.
But the fact is, devoid of specific context and application to the precise atmospheric alteration taking place, as well as the uncertain broad range of ongoing energy risk and effects – something still not being well grasped or, but for “worry,” dispassionately articulated – the phrase “isn’t that sensitive” is not only highly misleading, it’s appealing sounding, ultimately scientifically meaningless, bunk: The sophisticated, slightly veiled version of saying gravity won’t make you fall off a skyscraper when you jump because “it’s just that the pull isn’t that sensitive.”
Which, in turn, and unlike the more complex phenomenon of impact to an already existent and random climate through major long term geophysical energy input changes – is only obvious because we can all independently see and unambiguously feel gravity at work.
While climate change, on the other hand, once again, is a complex global phenomenon of greatly increased net energy impact upon an already open, global, and highly variable system; impossible to fully isolate out over decades, let alone at the moment and in a specific location so that we could somenow know exactly what is going to happen and when, as “skeptics” seem to continually if illogically insist we need to be able to do in order for the phenomenon of major potential impact risk to even be real in the first place.
The nice sounding but meaningless claim is also similar in logic – appealing but fundamentally incorrect – to the idea that climate change can’t be a significant phenomenon because models (though overall they are reasonably accurate, and far, far more so than the mere randomness that would have to be the case if climate change were bunk), can’t tell us exactly what will happen and when.
Which argument, lost in all of the rhetoric, relies upon the ludicrous implication that the concept of “risk” itself (which by definition implies uncertainty) ceases to exist, when we simply don’t want it to.
Though not nearly as obvious, it would be as if counter terrorism experts prior to 2001 warned that flying airplanes into skyscrapers might topple them, but those who didn’t want to believe it convinced themselves that it was unlikely for the jetliners to pose significant risk to skyscrapers merely because without running several tests (which for climate change would require dozens of sister earths and several half century plus periods to test out various atmospheric level changes and account for variance) – and possibly even with doing so – exactly what would happen could not be precisely predicted in advance.
This is exactly what is happening with respect to the climate change issue, and the media is simply not covering it.
The earth is now an ongoing climatic experiment. Of course suddenly changing earth’s basic long term insulation layer impacts climate – it can’t not. And it poses risk of fairly significant shifting, in what would be to us a reasonably long, but in geological terms very quick – time frame (Here’s one such mechanism that gets far too little attention, as we over focus on air temperatures alone, which only tell the most visible, variable, and right now least important part of the story.)
But lack of acceptance of this on the one hand, and poor framing, and blaming, and villainizing, and presumption, on the other, help facilitate this ongoing pattern of arguments that sound great, but, literally, have nothing to do with the issue.
For instance, here’s yet another: Anthropogenic climate change isn’t real because “climate changes”: Probably uttered in no less than a hundred thousand “articles” on the subject, and millions of comments, not to mention multiple “news” channels.
Of course climate changes. (Though frankly the chance of it changing over any single random 100 year period, to the degree it has over the past 100 year period – let alone in exactly the direction climate scientits would expect as a result of our atmospheric alteration, are exceedingly low – and even far lower still when the more significant drivers of future change – major ice cap, ice sheet and ocean changes, are taken into account.)
But that argument is about as relevant as saying that break failure induced car accident risk increase isn’t real because, “car accidents happen.”
In other words, climate change isn’t suddenly recognized because, “Wow, climate is changing, any ideas why?” with then a mad scramble to come up with explanations. Climate change is the more fundamental issue of major long term atmospheric insulative alteration, with the expectation of ongoing, increasing, cumulative effect upon both air temperatures, and more importantly the basis stases systems that help stablize, modulate and drive, earth’s climate (and which represent exactly what, corroboratively, we are seeing).
It’s this way with every single one of the skeptic “arguments.” I.e., a logical sounding tautology once again, that either fundamentally misconstrues the basic issue, or has nothing to do with it.
For instance, here’s yet another: climate change isn’t real becaue “scientists have been wrong before.” (Hence, GOP candidate and far right ideologue Ted Cruz, in an irony that knows few bounds, has likened himself and other climate change “skeptics,” to Galileo.)
But the fact that scientists have been wrong before isn’t relevant to the issue of atmospheric change, or any specific issue, for that matter. What is relevant are the reasons why.
In this case, the relevant reasons, if any, why the overwhelming majority of climate scientists most basic and at this point not even controvertible assessment of the issue, are in this particular case, wrong, and man is not significantly impacting our own climate or presenting a relevant risk range of potentially broad scale future and unpredictable shifting and change.
And, tellingly, all of the reasons offered as to “why” this is reportedly so (i.e, the “basic” science is wrong while coincidentally, the ideologue and often anti science politicians are, of course, right), are not only egregiously wrong, but terribly misconstrue the basic issue itself, so they are not even really addressing the issue, but believe that they are.
When the arguments given to show that “accepted” or widespread scientific knowledge is wrong, have to get the issue itself egregiously wrong in order to do so, it greatly strengthens, not weakens, the accepted knowledge.
(Occassionally accepted knowledge is generally correct, and the accepted knowledge on climate change is still very very generic and basic; and for the most part on this issue only reluctantly arrived at after long term conservative examination given its implications, and overall has underestimated the issue if anything, but of course skeptics have cherry picked what amount to microscopic slivers of the entire picture and amalgam of statements and assessments, to convey the very opposite illusion and belief.)
And this reality – that the arguments as to why the idea of relevant anthropogenic climate change impact and risk is misplaced are not only wrong themselves, but have to continually misconstrue the basic issue itself in order to self support – illustrates that the non acceptance of the basic fact – mankind is changing our climate, likely doing so in a way that poses an extremely counter productive risk range of possible radical (for us) climatic shifts as earth’s net energy balance continues to grow and its oceans and ice sheets accumulate more and more heat energy, changing the fundamental stases systems that both generally stabilize as well as ultimately help drive our climate – comes from a desire that becomes reinforced by a kind of self reinforcing advocacy, rather than the objective assessment of which such advocacy continually self convinces.
And, critical as it is to the issue and – as we continue to respond illogically to it, has so been for years and years – this as well has simply not been sufficiently shown.
And Crichton’s remarkably manipulative, but likely earnestly written novel – a novel that changed presidential perception and helped stall common sense climate change assessment and redress, and in a broader way still does today – is a perfect example; as it gets nearly everything relevant, wrong. (And wrong is a nice word, since the novel’s manipulation of the relevant issue, relative to what is and isn’t actually relevant, is astounding.)
As is, similarly, the more fundamental premise that drove Crichton’s continued dismissal of climate change, along with that of hundreds of millions of other concerned citizens: Namely, the similarly nice sounding idea that, well, climate change really isn’t a big deal, because, shrug, “earth’s not that sensitive.”
This is also, once again, a nice comforting jingle of a phrase that creates the false patina of relevant logic, i.e, once again sounds great, but is meaningless. And is a prhase which, more relevantly, leads to the corrollary, and even more influential idea of the”self regulating,” or “self correcting” mechanism idea.
Climate change? Yawn, snooze: No big deal, because, the earth is “not that sensitive,” and, naturally, is also”self regulating.”Again, a wonderful jingle of a phrase that creates the false patina of relevant logic.
Again, and most tellingly of all on the issue, these are concepts that sound nice; help reinforce what we want to believe, and have in some ways literally helped (erroneously) reshape our perceptions away from what the bulk of professional climate, atmospheric and geologic scientists professionally studying this issue have been increasingly saying for years. But that literally have as much relevancy to the actual underlying issue as the color of your neighbor’s favorite shirt.
The idea is that the earth is ‘self correcting,” as if it’s not a product of the input of energy and physics upon it that in turn supports life, but some sort of independent organism with an end design similar to man himself – a large ball shaped organism hurtling through space designed to support a specific climate rather than just express a climate through the input of the sun, the ball’s rotation, and its insulation layer, etc, and of course not just any climate but one that’s also most preferable to mankind, specifically.
Similarly, famous columnist and long time influential news commentator Charles Krauthammer, who in the past has been to climate change knowledge as a blind person is to sight, wrote an oped arguing why climate change wasn’t a big deal, as a “science friend” explained to him. (It’s a good thing one of the U.S.’s most influential long time columnists has science friends so he can write column after column contradicting climate scientists who actually professionally study this issue, and who, very much unlike Krauthammer, actually have some small clue about it).
Why isn’t it a big deal? Because, as science expert Krauthammer informs the world, of “homeostasis.”
This is like a two year old contradicting practicing physicists. But in our “common sense” rhetoric and little check upon misinformation run amok age, it sounds great.
And it’s, once again, nice rhetoric. Except Krauthammer, as with almost all so called “skepticism” on this issue (but the very opposite of skepticism toward any claim that pretends to know more than climate scientists on the issue, so long as it contradicts climate scientists), is driven by the self reinforcing advocacy to fit “facts” into this desired conclusion. And not coincidentally, got the only two relevant things, backwards.
First, homeostasis in general means balance and a tendency to return toward it. Climate change is an issue precisely because of this: Increase earth’s net energy, and earth will over time respond until a new stases (or balance) is reached, representing the new net energy influx parameters.
The other mistake is even more egregious, and almost past the point of caricature. (Yet naturally the Washington Post published this monstrosity in the name of “false balance” and poor scientific understanding, as if it was simply “perspective.”)
That is, homeostasis most frequently and more specifically, refers to physiological processes: An organism or living body’s self correcting or attempted healing process mechanism, or tendency.
The earth is a ball of several basic elements, and ice. Essentially a ball of rock moving through space. Not a literal, physiological organism which evolved such a homoestasis mechanism since, the better the mechanism, the more likelihood of survival and thus the passing on of genes.
Also, even if earth were a biological self correcting mechanism (“Gaia” – ironic that in illogical but clearly ideology driven antagonism to even the most basic of non partisan objective environmental science Krauthammer would misappropriate the somewhat far fetched or at least more abstract than literal environmetalist concept of “mother earth,” and on top of that, actually make it literal), it would likely self correct by taking steps to lessen the impact of the species that is suddenly radically changing it. Not protect that species.
So the tendency towards balance – whether it be in any system – is that of climate change itself – the earth’s ongoing response to what is now a multi million year change in its long term molecular energy recapture, not a reason for climate change not to be real (which is inane). Or it exists in an organism – not the earth, as a complex physical but not physiological, system itself – and which the earth, at best, only serves as metaphor.
And which, even as semi literal metaphor, likely wouldn’t cause it self correct to “protect us.”
Nor, even more importantly, is there any known mechanism, or even the hint of such mechanism (besides, of course, rhetoric – which can create the hint, and even perceived reality of nearly anything), by which this “self correction to keep climate around what it was when mankind evolved the past couple of million years or less,” so it would stay smoothing sailing specifically for otherwise random said mankind, would happen.
But, naturally, this broader but equally meaningless idea of “self regulation” has become a fundamental foundation, both implicitly and explicitly, in the common discussion; substituting for meaningful and relevant analysis and assessment – while of course sounding just like it. And in most cases serving as yet another means to perpetuate a desired belief while simultaeously causing even wider and again further self reinforcing misunderstanding on the underlying topic.
But again, the idea of “self regulating” earth in response to an otherwise random change in ongoing inputed net energy to earth’s overall earth atmospheric system in any meaningful way for our specific needs and desires, presupposes the earth as some separate biological mechanism charged with overseeing life, rather than serving simply as home to it, and the literal earth organism itself thus not just supporting that life (plausible to some, at least in some sort of abstract metaphor), but specifically favoring human life, and self correcting for it.
This is a fantasy that, regardless, literally has no more support than the more obviously silly notion that alien fairy Godmothers come down each evening while we’re sleeping and re-adjust our earth’s energy balance – as well as set aside the laws of physics that normally guide it – for man’s specific benefit. Thus, making up for man’s mistakes and perpetuating our own ignorances as some sort of “good.”
In short, the problem with the “climate is self correction notion” is it starts from a false premise. That earth is not a ball of rock, but a literal living organism, and more importantly one that thrives and specifically and somehow very purposefully self corrects for the very same climatic conditions that would also right now and again purposefully and specifically favor us – wild coincidence of that aside.
Or, similarly, that it’s a physical system that doesn’t respond to the laws of energy and balance, but adjusts them somehow to achieve a different balance, despite a greatly changing total net input, that is once again, and specifically, similarly beneficial or “stabilizing,” for us.
From the ball of rock that is earth’s perspective, there’s nothing to correct. It’s a reflection of the total net energy input and its atmosphere and the conditions that creates, and physics.
Unfortunately our rhetoric far exceeds our logic, so, helped into full swing by Michael Crichton, among others, we say geologically meaningless things like “self correcting.” And thus find very human, “belief self regulating” ways, to cling to beliefs we’ve come to have, want to have, or have been convinced of.
And given its complex, overall uncertain, long term, and natural system intermingled nature, and a lot of rhetoric (and even well meaning but often counter productive conclusionary alarmism that seems to shriek and tell, rather than illuminate, show, and allow people to reach conclusions), climate change is a big candidate for exactly this phenomenon in more caricatured form even than usual. (And as such serves as a good litmus for how we’re handling things we need to learn to more ojectivel and reasonably and tolerantly assess iun order to ultimately propser, or even survive, as a species, as we continue to gain in our ability to impact the fundamental physical constructs of the world in which we live – both purposefully, and inadvertently.)
So, in this case, the key details that form the atmospheric alteration and net energy balance change to our earth atmosphere system are misinterpreted, then cast aside, because the earth is “not sensitive,” or is “self correcting.” Whereas, again, rhetoric aside, climate isn’t “self correcting” because there’s nothing to self correct.
The earth is a ball of a few basic elements that responds to the net energy input upon it and the laws of physics. And climate is ultimately an expression of that energy; not some sort of design by “Gaia” or otherwise, specifically for man’s benefit, no matter how nice the phrase sounds.
And we’re conducting a nice little open ended uncontrolled long term experiment, by geologically radically (at least from our perspective, and geologic time frame wise), altering the long term chemical composition of our atmosphere.
And instead of having a rational, objective conversation on it, have devolved into rhetoric as belief, under self believed guise of logic, while mamy others simply point fingers, presume the same knowledge or viewpoint, or ascribe “evil” motives to differing – even wrong, but very human, and understandable, as as of yet still not corrected or even sufficiently illuminated – views.