The Immoral Judgement behind Climate Activism

Judith Curry has a very concise summary of the latest Nature Climate Change shot-in-the-dark, called “Climate change and moral judgement” (by Ezra M. Markowitz and Azim F. Shariff, NCC, vol.2, April 2012).

The study is based on the usual wholesale vapidity of bombastic statements made meaningless by the absence of any quantification

The climate science community has arrived at a consensus regarding both the reality of rapid, anthropogenic climate change and the necessity of urgent and sustained action to avoid its worst environmental, economic and social consequences

Having switched off their brains to accept the ‘consensus’, the authors forgot to turn them back on before writing gems like

Unlike financial fraud or terrorist attacks, climate change does not register, emotionally, as a wrong that demands to be righted. As a result, many individuals, even those who believe that climate change is a problem, may feel complacent in delaying immediate — and costly — ameliorative action, such as investing in alternative-energy technologies or reducing one’s own energy use

Markowitz and Shariff clearly don’t understand that “climate change” belongs to the future, whilst financial fraud and terrorist attacks belong also to the past and present. They don’t even understand that “ameliorative action” has nothing to do with “reducing one’s own energy use” (a wishy-washy commitment for anybody bothering to do the maths), and that “investing in alternative-energy technologies” is pointless unless the cost is linked to some benefit, with the benefit being larger than the cost that is.

Another classic:

the more space there is for uncertainty the more wishful thinking we have

As if. Markowitz and Shariff are dangerously toying there with the idea of becoming totally anti-scientific. As per another of Curry’s posts, “Uncertainty is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for discovery. Certainty gets in the way of discovery because we are not inclined to investigate further the things we think we know for certain“. From this POV, “certainty” is the realm of the uninterested ignorant, the last type of people that is who could possibly do anything meaningful about climate change.

There are more signs of science having taken a leave of absence from Nature Climate Change in this case. The authors list “six psychological challenges posed by climate change to the human moral judgement system” (table 1) and “six psychological strategies that communicators can use to bolster the recognition of climate change as a moral imperative” (table 2). Perish the thought that having six items on both tables suggest there is not science behind, rather the style of self-help manuals (aware perhaps of the problem, the blog minimolecule recommended by Judith forgets to mention the 5th item of table 2, “Expand group identity“).

Anyway, the biggest flaw of the study lies elsewhere. It appears deeply contradictory. If the

in depth cognitive processing required to negotiate our way through these problems leads to poor activation of moral reasoning

the authors should have demonstrated first if and how their own moral reasoning hadn’t been properly “activated”. The same applies to all other points in table 1. Psychomagically, the authors believe themselves immune from something they claim is affecting a large part of humanity.

This sounds clearly and deeply immoral, just like the continuous underlying suggestion that people who don’t believe it’s time for unspecified “costly ameliorative action” are somehow anti-environment (this is a common anti-ethical thinking trait of climate activists, as demonstrated by its ugly head rearing again in the description of the upcoming Policy Exchange event “A Greener Shade of Blue” in London).

And as for the topic of the paper: IMNSHO the biggest obstacle in moving forward on climate change is that activist-communicators keep trying to reduce an issue that is “complex, abstract and cognitively challenging” to “It didn’t snow last January” or “March was weird”. And those are clear evidences of “poor activation of moral reasoning” on the part of those communicators.