CO2 Emissions as Religion

Having taken a break, I am ready to and finish the topic of CO2 emissions. The first thing I would like to talk about is the idea that CO2 Emissions and AGW have become more religion then anything else.

You often hear conservatives say this about liberals. “Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is just a religion to you people!”

As I stated back in this post (and see also the original source post) this is largely correct.

AGW Skepticism as Religion Too

Another fair question is, why do conservatives make a religion out of it too?

“No they don’t!” you shout, religious fervor in your eyes. 😉

No, seriously, most do. You might personally be an exception. Or you might just not realize you aren’t an exception. Give me a chance to explain and then judge for yourself.

My Position on CO2 Emissions (Not AGW) Summarized

Now let’s be clear. I am an outright AGW Skeptic. I do not claim that any increase of heat is currently being caused by CO2 emissions. I do not discount the possibility either. I’m therefore a “Skeptic” in its natural and most correct sense.

Personally I only acknowledge four points:

  1. There seems to be a consensus across Skeptics and Believers that CO2 in the atmosphere is growing due to humankind’s additional CO2 output and there is currently no large swing to a technology that is going to change that fact on it’s own.
  2. There seems to be a consensus across Skeptics and Believers that it is getting hotter. (However, there is no consensus if it’s natural or man made, or even if it cyclical or not.)
  3. There seems to be a consensus across Skeptics and Believers that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. (However, there is no consensus as to how important it is compared to other gases.)
  4. There seems to be a consensus across Skeptics and Believers that in theory we could scorch the earth into a Venus by crossing some unknown tipping point. (However, there is no consensus as to where that line is.)

All of these points are considered to not be in controversy, even by most skeptics. As I pointed out in my previous posts:

1. AGW elite Skeptic, Steve MacIntyre, acknowledges #1 and apparently (according to this AGW Sketic commenter) most AGW Skeptics do.
2. AGW Skeptic John Stossil, as well as many AGW Skeptics making comments, acknowledge #2.
3. #3 is beyond the doubt of anyone.
4. Physicist – and staunch AGW Denier — Frank Tipler acknowledged #4.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, I’m in favor of taking some level of action. As of yet, I haven’t been very specific as to what. I have not advocated any specific program so far. And I have already stated I’m against any action that will destroy the current economy.

My ‘facts’ are pretty much beyond dispute. My conclusion, vague as it is so far, should be completely innocuous to AGW Skeptics. For all they know up to this point, I’m advocating very little action. All I’m saying (so far) is ‘Let’s find any appropriate level of response to mitigate a possible risk.’

How do you argue with a point like that? You can’t (so far.)

Yet AGW Skeptics insist on arguing with me over it. Why?

AGW Skepticism (Often) Goes Beyond the Rational

Everyone here commenting on this site has been very polite to my point of view. And Geoff should be lauded for allowing me to post these posts. I asked him if it was okay before I started and he encouraged me to do it.

But that sort of polite and even warm reception isn’t true of AGW Skeptics everywhere. In fact, I’ve found that AGW Skeptics generally become openly hostile to my views – despite their being rather innocuous.

So why do AGW Skeptics feel the need to toe-to-toe debate a person that (so far) said little more than ‘We should find an appropriate level of response to mitigate a possible risk?”

I can tell you why. Because it’s more then just a debate to conservatives. It’s more than just an attempt to make a wise rational decision on a specific point. AGW Skepticism has become a defining point of Conservatism. It’s become, to some degree, religion.

And don’t I know it!

The moment I say in front of most self-defined AGW Skeptics ‘well, actually I feel like the risk of CO2 emissions is worthy of taking at least some level of action on’ I get assaulted. And, unfortunately, not necessarily in the nice tone everyone here has used.

The irony is that I’m way closer to their point of view then to the AGW Believers they accuse me of being.

Imagine a scale of 1 to 10. 1 means you are an outright AGW Denier. Nothing could ever, even in principle, convince you to act on AGW. 10 means you believe ‘it doesn’t matter if we destroy civilization in the process – we need to stop CO2 emissions yesterday.’

Where do you think I would land? Where do you place yourself?

I believe I’m probably somewhere between 2 and 3, perhaps a 4. Yet AGW Skeptics (particularly ones in real life) always treat me as if I’m a 10 because any level of dissent means, in their eyes, you’re a 10.

Even the super smart, very polite AGW Skeptics commenting on my posts here have more or less mounted a massive (but respectful) assault on my basically incontrovertible position (so far). So it’s hard to miss the fact that there is some ‘religion’ mixed into AGW Skepticism at almost all levels.

There seem to be two other strong pieces of evidence that AGW Skepticism has become somewhat religious in nature.

First, AGW Skeptics rarely if ever try to argue with my actual points — as benign as they are, they’re hard to argue with. Instead, they assume I agree with Al Gore (or someone else whose views I do not share) and then argue against Al Gore. When I stop them and say “I disagree with Al Gore” they usually continue to argue as if I agree with Al Gore.

Second, AGW Skeptics never seem to notice the distinction between doing something about CO2 Emissions and doing something about Global Warming. I never say we need to act to reverse man-made global warming. The words I always use are ‘Man Made CO2 Emissions.’ Yet AGW Skeptics always hear me say “Global Warming.’ Even stopping them and saying “I didn’t say Global Warming, I said CO2 Emissions” will often fail to register.

So in conclusion, while I agree with the conservatives that liberals often treat AGW as a religion, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and say “So what?”

11 thoughts on “CO2 Emissions as Religion

  1. Bruce, I think you make some excellent points in this post. I think it is a good reminder for people that saying you want to do something about CO2 emissions is not the same as saying you want to do something about global warming.

    However, I think you are missing an important point here. “Doing something” means the government, either the U.S. government or a world government, doing something about global warming. If you mean you personally should get a Volt, then I have no problem with it. But the solutions you have hinted at involve government action.

    At the root of AGW skepticism is skepticism about government action to fix stuff. The reason people like me even care about this issue — which is a potentially extremely arcane scientific subject — is that extremists have taken this subject and lobbied for government action. Saying that government action either won’t work or will have unexpected consequences is basic common sense. Every single major government program in history from social security to the income tax to even the FDIC has had unexpected consequences. Walter Russell Mead discusses the potential unintended consequences of environmental action here:

    To summarize, environmentalists used to hate large-scale government actions (like building dams, for example) because such actions had unintended consequences on the environment. And now all of the sudden environmentalists think you can try to adjust the world climate system and NOT have unintended consequences. It is basic common sense — not religion — to realize that any governmental action on a large scale is certain to have numerous harmful unintended results.

    When you combine suspicion with unintended consequences with the outright lies and falsehoods put forward by pro-AGW fanatics, and the fact that the world does not seem to be behaving anywhere like the predictions put forward by Hansen and Gore, it is again basic common sense, not religion, to be suspicious of their claims.

    So when you put forward a series of posts saying that action — any action — must be taken, and you imply that must be government action, I would argue that skepticism of that position is warranted. If you want to see that as a religious opposition to pro-AGW arguments, I think you are seriously misunderstanding the opposition.

  2. Bruce, one other comment. I think for the purposes of this discussion we need to define what we mean by “people treating AGW (or opposition to AGW) as a religion.” This might help avoid a lot of contention on this issue.

    I DO think a lot of people treat environmentalism as a religion. What do I mean by this? They worship a deity (Mother Earth, the Planet, Natural Things). They have a manichaen sense of right and wrong (most human beings who are dirtying the Earth are evil, they are hurting Mother Earth, most Good People are trying to SAVE the Earth). They even have an eschatology, which might be their most important religious feature, ie, that We’re All Going to Die if we don’t save the Earth. They have faith that all facts that support their religion are true and all facts that don’t come from evil corporate-sponsored pikers.

    Do all people who believe in AGW act this way? No way. You have very reasonable, non faith-based, scientific rationalities to support parts of the AGW viewpoint. But anybody who has talked to a lot of AGW supporters (as I have) can discover the religious aspects of the AGW viewpoint very quickly. Bruce, you have implied to me you can detect these religious aspects very quickly as well.

    Are skeptics guilty of adopting a kind of religious dogma? I simply can’t see any evidence of that. The first point is that there are literally dozens of different kinds of skeptics. Some accept part of the AGW view but reject others. Not all of them are as suspicious of govt action as I am. In my case, if you want to call “faith in the free market” a religion, I guess you could make that argument, although it is a difficult one to make given recent history. Economics is the study of human behavior when it comes to money and the marketplace. This is not religion, it is a social science. There is no deity, no manichaen sense of good and evil, no eschatology, when it comes to economics. People who put their faith in the free market (as I do) call on recent historical lessons to bolster their case — they don’t make wild predictions about future calamities (well, outside of Glenn Beck and his ilk). They are most concerned with making rational, common sense decisions based on a cost-benefit analysis.

    Bruce, I think you may have gotten stuck in your own “analysis by analogy” problem with this post. I just don’t see how you’re going to make it fly. If you point is that people have rushed to judgment unfairly on your positions on AGW, I’ll concede the point. But the whole AGW opponents are using religious arguments point is a dog that won’t hunt.

  3. I think that if AGW (by which I refer to both believers and skeptics) is treated as a religion, it’s no more so than politics. Staunch liberals will just as quickly and aggressively attack President Bush or Rush Limbaugh as staunch Republicans will attack President Obama or Michael Moore, and with as little provocation. And the same holds true with respect to AGW.

    This is because (I think) advocacy for and opposition to AGW doctrine is viewed by most people through political spectacles: I think liberals like it to be true because it justifies taking aggressive action to protect the environment and reign in corporations, and otherwise increase government control; and conservatives hate it for the same reasons.

    Neither side necessarily evaluates it on a scientific basis, except insofar as they cite scientists who agree with their side.

    Of course there are the exceptions, people who do carefully evaluate the arguments on both sides and come to a carefully reasoned conclusion. Like Bruce. But for the vast majority on both sides, it’s mostly about politics. And I freely admit that that includes me.

  4. Agellius,

    Totally agree with what you said.


    You make a good point I have not given any thought to.

    I think the word ‘religion’ allows for a gradation of meanings (as do all words). I was thinking of it more in the sense that someone might say ‘I hate politics because it’s so religious.’

    What I had in mind when I said ‘religion’ was the idea that AGW gets treated in a way that we’d normally only rationally associate with real religion, e.g. someone accepts Glen Beck’s (or fill in the blank substitute prophet appropriate for the topic) word as good as God’s. Or that they treat it as a matter of faith that can’t be questioned without need to treat the dissenter as a heretic.

    In this sense, I think both liberals and conservatives often treat AGW as religion. I do not perceive any sort of gap between the two groups.

    But if I follow your argument, Geoff, you are really arguing (I believe) that there is a deeper sense beyond that in which liberals treat it as religion but skeptics do not. Whereas both sides tend to treat it as religion in my sense (i.e. attack heretics based on faith), only liberals actually create a mother God and form an eschatology around it.

    I will have to give this more thought, but my initial impression is that there might be something to what you are saying.

    However, Geoff, I want you to realize something. You don’t really get to see the religious fervor side of AGW Skeptics the way I get to. If you are talking with a fellow AGW Skeptic, they are going to be entirely comfortable with you. That ‘you heathen!’ side won’t come out around you.

    As I mentioned in my post, you’ve only seen the way people handle me on these posts, which is NOT representative of my ‘real life’ conversations. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

    1. You guys are smarter than the average person. For one thing, you actually have read up on this issue. Most people I talk to have not. Yet they KNOW they are right despite a near complete lack of domain knowledge.

    2. You guys allowed me to slowly explain myself.

    3. You guys have lots of online dialog/debate practice.

  5. Bruce, fair enough. Yeah, I will accept there are AGW skeptics who may act in that way. Believe it or not, there are times when discussing this issue off-line when I will encounter people who say things like, “it’s not getting warmer at all,” and I’ll say, “well, actually, it HAS gotten slightly warmer over the last 50 years or so,” and they will seem dumbfounded. So I know what you mean.

    And to be clear, I am saying that there are extreme environmentalists who really DO treat the AGW movement as a religion in every way, whereas that is not the case with AGW skeptics for the most part. But it is probably not even the majority of AGW believers who act that way.

  6. Late to the party here, seeing this due to the more recent post.

    Geoff, forgive me if you think I’m being snarky, but:

    And now all of the sudden environmentalists think you can try to adjust the world climate system and NOT have unintended consequences.

    is pretty funny.

    I thought it was the environmentalists that wanted to stop adjusting the world climate system. There are some geo-engineering types that want to adjust the world climate system, but they generally aren’t classified as environmentalists.

  7. John, so if environmentalists had succeeded in instituting a worldwide carbon control regime, you think there would not be ANY unintended consequences to the environment or industry?

  8. Geoff,

    You misunderstand my point. The point is that emissions are changing the system. Don’t you agree? Yes stopping emissions would have consequences. I have a hard time seeing how the environmental consequences would be worse than an ever increasing stream of emissions. Unless somehow emitting less (or zero) would directly cause everyone to go out and chop down the Amazon.

    The environmntal consequences to increasing emissions frighten me more than those of stopping them. How we pull that off while helping the economy rather than destroying I is the question.

  9. Geoff,

    I don’t doubt that CO2 has contributed to plant growth, just as I think that warming has helped at some latitudes. Are you citing this as a good thing? I don’t understand. I already addressed why this can be very bad earlier and you didn’t respond.

    I am thinking that you don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. You’re refusing to acknowledge it.

    The basis man-controlled change that is happening is the injection of CO2 into the atmosphere. All other things being equal (I realize that this is not the case) one would think that this would freak out a conservative as the unintended consequences of changing a system would have more potential to be severe than the consequences of leaving it alone.

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