15 December 2009

Stewart Brand's Four Camps

In the NYT today Stewart Brand explains that the climate debate really has four -- not two -- different poles. He confuses me and my father as an example of a "skeptic" (he refers to my father, a climate scientist, but then cites my research on IPCC scenarios). While it is nice to see a little nuance creep into the debate, the fatal flaw in Brand's taxonomy is that it defines its ordering with respect to views on science. The climate debate has much more nuance among people who share the same views on the science, so I find Brand's taxonomy a bit simplistic.

In 2005, I blogged my own taxonomy of the debate.

Climate realists. The UPI column correctly places me in this camp. But Steve Rayner characterized this community best,

“But, between Kyoto’s supporters and those who scoff at the dangers of leaving greenhouse gas emissions unchecked, there has been a tiny minority of commentators and analysts convinced of the urgency of the problem while remaining profoundly sceptical of the proposed solution. Their voices have largely gone unheard. Climate change policy has become a victim of the sunk costs fallacy. We are told that Kyoto is “the only game in town”.

However, it is plausible to argue that implementing Kyoto has distracted attention and effort from real opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect society against climate impacts. While it may not be politically practical or desirable to abandon the Kyoto path altogether, it certainly seems prudent to open up other approaches to achieving global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientizers. This large and diverse group actively works to frame the climate issue as a scientific debate under the expectation that if you win the scientific debate then your political agenda will necessarily follow. This group is comprised mostly of scientists of one sort or another. I would include here the dueling science-cum-politics weblogs Realclimate.org and Climateaudit.org (we had an exchange with Reaclimate folks a while back). I would also include here CATO’s Patrick Michaels and the IPCC’s Rajendra Pachauri (see this post) and others who have a clear political perspective but choose frequently to debate the science as a proxy war. A great irony is that the Scientizers have different political views but share the expectation that science is the appropriate battleground for this debate, and have together thus far successfully kept the focus of attention on the climate science rather than policy and politics.

Energy Policy Free Riders. The climate debate in many ways represents the evolution of an energy policy debate that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) characterized this perspective in the late 1980s when he said,

“We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy” (cited here, in PDF).
For this group the current debate over climate change is really all about changing energy policies.

Free Market Free Riders. Like the EP Free Riders the FM Free Riders see the climate debate as the evolution of a preexisting debate over the role of government and the individual in society. A recent column at Tech Central Station presented a strong version of this perspective,

“[The Kyoto Protocol] is emblematic of the ‘unorthodox’ thinking in social sciences. It gave the world Marxism, Stalinism, planned economies and fascism in the past, and supports anti-trade movements, anarcho-socialism, dogmatic pacifism and multicultural relativism today.”

International Relations Free Riders. The international relations free riders see the Kyoto Protocol as an extension of recent tensions between the U.S. and Europe, in particular, and have more concern with multilateralism than climate per se. In this group are those who see multilateralism as a solution to international conflicts (climate among them) and others who see it as part of them problem. The IR Free Riders includes the U.S. neoconservatives and their opponents. It also represents a cleavage of opinion between the Bush Administration’s approach-to-date on climate and that generally favored by governments in Europe.

There is undoubtedly a larger set of “free riders” who have sought to hitch their own favored agendas (e.g., species preservation, Bush Administration bashing, etc. etc.) to the climate issue, but these seem to be the most significant.

Those who Suffer Climate Impacts. There is an extremely large group of people (and species, ecosystems, etc.) that actually experience the effects of climate in their everyday lives. Too often they are used as symbols (or as potential material witnesses in lawsuits) by one of the groups listed above without real concern for their plight. The hundred of millions of people who suffer the impacts of climate have a real political stake in climate policies and with a few notable exceptions (e.g., see the 2002 Delhi Declaration) have little voice in how climate policy is evolving. (See also this recent paper.)

Undoubtedly there are more camps in this complex tapestry, but further discussion will have to continue another time. I’m off to class.


  1. Mr. Brand does not understand the issue well at all, based on his misunderstanding of who is saying what.

  2. Confusing you with your father doesn't inspire confidence in the quality of Brand's research. Too much like the New York Times article that distorted your father's views on AGW.

    How does this carelessness get past a newspaper that is supposed to have a scrupulous regard for facts?

  3. There are 5 groups but not thoses:

    1) The 'hell-fire and brimestone alarmists'. Believe the end of the world is coming and no policy can be too extreme.

    2) The 'opportunists'. Don't really care is AGW is true or not but see it as a good way to get their pet policies passed by government.

    3) The 'pragmatists'. Think AGW is real, CO2 regulation is necessary but understand that economic and technological realities need to be taken into account when setting policies.

    3) The 'lukewarmers' Don't dispute AGW but believe it is being exagerrated. Are not convinced that over reaching anti-CO2 policies are a good idea.

    4) The 'denialists'. Think AGW is hoax by people with a left wing political adgenda. Can point to the 'opportunists' as evidence of their claims.

  4. Raven,

    Where would you put those who have looked at the extraordinary incompetence of the scientists involved and concluded that no rational person could have a basis for any opinion on AGW?

  5. So which category do I fall in? I believe the earth has warmed over the past 150 years or so, that anthropgenic emissions probably had caused some small but unknowable amount of it, but that this simply isn't a big deal because we're well within historical norms on both CO2 and temperature on a geologic scale.

  6. What say the climate realists about the current "lull" in the scary aspects of climate? Also, is there a place in climate realism for those who think the benefits of additional OCO might outweigh the problems. The MWP did seem to be a pretty harmonious time!

  7. Why this relentless desire to put everyone into pigeonholes? I don't fit into any of Roger's categories, or Raven's, or Brand's.

  8. Brand's categories don't seem that bad to me, but I'm not sure I agree with some of his individual placements. For example, his description of calamatists, "...believe that industrial civilization has committed crimes against nature ... they view denialists as deeply evil" seems to me to fit James Hansen pretty well (remember the coal trains of death?).

    I like the way Raven combined several of Roger's categories into "opportunists". There do seem to be a lot of them, of various kinds.

    With regard to Roger's categories, I'm curious about the description of Climate Audit as a science-cum-politics weblog. I don't read Climate Audit that often, but when I do, I don't see McIntyre as being political. Some of his commenters, perhaps...

  9. I expect this from a San Francisco based hippie/op-ed contributor to the NYT, but…

    Stewart discredited himself right out of the gate with his use of the term “Denialists”.

    With that term, he deliberately and knowingly compared those who disagree with him to holocaust “deniers”.

    At that moment, I lost any interest in anything our aging hippie had to say.

    Click here for some basic climate change science.

  10. Raven, I would subdivide the hell and brimstone alarmists into two subcategories:

    1(a) The 'hell-fire and brimestone alarmists'. Believe the end of the world is coming and no policy can be too extreme.

    1(b) The 'hell-fire and brimestone alarmists'. Believe the end of the world is coming and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it so we might as well enjoy the party while it lasts.
    Or the futilitarian community. That's where I belong (at this writing).

  11. Raven:

    Agree with the 5 group concept but confused by the grouping: (1), (2), (3), (3), (4). Did you work with the Obama Administration in doing the head count on Jobs Saved/Created by the Stimulus Plan?

    Just poking fun Raven.

    Would add a 6th approach known as the "Do Over Approach". The Do Over Approach is based on sound Golfing Science. It works like this:

    (a) First shot goes out of bounds,

    (b) after suffering a stroke and distance penalty, the ensuing shot end up right in the middle of the fairway.

  12. The Economist often likes to point to surveys that show that 70% of Americans think they have control over their lives. Whereas only 30% of Europeans do. This is really about individualism vs collectivism. This why AGW which requires collectivism doesn't play as well in America. Europeans are use to paying huge energy taxes- collectivism. Americans will balk because it steps on individualism. If the democrats attempt to impose large energy tax e.g. cap n trade, they will thrown out of power. The smart ones know it. Mike M.

  13. PaulM writes:

    Why this relentless desire to put everyone into pigeonholes?

    Humans have a natural tendency to classify continua and to create discrete 'ideal types'. These simplifications and generalisations make complex realities more comprehensible but of course there is a price to be paid and that is loss of precision. Anyhow I see your point but I see no way of avoiding those maligned 'pigeonholes'. The key question is: what is the OPTIMUM number of pigeonholes? The author's four categories are certainly an improvement on the binary 'either-or', good-guy bad-guy classification that is customary in the climate-change community.

    Carolus Obscurus

  14. Thanks for the discussion.

    Indeed way more than four. Some good elaborations here.

    DO insert the "Jr."

  15. Just my view of the different sides in this crazy debate.

    1.Those who believe that the Worlds present course of population growth, development and fossil fuel use are unsustainable. They want to restructure the global economy under the control of the UN and exploit AGW as a mechanism to achieve this.
    An unlikely but powerful coalition of environmental groups, anti capitalists and left wing Politicians, with Governments now recognizing the huge potential to increase their power, to raise taxes, and milk the voter influence of group 2.
    A philosophy that believes it acceptable to lie/exaggerate for a so called "greater good".

    2.Warmists, who readily believe the propaganda and scientific evidence produced by those in group 1.
    This "evidence" is in accord with a (laudable) predisposition to do no harm to the planet. Usually selective in where they source their information, they confuse valid environmental concerns with AGW.


    3.The skeptics (often labled deniers). They have evaluated the science and conclude that although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, its effect on temperature is minor and exaggerated. They believe a wide range of influences drive the climate and that current temps are consistent with natural climate variability. They do not accept "the great lie" and believe technological advancement will deal with natural climate changes as/when they happen.

    4.The Deniers. Those that have no understanding of the science but misrepresent evidence for political or financial gain.

    There are of course those who try to sit on the fence;)

  16. This taxonomy doesn't make much sense to me though I can identify the "scientizers" I guess. Would make more sense to categorize people along the lines of these dimensions

    1. Their confidence (or overconfidence/exaggeration) in the underlying science - from "denialists" to "calamatists" (like Joe Romm in the latter category).

    2. How much weight they place on solving this problem vs. other objectives. Gore vs. Lomborg for example.

    3. The kinds of solutions that they are philosophically willing to accept. From those who think all market based solutions are frauds or unjust or whatever to those who want a global ETS system.

  17. I am a luke-warmer skeptic who believes that the scientific basis of apocalyptic visions is faulty. The idea of using mathematical models to predict world temperature averages a century out is 90% religion, 10% science - it requires faith in the unverifiable. I have only the most basic experience with mathematical models - paper and pencil style - and that familiarity taught me that all models rely entirely on assumptions - one assumption fails, the entire model is invalid. A global climate model over decades? Kooky in the extreme.

    There's a long history of scientists getting it terribly wrong. I think what we have here is a failure to stop and ask the primary question: Does this make sense?

    I also tend to vote Democrat, so Liberal Skeptic - there's a category that doesn't show up very often.

  18. By the way, the easiest way to identify all the groups would be to make a simple flowchart with a few if statements.

  19. Bradley- the piece was an op-ed.. I don't think anyone checks facts for an op-ed, based on those I've read.

    David Stern- yours is my favorite of all the taxonomies. However, the "confidence in the underlying science" should probably be more specific.. you may mean "confidence that the models and real world data as available today prove that observed warming is due to greenhouse gases."

  20. Cathal and Raven - excellent points but you missed a third category of alarmist

    1(c) The 'hell-fire and brimestone alarmists'. Believe the end of the world is coming and are glad because homo sapiens industrialis is inherently evil and deserves what he gets.

  21. Further good discussion here.

    I should make a correction to my earlier post, where I said to insert "Jr." after "Pielke" in my op-ed for the NYT. I suggested that partly in admiration of this blog and of Jr.'s good book, THE HONEST BROKER.

    But... on revisiting the material I worked with originally for the op-ed piece, it was all in relation to Pielke Sr. Therefore please hit "undo" on my suggestion to insert "Jr." Apologies to all.

    Warning to parents: giving sons and fathers the same name is an invitation to confusion (and it probably adds unnecessary twistiness to family dynamics that are usually quite twisty enough.)

  22. -21-Stewart

    Thanks for this additional clarification. However, there is a problem in your piece as the research that you refer to is mine, not my father's -- he does not work IPCC scenarios, much less express any skepticism about them.

    Perhaps a clarification to the NYT would be appropriate?