Why the Left loses: incompetent marketing

Summary: The Right has been ascendant in America since the rightly name Reagan Revolution (politically speaking). The Bush Jr years consolidated, expanded, and firmly rooted many of the Right’s changes. (The Left has won a few social changes on issues of no interest to the 1%, such as who the peons marry). There are many reasons for this, but the Left’s incompetent marketing plays a large role. Here we look at one example, on their signature issue of climate change.

Carol Costello
Carol Costello, by Fernando Milani

(1)  An example of failing propaganda

Why are we still debating climate change?

Carol Costello, op-ed at CNN, 24 February 2014
Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom”


There is no debate. Climate change is real. And, yes, we are, in part, to blame. There is a 97% consensus among scientific experts that humans are causing global warming. Ninety-seven percent! Yet some very vocal Americans continue to debate what is surely fact.

The question is, why?

What is the 97% consensus? It is with the signature statement of the IPCC:

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I. For more about this consensus see these studies.

Who are these “vocal Americans” who disagree? She doesn’t say. Few of the prominent skeptics (3%?) among climate scientists disagree (although some disagree on epistemological grounds with the expression of certainty). Few of the prominent amateur skeptics (3%?) disagree. It’s easy to give rebuttals to such vague voices.

Costello, either through ignorance or deliberately, does not mention the actual grounds of the debate:

  1. the magnitude and timing (rate) of future warming,
  2. the cost of substantially changing the warming,
  3. the relative cost and benefits of prevention vs. mitigation.

These are hideously complex questions on the very edge (or beyond) of known climate science. The IPCC’s reports show no consensus on these questions, the answers to which must drive public policy on this vital issue.

The rest of her op-ed is mostly posturing. She gives one specific, which is false:

A recent study by Drexel University found that conservative foundations and others have bankrolled climate denial to the tune of $558 million between 2003 and 2010.

She probably refers to “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations“, Robert J. Brulle, Climatic Change, February 2014.  He explicitly said something quite different:

The final sample for analysis consisted of 140 foundations making 5,299 grants totaling $558 million to 91 organizations. … Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.

She concludes with an astonishingly cynical note:

Extreme weather is forcing people to at least think about how global warming affects them directly. And, perhaps more important, many religious leaders, including evangelicals, are now “green.” They concur with the scientific community and take it a step farther. They say we have a moral obligation to save the planet.

Even the enormously popular Pope Francis may soon speak out on global warming. The Vatican press office says Francis is working on draft text on ecology. That text could turn into an encyclical, or a letter to bishops around the world, instructing that the “faithful must respect the environment.”

When did the Left decide that the Pope is a moral leader? Do they cite him as a role model on the role of women? About contraception and abortion? Gay rights? Evolution? Or do they trot him out as a prop when convenient.

These are not tactics of successful political movements. Unless they’re seeking to manipulate children. Such tactics are the reason the Left is failing in America.

(2)  For More Information

(c)  About the consensus of climate scientists:

  1. Puncturing the false picture of a scientific consensus about the causes and effects of global warming, 20 September 2010
  2. Climate scientists speak to us. What is their consensus opinion?, 19 February 2014

(b)  About the Left’s crusade about climate change:

  1. Possible political effects of the pause in global warming, 26 August 2013
  2. Climate change sinks the Left, while scientists unravel mysteries we must solve, 24 January 2014
  3. Watch the Left burn away more of its credibility, then wonder why the Right wins, 29 January 2014
  4. Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility, 4 February 2014

(c)  Examples of the Left’s exaggerations and misinformation about climate change:

  1. Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole., 10 December 2012
  2. Kevin Drum talks about global warming, illustrating the collapse of the Left’s credibility, 17 December 2012
  3. Lessons the Left can learn from the Right when writing about climate change, 12 December 2012 — More from Phil Plait
  4. Fierce words about those “wacky professional climate change deniers”, 20 January 2013
  5. A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame, 23 June 2013
  6. The North Pole is now a lake! Are you afraid yet?, 3 August 2013
  7. Climate science deniers on the Left, captured for viewing, 29 September 2013



13 thoughts on “Why the Left loses: incompetent marketing”

  1. This is not a direct response to what you call the ineptitude of the left, but it is tangent to a point raised in your post.

    PNAS just issued a report about the 30 years of satellite observation of the albedo. I don’t know how this observational data tie into the climate models, but they seem to suggest further arctic warming to come in the future. By no means it is conclusive yet, but I tend to think by the time the trend becomes so obvious from every datum, it might be too late for the human society to turn the tide. The left seems to me the most vociferous in raising the awareness and warnings, but you seem to shun them as ‘unscientific’ and political. It is true some views coming from the left are fear mongering without much scientific substance, but not all of them. Besides not all the climate alarmists are ‘left’. And they did not wait for the new Pope to raise the awareness on the issue.



    The decline of Arctic sea ice has been documented in over 30 y of satellite passive microwave observations. The resulting darkening of the Arctic and its amplification of global warming was hypothesized almost 50 y ago but has yet to be verified with direct observations. This study uses satellite radiation budget measurements along with satellite microwave sea ice data to document the Arctic-wide decrease in planetary albedo and its amplifying effect on the warming. The analysis reveals a striking relationship between planetary albedo and sea ice cover, quantities inferred from two independent satellite instruments. We find that the Arctic planetary albedo has decreased from 0.52 to 0.48 between 1979 and 2011, corresponding to an additional 6.4 ± 0.9 W/m2 of solar energy input into the Arctic Ocean region since 1979. Averaged over the globe, this albedo decrease corresponds to a forcing that is 25% as large as that due to the change in CO2 during this period, considerably larger than expectations from models and other less direct recent estimates. Changes in cloudiness appear to play a negligible role in observed Arctic darkening, thus reducing the possibility of Arctic cloud albedo feedbacks mitigating future Arctic warming.’

    1. Kamaaina,

      Before I reply, a question for you. Did you read this paper, or is your comment based on the abstract plus what a layman, probably a climate activist, said about this?

      I suggest you read the actual paper, which might calm you:

      Like most science papers, this is a narrow focus on a question of interest within the current paradigm. As such it’s wider implications are difficult for laypeople to interpret.

      That’s why activists on both Left and Right manipulate people by selective citing and interpretation of papers. That’s why we have the IPCC and major climate agencies to explain what’s know with confidence, and what’s cutting edge research, and what is as yet unknow. That’s why these agencies, esp the IPCC, have become disreputable on both Right and Left.

      In my next comment I will talk about the paper.

    2. The decline in arctic sea ice during the era of satellite data (I.e., reliable data on sea ice extent) is a brief period, as climate goes. The 1970s were a cool period, and so the sat data starts at a cycle peak (IPCC reports discuss this in detail).

      There are many factors at work here, two of the most powerful being natural variation (chiefly wind patterns) and deposition of carbon black (an anthropogenic factor, one of many other than CO2 emissions). These are beyond the scope of this paper, which clearly says on page 4:

      “If we make the extreme assumption that all of the observed decrease in Arctic albedo is due to warming, then we obtain … This estimate is an upper bound because some of the decrease in albedo may be due to natural variability and the darkening effect of black carbon deposition …”

      As research on posts cited elsewhere on the FM website show, some scientists believe wind and carbon account for most or even almost all of the reduction in arctic sea ice.

      Citations available on request.

      As for the overall trend in global warming, change in arctic sea ice is one of hundreds of major factors, many of which are not well understood.

      These things — arctic sea ice and climate models — are discussed clearly in the recent AR5 by the IPCC. I strongly recommend you rely on them for information about these things.

  2. Sorry, it’s my fault. I read only the abstract. If I read the whole paper, I should have noticed the more cautiously nuanced result.

    Quote: This estimate is an upper bound because some of the decrease in albedo may be due to natural variability and the darkening effect of black carbon deposition …

    1. kamaaina,

      I am still interested in where you saw this. My guess is that you don’t regularly read PNAS abstracts. Rather you read about this on a website where they misrepresented it’s content. Probably an alarmist website.

      If so, this brings us back to one of the big questions raised by the climate wars — and the reason this subject is discussed here: how often do they (the writers) misrepresent material to you? How do you feel about this? What will you do as a result?

      There are a wide range of reliable new sources available. The uncovered big stories of our time are the proliferation of politically slanted sources, their massive growth in audience, and their (I believe) increasingly unreliable content (as they learn they can lie without blowback from their audience). You need not participate in this game.

  3. From where I sit, our left has been very quiet since Obama got elected. With the exception, as you point out, of gay marriage, and also pot decriminalization / legalization at the state level. A valuable prize if you’re personally affected, but doesn’t matter for most people the way a discussion of economic / tax / government spending might, which is what I’d like to see.

    Where I live, what activism I see is directed at resisting local expansion of natgas production. This effort is working its way thru the machinery of state government, with mixed results. Presented on environmental grounds that are portrayed only half accurately, though there’s a good economic argument for the same thing (overproduction at low prices screwed locals in a different way).

    Mostly though, I think we’re just sort-of “on-break” from giving a sh*t at the moment. Slowly digesting the concept that our president is just another of the same…

    I also can’t help but wonder if FM is a bit too focused on debunking the global warming crowd? Honestly, not a single person I know talks about that anymore, whereas they did 5-10 years ago.

    1. Peteybee,

      All valid points! The Left has to a large degree settled into largely unquestioning support of Obama. Defending his expansion of the war in Af-Pak, his drone assassinations (even of US citizens), his defense of the NSA, his institutionalization of a trimmed-down version of the Bush tax cuts — etc.

      “Honestly, not a single person I know talks about that anymore, whereas they did 5-10 years ago.”

      The written media are overflowing with the Left’s activism about climate change. It’s a large fraction of their organizational spending, and a large faction of their political activity.

      I am skeptical of annec-data. I am much more skeptical about the significance of Americans’ chatter. We got involved in 2 wars without much popular participation, and stayed in them long after public support evaporated. Obama has killed Americans without much discussion, I suspect, among the people you know. Ditto for our war in Yemen, and in various spots in Africa, and probably in spots neither of us know about.

      Did your friends talk much about NSA surveillance as the NSA was built into the colossus?

      In a plutocracy one has to watch the movement of the puck, not the people in the stands.

    2. Makes good sense to be skeptical. That’s one of the main reasons I really appreciate reading FM. I put in that last bit in case you or anyone else finds it useful.

      I have been fortunate enough to be in an environment that was actively critical of the Afghan and especially the Iraq war from the beginning. I’d say there was also awareness and disgust over the drones / targeted killings of suspects by the executive branch, but there wasn’t really a response (compared to anti-war, or the torture scandal, or OWS). Even while Bush was president, which was strange. The NSA was not talked about since it was done in secret, so that’s a little unfair.

      Watch the puck? No argument about that. If we claim to be a democracy, though, the people in the stands should matter.

  4. Question to Ed-O-FM website. What do you see as the end goal in either side of the global climate change debate? Is there a constructive goal in sight, or are we simply seeing two sides grasping at the extreme opposite of the opposing teams ideas to appeal to the “peons” for whom they are preforming?

    It would seem that at some point a middle ground would be found that called for the responsible use of pollutants, while also arriving at the understanding that the use of fossil fuels (for now) is a necessary part of our continued progress.

  5. What is the evidence that the Left is losing the climate “debate”?

    Climate scientists are not debating the consensus that AGW is happening now and it is primarily forced by fossil fuel use. The facts are open to all interested parties. The debate should be over what are the best policies to deal with potential catastrophic climate changes in the next generation. We cannot deindustrialize society and Obama recognizes that petrodollars are very influential politically. This is not an “environmental issue” in the same category as saving whales, it is a profound question of how societies can evolve sustainably into the future. Jared Diamond’s investigations into past social “collapses” is not encouraging.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that this has devolved into partisan policy issues.

    1. Bob,

      (1) “What is the evidence that the Left is losing the climate “debate”?”

      (a) Why do you put “debate” in quotes?

      (b) The Left advocates a wide range of policies, from mild to drastic, to slow CO2 emissions. Please list those that have been implemented in the US since this issue became prominent in 1989?

      (2) “Climate scientists are not debating ….”

      When I speak of Left and Right, I speak of politics. Not the debate among climate scientists.

      (3) “Jared Diamond’s investigations into past social “collapses” is not encouraging.”

      Anthropologists are unhappy with Diamond’s myth-making and sloppy scholarship. His primary exhibit in Collapse is Easter Island. His account is largely false. For details see the eco-fable of Easter Island.

      (4) “Perhaps part of the problem is that this has devolved into partisan policy issues.”

      Ours would not be much of a democracy if major public policy issues are non-partisan, especially when there are such a very wide range of possible scenarios — and an equally wide range of policy solutions.

      1. Bob,

        More on the “Left has lost” on climate change. These are old, when the outcome of the public policy outcomes were not so obvious.

        (1) Climate scientists are losing the public debate on global warming“, Richard Gray (Science Correspondent), The Telegraph, 8 April 2012 — “Green campaigners and climate scientists are losing the public debate over global warming, one of the movement’s leading proponents has admitted.”

        (2) Global inaction shows that the climate sceptics have already won“, Martin Wolf B(columnist), Financial Times, 21 May 2013

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