Imagine the horrific fate of the losers after the climate policy debate ends

Summary: The appropriate public policy response to climate change is one of the great issues of our time, driving one of the longest yet inconsequential debates in modern US history. Yet everything comes to an end, eventually. This post speculates what that end might mean for the activists and scientists on each side if they lose. The consequences of defeat might mar the lives of ten thousand people in America (more around the world), yet has been little discussed.

Are you now, or have ever been, a climate denier?

Burning of Anne Hendricks as a Witch in 1571. Engraving by Jan Luyken (1685).
Burning of Anne Hendricks as a witch in 1571. Engraving by Jan Luyken (1685).

The US public policy debate about climate has run for 28 years, starting the clock from James Hansen’s famous Senate testimony. Although the results have been meager, I suspect it’s like a geological fault. Massive forces moving but locked together, with the stress accumulating year by year. People live on it, complacent since nothing has happened. Then …boom.

There are many possible intermediate outcomes, such as slow political and climate change over generations. We remember the exciting outcomes — ice ages and revolutions — but slow evolution is the most frequent outcome. But sometimes the extreme outcomes become unusually likely. I believe climate is one of them. The political debate has become a game in which nobody claims the pot. It grows to immense size as both sides bet more than they can afford to lose. Each confident of victory; neither prepares for possible ruin. It’s a commonplace in military history.

The outcome will result from a combination of weather and politics, contingent on random (or unpredictable) events. Whatever the outcome, the long-term fate of 21st century climate change might mock it. The good guys often lose in politics.

Here are guesses about some “tail outcomes”, two possible extreme outcomes that illustrate the stakes in this now deadlocked political debate. Either the climate science institutions — and climate scientists — win, or the skeptics win.

Historians might point to this logo as evidence of their self-confidence.

Scenario One: hard times for climate scientists

Climate scientists have staked the reputation of their field on an increased occurrence of extreme weather during the next few years. We have read about future climate apocalypses (amidst other certain forecasts about climate change), the end of snow, the looming monster methane apocalypse, more and bigger hurricanes, and nightmarish futures illuminated only by burning coal (based on RCP8.5). Plus the sixth great extinction (since supposedly 30 thousand species go extinct every year).

As a result Leftists frequently speak casually of our certain doom.

What if most of this proves false? Perhaps we will get continued slow warming, without the devastating increase of extreme weather and disruption of the biosphere? Perhaps people will forget the decades of doomster predictions (seldom contradicted by scientists or the major science institutions). Climate scientists will reclaim their bets, without consequences.

Or perhaps the public will loose confidence in climate science (anti-intellectualism has deep roots in US history), a crash in their reputations. If so, government and ngo funding for climate science might vanish like last years’ snow. They’ll rename it (“meteorology” and “earth science” will become poplar names, as scientists rebrand themselves to avoid public mockery).

What do you call a climate scientist? Waiter!

Scenario Two: hard times for climate skeptics

Climate skeptics
By Adam Zyglis, 18 May 2014.

If Trump wins the GOP nomination (likely), and the resulting Democratic landslide takes down the GOP’s Senate and House majorities with him (possible) — expect Congressional “investigative” hearings of skeptics. The results will be unpleasant. But skeptics cannot be easily blacklisted since the major institutions have already cut off most of their funding — and most are either in the private sector (e.g., meteorologists) or well-established with tenure. Younger scientists are protected, most having wisely chosen not to burn their careers on the altar of skepticism — no matter how esteemed it is in science lore.

That’s the mild outcome for skeptics. Their websites will close. They’ll find new causes on the Right, build new hobbies with new communities (as Leftist doomsters have jumped from one certain end-time scenario to another (pollution, overpopulation, Y2K, peak oil, etc).

What if there is severe damage from extreme weather (blamed, of course, on CO2 emissions)? For example, if two cities on the east coasts of Asia or America are hit by large hurricanes — with massive damage and large loss of life. No matter what the buttoned-down scientists deep in the halls of NOAA say (e.g., time needed for study, attribution of weather is difficult), on the next day journalists’ microphones will go to activist scientists announcing their insta-verdicts.

The public uproar might be like nothing we’ve seen since the 1950s, when the unexpected and astonishing Soviet atomic blasts and the fall of China to the red commies led to mass hysteria, “witch hunts” of suspected communists, and loyalty oaths.

The Left is eager to start. They talk about banning them from the news media and suing them. In their fantasies (occasionally displayed to the public) they imagine killing them.

“With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines while making people laugh. …Many people found the resulting film extremely funny…”
Lizzie Gillet, 10:10 global campaign director.

“The film may have been somewhat tasteless, but it was an imaginative attempt to challenge public apathy over climate change.”
Statement from the Guardian, a backer of 10:10.

Vengeful Leftists leading an angry public is a combination to fear. Prominent skeptics might be harassed and demonized on a scale far greater than anything seen in generations. “Lukewarmers” might be grilled — “were you ever a skeptic or associated with skeptics?”

History suggests that the only choice Congressional committees will give skeptics is poison or the knife (metaphorically speaking). Fortunately skeptics can easily prepare for these inquisitions by study of medieval confessionals and the accepted forms of self-criticism in Mao’s China. At least they will have lots of company in the dock.

Often unemployment will follow, as companies and universities in self-defense cut them lose (tenure has failed to provide protection in the past, and it is weaker today).


There is no reality-based community in America (as discussed in scores of posts on the FM website, such as Facts are the enemy of both Left and Right in our America). This leaves us ungrounded, liable to extreme and irrational responses to events (as we have seen in our mad wars since 9/11).

The debate about the public response to climate change might provide more evidence if one side wins decisively. With the stakes so high, the reaction of both winners and losers might be dramatic. Oddly, neither side shows any awareness that they might lose — or takes any measures to protect themselves. Time might prove that one side was unwise.

“I offer a toast to the future, the undiscovered country.”
— Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country“.

{A}s I stood sadly at my country’s boundary and looked longingly into the unknown country, which was so near me and yet so far away, some little revelation might be vouchsafed to me…
— From Either/Or: A Fragment of Life by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1843).

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, My posts about climate change, and especially these about the policy debate…

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. My proposal: Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  3. We can end the climate policy wars: demand a test of the models.
  4. There will be little public policy action by the US to fight climate change – until the weather decides the debate.
  5. How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016.
  6. Why skeptics will lose the US climate policy debate.

There are a hundred fine books about the great climate change policy debate. Here are two that go to the heart of the debate, one for each side.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
Available at Amazon.
Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

17 thoughts on “Imagine the horrific fate of the losers after the climate policy debate ends

  1. “After the end of the climate policy debate: fate of the losers”

    I think you are right, the skeptics have lost the debate. The alarmists have won and will drive up the price of energy, including electricity. America will lose its competitive advantage. Jobs will move overseas, following manufacturing. The middle class will be squeezed by increased cost of living and decreased job opportunities.

    The scientists had better be right, because the political consequences of a major blunder will not be as easily contained as you suggest. Mr. Trump has demonstrated the potential for backlash.

    There may not now be many skeptical scientists willing to risk their careers, but we should not underestimate their potential for upsetting the alarmist paradigm. In 1958, most scientists refused to discuss theories of mobile continents, but by 1965, plate tectonics had replaced the old paradigm of fixed continents. Hard to tell what might happen should the “hiatus in warming” continue for another decade and harder still to predict the consequences of global cooling such as the cooling that occurred during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

    Painful as it may be to contemplate, by then it may be too late to repair the social, economic and political damage to America. Sad to say, it seems the American Dream is over.


    1. Frederick,

      (1) Australia and much of Europe have (or had) governments strongly committed to fighting climate change, without the dire effects you imagine. I suggest more caution in your confident speculation. The future is not binary.

      (2) “because the political consequences of a major blunder will not be as easily contained as you suggest.”

      If you believe I said that, I suggest you re-read the post. Also, saying “will not be” implies more certainty about the future than is warranted unless you are a prophet.

      (3) “There may not now be many skeptical scientists willing to risk their careers, but we should not underestimate their potential for upsetting the alarmist paradigm.”

      This post is expressly about the public policy debate in the next few years. It’s possible that scientists might find a smoking gun, but such things are rare in history — despite their outsized role in popular histories.

      As for the “hiatus” (the slow warming since 1998-2000), it has ended due to the El Nino. It might return, or might not. Cooling might occur. A billion things “might happen”, but such things are outside the scope of this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The real danger isn’t from climate change. Just look at any ice core data set, climate change in the norm. Climate is never not changing. Blaming man for it is a complete joke. CO2 used to be 7000ppm and there was no catastrophic warming, in fact life thrived.

    All those plants we are burning as gas today were growing back then. The is no mechanism by which CO2 would suddenly increase to pull us out of an ice age, at least not on the regular cycle recorded in the ice core. There is no mechanism by which CO2 would decline in advance of of ice age, in fact we fell into an ice age when CO2 was 4000ppm, or 10x the level it is today. CO2 has increased from about 270 to 400ppm, and the climate is infinitely better than the Little Ice Age that preceded the increase in CO2. Doubling CO2 from 200 to 400ppm altered the atmospheric energy by less than 1%, doubling it from 400 too 800ppm would alter it by another 1%. Both on the warming side, there is no mechanism by which CO2 would result in cooling, CO2 can only trap heat. A simple cloud layer alters the energy balance by over 10%, or 10x the impact of doubling CO2. If CO2 does cause major climate changes, clouds would be doing it on a daily basis. be doing it on a daily basis. Why no focus on the clouds and sun? There is no money in it.

    Climate Change “Science” is simply a repeat of Lyschenko’s brand of science in the Soviet Union. Government Scientists are paid to give the government the answer it wants.


  3. “seldom contracted by scientists or the major science institutions” contradicted?

    “universities in self-defense cut them lose” loose?

    Before I retired from university teaching, I told my students that misspelling in itself wasn’t important. However they still needed to be careful about it because: a-it distracted from the more important issues and b-it could be used in attempts to discredit them.


    1. Ralph,

      Thanks for catching these! My proofreading skills are minimal, and I’m very short of time — and so rely on the spell & grammar checkers. These work well, but have limits.

      “it could be used in attempts to discredit them.”

      Based on my 13 years of writing (3600 posts, 45k comments), people’s responses are almost entirely tribal. I wonder if the response would be different if replaced with the content in the form of “four legs good – two legs bad” (substitute the appropriate cant for the given topic). Readers would boo and cheer almost identically. Time saved for authors and readers. Win-win!


  4. A part of me wants to disagree with you, but I can easily see it happening. Skeptics of whatever variety are under constant and personal attack as it is.

    May I venture to say that despite your agreement with climate disaster predictions (or at least your serious concern), that you might also face backlash, because you are not a typical climate change thinker. They could come after you for planting seeds of doubt about the debate in general or the breakdown in the climate science community in particular. We stand on perilous intellectual ground where thoughtful and articulate speech could become criminal. We have too many people on the Left these days who harbor the fantasy held by Sheldon Cooper, to become benevolent overlords over the hapless masses.


    1. Swatter.

      “despite your agreement with climate disaster predictions (or at least your serious concern), that you might also face backlash … They could come after you for planting seeds of doubt about the debate in general”

      This appears to be only the 2nd article you’ve read here, so that’s a logical if incorrect statement. It’s backwards. I have frequently debunked predictions of climate disasters, since they are seldom supported by the IPCC or major climate agencies. See Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions, or my posts about the bogus predictions of disasters from a super monster Godzilla El Nino.

      Leftist activists neither forgive nor forget such attacks, and hence I’m called a “denier” for supporting the IPCC and climate agencies. As I said, being right is not a defense when before the Inquisition.


  5. “I looks like you didn’t read the post, and this is just comment spam — completely unrelated to this topic. Why shouldn’t I delete it?

    Why would you consider what I wrote off topic and spam? Everything I wrote is 100% factual, verifiable, and on topic. The very fact that you define the outcome of the left winning as a Witchhunt “Vengeful Leftists leading an angry public is a combination to fear. Prominent skeptics might be harassed and demonized on a scale far greater than anything seen in generations.” Pretty much proves the side promoting this nonsense isn’t about science, they are about power and politics. You don’t see the “deniers” calling for investigations into the climate alarmists, and yet the alarmists are the ones that are actually being investigated for fraud. The “deniers” have nothing to gain, as you pointed out, most of there funding has already been cut. Are these “deniers” masochists? Is that how real science is performed? You only fund those that agree with you? The parallels with Lyschenko are undeniable. The is pure Soviet Style Science, more appropriate for North Korea than America. My post was to highlight how the real science isn’t even close to pointing to CO2 as the culprit of the warming. The atmosphere is modeled using a program called MODTRAN. It is online at the University of Chicago. Anyone that takes 10 minutes to learn how to use it can see for themselves how CO2 is basically an irrelevant greenhouse gas. The calculations don’t lie. Al Gore uses the Vostok ice core data in his presentation. That chart demonstrates how 1) climate is always changing 2) all major peaks in temperature are above today’s temperature and occurred with less CO2 and 3) Temperature lead CO2, as would be expected because of Henry’s Law. The Climate Gate Emails expose outright fraud, and explain why the Hockeystick could never be reproduced by any independent and objective scientist. “Mike’s Nature Trick” used to “Hide the Decline” would never be acceptable to any real scientists. Worst yet, nothing the Climate Alarmists would do would ever slow the growth of CO2. CO2 has not slowed one bit, and we have wasted billions on wind and solar farms, while other more pressing needs go unfulfilled. I’m sorry if you feel my posts are spam, but I would recommend everyone to actually take a look at the “science” supporting these claims, learn how to use MODTRAN, apply the scientific method to the ice core data, and you will see why the left uses witch-hunt tactics. You don’t use witch hunt tactics, you don’t avoid debating, you don’t prosecute those who disagree if you have a solid argument. The real threat that society faces will and always has been global cooling. Food supplied shrink, societies go to war, people starve when the globe cools, they thrive when it warms. We should be thankful for the warmth, and if we spend money preparing for climate change, it would be to protect us from the cold.


  6. Of possible interest to you and/or some of your readers. The March issue of World Future Review includes articles that delve into future studies’ curriculum and the breadth of future studies in relation to climate change.

    In the article, “Understanding the Breadth of Studies through a Dialogue with Climate Change,” author Jennifer M. Gidley discusses how climate change and an evolutionary perspective provide a framework to think about developments in future studies. The abstract for her paper:

    “This article explores the breadth of the futures studies field by creating a dialogue with some prominent approaches to climate change. The first half of the article takes an evolutionary perspective on the development of the futures studies field. I show how developments in the field parallel the broader epistemological shift from the centrality of positivism to a plurality of post-positivist approaches particularly in the social sciences.

    “Second, I explore the current scientific research on climate change including issues related to mitigation, adaptation, and co-evolution.

    “Finally, I apply my futures typology that includes five paradigmatic approaches to undertake a dialogue between futures studies and climate change.”

    Click here to access the table of contents for the March 2016 issue of World Future Review.


    1. Thomas,

      Thanks for the link to this. After 5 pages she goes from theory to hard reality.

      Change: Mitigation, Adaptation, Coevolution

      “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of green-house gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems … Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.” {Synthesis Report from IPCC AR5}

      It is now widely accepted among scientific and other research circles that the complex issue of anthropogenic climate change endangers our entire civilizational futures as it tracks a path to radical, rapid, and potentially irreversible changes in the global ecosystem in the relatively near-term future — within a century.

      Note that the IPCC quote does not remotely support her conclusion. In fact, I’ve seen no surveys supporting her belief.

      Even the finest logic cannot work when built on false information.


  7. This was cross-posted by Anthony Watts at his website, one of the few in the climate wars that posts material that differs from his own views.

    The comments are, as usual, amazing. My favorite is this, nicely illustrating how the climate wars are entertainment for a large fraction of the activists on both sides. By Marcus:

    “As a video game strategist I can tell you personally that you should NEVER plan for defeat, only temporary setbacks ! LOL”

    That might work in games, where the stakes are trivial. That’s daft advice in real life. Quite mad.


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