Roger Pielke Jr.: Manichean paranoia has poisoned the climate debate

Summary: Why have there been such meager results from the three decades-long campaign for public policy action in America to fight climate change? Professor Roger Pielke Jr. explains how activists on both sides brought Manichean paranoia to the debate, poisoning it. The results might have historic painful effects. He shows how we can fix the debate, if we try.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

Pielke Presentation at GWPF about Paranoid Climate Politics

The movement for massive US public policy action to fight climate change began (as an arbitrary date) with the testimony of James Hansen on 23 June 1988 in a sweltering (due to careful preparation) Senate conference room. During the following 29 years vast sums were spent to build public support for such measures. Academia, the news media, NGOs, and government agencies provided full spectrum support, laying down a barrage of propaganda — ranging from scholarly and compelling to outlandish or even horrific (see 40 posts with more examples).

Now it has come to a standstill, having accomplished little. The Republicans running Washington want to roll back what little has been done. The majority of the public ranks climate change low on the list of public policy concerns. As a public police concern, the environment was ranked #12 in a 2014 surveyClimate was #14 in a 2014 surveyClimate was rated in a 2016 survey as “below average in importance” by people in both parties.

Why? Climate scientists made major tactical errors.  But worse was how activists on both sides poisoned the debate. In this presentation Professor Roger Pielke Jr. describes the result as Manichean Paranoia. He suggests some simple steps America can take to fix and restart the debate. Let’s listen to him. After the presentation are some likely results if we fail to do so.


This presentation posted with his generous permission.


Video of his presentation


About the Paranoid Style of American Politics

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Available at Amazon.

“Paranoia has a long history in the American polity. American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. … I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. … It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

— “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“ by Richard Hofstadter in Harper’s Magazine, November 1964.

From the publisher… “Historian Richard Hofstadter’s book offers a valuable perspective on contemporary domestic affairs. He investigates the politics of the irrational, showing how fringe groups can influence — and even derail — the agendas of a political party.”


“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

The political gridlock on the public policy response to climate change has prevented the most obvious and easy first step — preparing for the almost inevitable repeat of past extreme weather. Events like superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina were warnings, showing our mad lack of preparation for likely weather events. Unless we change soon, we will pay dearly for our folly.

As for climate change — irrespective of the politics, the climate will eventually decide who was correct in the climate policy wars.

Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr.

About the author

Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder. He was Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now Director of the Sports Governance Center in the Dept of Athletics. Before joining the faculty of the U of CO, from 1993-2001 he was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America.

His page at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has his bio, CV, and links to some of his publications. His website has links to his works, and essays about the many subjects on which he works.

He is also author, co-author or co-editor of seven books, including The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (2007), The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (2010), The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (2014), and The Edge: The War against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports (2016).

Some of his recent publications.

Truth Will Make You Free

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change, and especially these …

  1. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  3. A status report on global warming. Much depends on the next few years.
  4. Good news for the New Year! Salon explains that the global climate emergency is over.
  5. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
 The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

… see Pielke’s book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. See my review. Here is the publisher’s summary…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”

16 thoughts on “Roger Pielke Jr.: Manichean paranoia has poisoned the climate debate”

    1. My reply to deleted comment, edited to remain clear.

      (3) Has there been a pause in atmospheric warming?

      (a) I reported that the pause is over in this June 2015 post: “The Pause in global warming has ended. Now see the rest of the story.” Posts since then have all discussed what comes after the pause. Posts in the past two years — 25 months — have referred to the pause in the past tense.

      (b) Posts since then have looked at the global temperature record to see what comes next — a fall back to the previous plateau, a new plateau, or continued warming. See here and here. Among the hundreds of peer-reviewed papers about the pause, perhaps the most important is Jones 2017 — proposing that warming occurs in stair-steps (rise, pause, rise). See it A look at the future of global warming. If true, it explains much.

      (c) For more information, see these compilation pages about the pause. They give cites, abstracts, and links to several hundred papers.

      The first cites papers & reports from 2008 – 2014 about discovery of the pause: Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now.

      The second cites papers and reports from 2014 to now: Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade. They show roughly a dozen theories explaining the pause. Perhaps it’s an artifact of the data (there is no pause), a natural phenomenon, various cycles, etc. There is as yet no consensus on this, and research continues.

      The third cites climate scientists speculating about the duration of the cause (an obvious rebuttal to your anti-science views). There is little in the literature about this, so some of this quotes them in the news. One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end?

      (4) Here is a summary of my views on climate change: Important things to know about climate change.

      1. Thomas,

        Trolling for links on Google is research for 8th graders, reading only the Google summaries — as if that tells you anything. That’s “google knowledge”, the illusion of knowledge.

        It’s easy for an analyst to tell. You copied the Google links from the search page (not from the actual article), and that often produces bad links.

  1. Pingback: Pielke Jr – Re-entry into the climate atmopshere | Shub Niggurath Climate

  2. I clicked the play triangle in the center of the slideshow toolbar
    I clicked the “Share this” arrow on the left side of the slideshow toolbar
    (Full screen icon on the slideshow toolbar doesn’t work either)
    Disabled VPN
    Disabled Ad Blocker
    Updated Java
    Cleared Cache
    Repeated the above.

    Nothing made the “play” triangle do anything on the slideshow..
    I use current Opera (46.0) on Win 7

    I found a brief version on Pielke’s twitter but it only discusses details through recommendation 1. Hopefully he’ll add the rest in stages.

  3. Best of all, it’s a really good presentation. Thanks to FM & Roger Pielke Jr. for making the slides available. And Thank you for the workaround for my unknown technical issues.

    The ideas are indeed appropriate to innumerable situations, not just climate change. Lots of wisdom there, with practical suggestions about how discussions can be de-polarized and made more productive, while addressing political realities, regardless of one’s personal perspective on the science or policy objectives.

    I recommend Pielke’s condensed version of his talk on twitter. In the absence of seeing the actual talk, the brief comments he adds on twitter are helpful. It’s broken up into a large number of separate tweets. It takes a lot of scrolling to get to the first one!

    If there is ever a video of the actual talk please let us know.

    1. Buzz Killington

      He shared a video today:


  4. Pingback: Paul Krugman shows why the climate campaign failed | Watts Up With That?

  5. Pingback: Paul Krugman Shows Why the Climate Campaign Failed | US Issues

  6. Pingback: A climate science milestone: a successful 10-year forecast! | Watts Up With That?

  7. Pingback: A narrative displaying why America's forests are burning – Fabius Maximus web site | CENSOREDWEB.COM

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: