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AGW: the why behind no consensus πŸ”— 1439057923  

About 3 years ago, I got into a debate about Anthropogenic Global Warming with some of my friends. As you may suspect, I took the skeptical position. Due to such, the initial response was to use ad-hominems ("denier!") and to shout other thought-terminating cliches ("There's a consensus!") Of course, I didn't bother pointing out that the use of such implied that their opinion on such rested more on magical thinking; Use of such is generally a signaling mechanism that they are simply uninterested in the facts.

So, I decided to take a different tack. I asked them why they thought I hold the position that I do on this issue. Their first response was that I'm clearly heavily propagandized and brainwashed, due to not holding similar political opinions to them. So I responded, Supposing that's true, why have I been propagandized? Who gains from this? Their response was that it was the evil oil companies funding all those skeptical.

At this point, I didn't bother saying "I don't see my oilco check in the mail", or pointing out that most of those behind the AGW science are paid by governments, and not free from such conflict of interest either. Pointing out that something like government which they have internalized as good (which is like saying rape is love) could possibly corrupt scientists would more likely provoke a fight-or-flight response than reflection, so I didn't bother with that argument either. Instead, I asked why would these companies both fund colleges which have AGW promoting professors, and even back their conferences and run AGW awareness campaigns if they don't care about the issue? They responded that it must be a trick, considering that these companies are Evil (tm). Since I knew they would not respond well to me pointing out that they're engaging in the same kind of tinfoil-y conspiracy theorizing they accuse anti-government people of doing, I decided to tack yet again.

Supposing I've been propagandized by these evil companies, I said, why was I susceptible to this propaganda and you were not? Considering that we both had presented ourselves as pretty empirical and rational people up to this point, they thankfully did not make the argument hopeless by declaring me insane. They responded that they really couldn't tell me, as they weren't mind readers. I responded that I knew who could read my mind (myself), and offered the following explanation as to what could possibly incentivize me to believe as I do from a completely pragmatic perspective.

According to the IPCC's own worst-case estimate global warming would result in 37 inches of sea level rise over 100 years. Think about where I live. At the time it was 430 feet above sea level. It's obvious that I would not be directly affected by this; furthermore it would creep up so slowly that I'm sure we'll be able to adapt as a society. In fact, I would likely indirectly benefit due to increased crop yields (plants like CO2, and more ocean means more available humidity for clouds/rain) and higher relative property values (due to less land). The benefits would be even greater for those in high latitudes, as crop growth would be possible even higher than before. This explanation seemed to fit for them, as their general perception of those who "deny" AGW is that of a redneck rural republican.

I then turned the argument around and pondered why it seemed there was elite consensus on the danger of AGW? Well, considering that beachfront property is the most valuable, and hence owned in the largest proportion by the rich this becomes obvious pretty quickly. Furthermore, most refineries, ports and other capital equipment are there (due to 80% of humanity being within 20 miles of a water source, which is usually the coast). I posited that this was a more likely explanation for corporate backing of AGW, including that of the oil companies. Next, I stated that as a result of this agglomeration of humanity, governments would necesarily be anxious about disruption to them; as they want to maximize tax revenues.

I then asked why they think they support AGW, specifically in the context of how that belief benefits them. Almost invariably they said something along the lines of having had it explained to them by some particular friend in an AGW friendly way. Considering all these people's friends were on some kind of government assistance, the incentive structure became immediately clear to me; but I didn't decide to press that. Rather, since they were rather non-religious folk, I asked "Isn't that a bit like giving lip service to god because it makes dinner with family less tense?" They started slithering a bit at that point, and I realized that this was about as far as I was gonna get. Hopefully it was enough to plant the seed of doubt.


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