Semantic drift in the climate debate

Reading some academic literature by warming alarmists on the appropriate way to respond to criticism suggests that we have a shift in the meaning of key concepts in the debate. Cutting to the chase, in this literature the role of human emissions has shifted from “likely one of the causes of warming” in 1988 through “discernible human influence” in 1995 to causing “most of the Earth’s warming” since then.

So the image or the connotation of human-generated CO2 has shifted from “traces of plant food added to the air by human activities that could have some influence on the climate” to “a global emergency that calls for trillions of expenditure to fix although it might be too late.”

The technical term for this kind of thing is semantic drift or shift.

Awful — Originally meant “inspiring wonder (or fear)”, now usually has negative meaning.
Demagogue — Originally meant “a popular leader” from the Greek dēmos “people” + agōgós “leading, guiding”. Now a politician who panders to emotions and prejudice.
Egregious — Originally meaning good from the Latin egregius “illustrious, select”, literally, “standing out from the flock”, now really bad or flagrant.
Gay — Originally meant (13th century) “lighthearted”, “joyous” or (14th century) “bright and showy”, it also came to mean “happy”.
Disinterested, once even handed or objective, now not interested.

In “Climate scepticism and the manufacture of doubt” [Ref below for nerds] we read “Since at least the mid-1990s there has been a consensus that most of the Earth’s warming over the last half a century is likely due to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. In 1988 James Hansen testified [that it is] very likely on one of the causes…In 1995 the IPCC Second Assessment concluded that ‘the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence’…and since that time the debate within the field of climate science [re the dominant contribution of human emissions] has largely been settled”.

Observe the drift from ‘likely one of the causes’ (1988) through ‘discernible’ (IPCC 1995) to ‘most of the Earth’s warming …and debate largely settled’ since that time. Moreover the warming is alarming and it is mostly CO2 that is to blame.

Observe how the drift is propagated by the Reuters report on the 97.4% consensus paper by Cook and others. Incidentally the paper itself, read closely, indicates that most of the climate scientists think like most climate realists, that there has been some warming in recent times and there is a human influence (magnitude of both unspecified).

The Reuters item leads off with a summary paragraph which is the take-home message for busy people. There is a picture that is worth a thousand words as well.

Ninety-seven percent of scientists say global warming is mainly man-made…The report found an overwhelming view among scientists that human activity, led by the use of fossil fuels, was the main cause of rising temperatures in recent decades.

So the perception of warming, embedded in the minds of the alarmists and the MSM, is that it is alarming and overwhelmingly driven by CO2. Despite the fact that the so-often cited Cook paper indicates no such thing even if you take their data at face value and ignore issues about their methods.

Reading the academic commentary it is apparent that the alarming and CO2 driven nature of warming is so entrenched that any different opinion calls for a political or psychological explanation and hence it can be dismissed without serious consideration apart from references to papers out of the “alarm manufacturing industry” that purport to justify the thoroughly discredited hockey stick effect and Al Gore’s flights of fantasy, etc.

Ref. Justin Biddle and Anna Leuschner 2015 “Climate scepticism and the manufacture of doubt: can dissent in science be epistemically detrimental?”, European Journal of Philosophy of Science, 5:261-278.

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21 Responses to Semantic drift in the climate debate

  1. Herodotus

    I think there has also been a drift away from the marvellous economic possibilities that Garnaut and Stern pushed to the current “pay up or else, and stop complaining about the cost”.

  2. MichelLasouris

    Isn’t this just wunnerful? The Americans have just launched a three year satellite costing US$1bn to measure the thickness of the Sea ice north and south as they put it “in this time of global warming” Hasn’t anyone told them that Global Warming is a myth? Or perhaps it is just the end of the excuses to spend our money on junk science projects…..and play with their rockets…..

  3. Sunni Bakchat

    Could we perhaps just substitute the words man and human for “Guilt” and/or “envy”.

    As Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others. When it comes to climate change the same applies to humans.

  4. a happy little debunker

    Try disputing a Global War-mist’s claims.

    Then you’ll know how embedded the sentiment has become.

    Try telling them that the latest drought is not linked to climate change.

    Present them with the hard data from the BOM & they will tell you Tamworth is part of Australia’s Southeast.

    Show them that their ‘Climate councils’ projections DO NOT support their claim that Tamworth is in the South East of Australia – but that the Climate council & the BOM directly refer to Victoria and Tasmania & they will tell you that increased Temperatures a result of ‘global warming’.

    Retort that the purported effects of ‘Global Warming’ is increased night Temperature lows, rather than increased T max & show evidence that the T lows in NSW have been very much below average for the last 3 months (you know, during the drought) and they tell you to stop picking cherries.

    The only evidence they will ever accept is the evidence they want to hear.

    But whatever you do, always confront their crap, whenever you have the opportunity!

  5. ACTOldFart

    There’s another sort of drift, and that is in the name of the crise du jour itself. It started out as The Greenhouse Effect, and that pretty much moved straight to Global Warming, even though the Greenhouse Effect is only one of many factors, both warming and cooling, at work in the Eearth’s atmosphere.

    Then, when little or no significant Global Warming could be found, or was come-and-go at best, the panic button was re-labelled Climate Change. And again, of course, when the various trends of climate change were found to be all over the place and often contradicting each other, the alarmists dreamed up Climate Disruption.

    This last one has to be about the most useless, meaningless and completely unscientific term so far dragged into the debate. What is disruption? How do you measure it? What’s the difference between normal levels of climate variability, and a definite, disruptive trend? Needless to say none of these issues has been addressed, let alone answered to the satisfaction of anyone with any reasoning ability at all. And so the panic mongers, step by step, paint themselves ever further into a corner. Not that you would notice it among all the screeching of the media, politicians, do-gooders, self-servers, third world and other rent seekers, ….

  6. Roger

    I don’t think this is semantic drift.

    I think it is propaganda.

  7. Rusty of Qld

    I,m just a worn out old Plumber with no fancy qualifications but can spot a con job and a quick buck.
    It’s all about the money, nothing else. A scam to make TRILLIONS for the carbon trading partners, read Goldman Sachs and their Australian operative Malcolm Turnbull, why do you think he is in New York.
    Look at his record on Climate Change and his aim stands out like dogs balls!!!
    You’d have to be blind Freddy not to see it.

  8. billie

    The science seems ok, it’s scientists I don’t trust.

    Like anyone else, they have mortgages and bills to pay, children to educate and all that.

    Anytime you hear claims that make you wonder, always consider this:

    cui bono — who benefits? (yes it is a latin phrase typically applied to crime, but perhaps then, it does fit sciences and academia)

    Science practiced by academia has done itself a huge dis-service all in the name of fame, activism and money. It may take a long time to recover.

  9. Fat Tony

    Rusty of Qld
    #2818384, posted on September 17, 2018 at 12:56 pm
    I,m just a worn out old Plumber with no fancy qualifications but can spot a con job and a quick buck.
    It’s all about the money, nothing else. A scam to make TRILLIONS for the carbon trading partners, read Goldman Sachs and their Australian operative Malcolm Turnbull, why do you think he is in New York.
    Look at his record on Climate Change and his aim stands out like dogs balls!!!
    You’d have to be blind Freddy not to see it.

    I’m just a worn out old mech engineer and I agree 100% with what you said.

    A lot of people say “hoax” but I’ve always said “scam” – it’s a better description.

    It’s strange that the likes of Goldman Sachs don’t mind destroying the western economies to get the CAGW dollars. (Classic case of killing the golden goose)

  10. Fat Tony

    billie
    #2818404, posted on September 17, 2018 at 1:41 pm
    The science seems ok, it’s scientists I don’t trust.

    Actually, the “science” is pretty rubbery too.
    Basically projections on computer models, programmed to show carbon dioxide is the debil debil gas.

  11. RobK

    Not only is the science rubbery, the abatement methods and politics is harmful.

  12. Genghis

    The argument is not Warming/Change or Disruption it is the solution. Progressives have imposed Renewable Energy as the only solution and as we all know renewable energy solutions do not work unless you are a very small and terribly rich country. But there is a solution and it is Nuclear Energy but the Progressives will not countenance Nuclear on purely ideological BS. The whole thing is pure stupidity.
    PS The Fuchashima DISASTER claimed its first fatality last week with 4 more cases in the pipeline. 18,000 were killed in the tsunami and many hundreds died in the mass evacuations. The Greens have a terrible price to pay for their ideological madness.

  13. min

    Thinking about the renewable debate , I am wondering why it is ok to burn wood but not ok to burn it when it is really old And if we waited long enough it is also replaceable. Is not coal old plant life.?

  14. Dr zfred Lenin

    Conmen (and women) always have to up the ante on their bullshit stories or the punters get complacent ,like the people with the boy who cried wolf , it’s an occupational nescessity to get the people to believe their crap and keep the money rolling in . Trouble is when the go down this road it always comes to an abrupt end ,be interesting to see where the mongrels go when they hit the brick wall,which will be sooner than they think as power bills bite in ,the people’s revolution is coming soon ,the real people hate “interlekchools “anyway .

  15. Dr Fred Lenin

    Conmen (and women) always have to up the ante on their bullshit stories or the punters get complacent ,like the people with the boy who cried wolf , it’s an occupational nescessity to get the people to believe their crap and keep the money rolling in . Trouble is when the go down this road it always comes to an abrupt end ,be interesting to see where the mongrels go when they hit the brick wall,which will be sooner than they think as power bills bite in ,the people’s revolution is coming soon ,the real people hate “interlekchools “anyway .

  16. Nob

    It’s like every “issue” these days.

    The basic facts don’t change but activists keep harping on that it’s an “issue” until it becomes an issue.
    Changing semantics is just a way of keeping it live.

    They never deal with any of these “issues” – that doesn’t seem to be the point – they just move onto another “issue”.

    The problem is really that we are a wealthy society where a very few productive people produce so much surplus that they can fund an entire idle class of activists and their attendant media.

  17. Nob

    renewable energy solutions do not work unless you are a very small and terribly rich country.

    With large hydro, coal and nuclear electric neighbours (looking at you, Denmark, with your “political electricity”).

    Hydro is counted in renewables when they need a credibility boost, but the same people protesting coal also protest dams.

  18. cohenite

    The Cook paper, the source of the 97% quoted by every greenie, alarmist and spiv including the magic negro, is arguably the most pernicious paper ever written about AGW (anthropogenic global warming). The paper is so bad it’s own facts contradict the 97%. I have looked at Cook et al in detail:

    In Cook’s paper they define the consensus position as being:

    “That humans are causing global warming.”

    That consensus position is defined in their categories by category 1 of Table 2. The rest of Cook’s categories reflect varying degrees of lessor support for AGW [categories 2 and 3], or indifference to AGW [categories 4a and 4b] or active opposition to AGW [categories 5 to 7]. Only Cook’s first 3 categories could be defined as giving support for AGW.

    However, on the basis of the categories 1-3, of the original 11944 Abstracts from papers on climate Cook selected Cook discarded 8048 papers or 67.4% because they had no position.

    Of the remaining 4014 papers or 32.6% of papers 3973 or 99% of the remaining abstracts fell into categories 2 and 3. Only 41 or 1% expressed support for Cook’s definition of the consensus that:

    “Humans are causing global warming.”

    That’s 1% not 97%.

    Cook said he had the authors of the papers rate their papers according to his criteria; about this Cook said:

    “1200 scientists rated their own papers, resulting in over 2000 papers being categorised by the papers’ own authors. Among papers that were self-rated as stating a position on human-caused global warming, 97.2% endorsed the consensus.”

    The author’s self-rating is shown by Table 4 from Cook’s paper. In fact 2142 papers received self-ratings from 1189 authors. Cook’s paper says of those 2142 self-ratings 1342 are described as endorsing AGW. That is confirming the consensus position or category 1 of Cook’s 7 categories. The caption to Table 4 says:

    “Self-rated papers that endorse AGW have an average endorsement rating less than 4.”

    But that would include categories 2 and 3 which are LESS than the consensus position. So the question remains exactly how many self-rated Abstracts actually conform to Cook’s own definition of the consensus as defined only in category 1.

    In addition, the self-referencing shows that 761 scientists have no position on AGW which as the caption to Table 4 says conforms to categories 4a and 4b of Cook’s categories which is 761/2142 X 100 = 35.52%. That is much less than Cook’s paper’s initial selection and discarding of 67.4% of the 11,944 papers because the Abstract had no position on AGW.

    Maybe the only scientists who responded to Cook’s invitation to self-rate were those who initially had a position on AGW. If so 35.52% of them changed their minds from being in categories 1-3 to being in
    categories 4a and 4b!

    Any way you look at this the % actually supporting the consensus, as defined in Cook’s paper, is less than the claimed 97%.

  19. egg_

    What is disruption?

    When Latif’s paper came out in Nature in 2007 saying that there would be up to three decades of cooling of the North Polar ice cap – a “pause” in Global Warming was born.

  20. Chris Harper

    Same thing is happening to the words ‘tolerant’ and ‘tolerance’. They are morphing into synonyms for approval.

    A society tolerant of x, whatever x may be, no longer means accepting x without interference, but now means a society which approves of x.

  21. Herodotus

    Why is the 97% crap still being bandied about? Because nobody in a prominent position, least of all our complicit – and largely uneducated in science – media, will stand up and tell the truth.

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