What we learned this week

  • With another shooting rampage in the news, it’s worth revisiting the history of the second amendment – the constitutional principle that permits gun ownership in the US. It’s a fairly simple law that has become hugely complicated, and its an important story.


  1. Jeremy:

    You interpret the “two kinds of guilt” survey (your link) as showing that “those who are most objectively guilty of environmental damage are less likely to feel bad about it”. But a review of the survey itself demonstrates that that’s an incorrect interpretation.

    It’s a complex survey of behaviour and lifestyles across seventeen countries. And I think your interpretation is probably derived from the finding that, for example, whereas Americans consider themselves least guilty about their environmental impact, Indians feel most guilty.

    But it’s an internet survey. And 80% of Americans have access to the internet compared to 8% of Indians. So it compares the views of the average American with the views of the very far from average Indian. Seventy percent of Indians live on less than $2 per day, largely in rural communities. They don’t respond to internet surveys; they probably haven’t heard of the internet. And questions (to take just a few examples) about the consumption of bottled water, organic products and fast food and about the use of energy efficient light bulbs and recycled paper, would seem to them to be an appallingly bad joke – if they knew what these things were.

    My guess is that this survey – for what it’s worth (probably not very much) – reflects something you and I have discussed before: people in economically developed countries are more environmentally aware and (especially locally) active than are people in developing countries. That’s true of Americans, so not unreasonably they don’t feel guilty. But members of the affluent Indian middle class (i.e. those responding to this survey) are aware of the dreadful levels of pollution etc. in their country, know that not enough is being done about them, despite their own relative wealth, and therefore feel guilty about it.

    Simple really.

    1. PS: I suggested above that this survey is probably not worth very much. I said that because, although it has some merit and interest, its authors plainly had an agenda. For example, whatever is the point of asking respondents (in 2010) about the extent to which they “followed the news about the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen”? (And the finding that 81% of Chinese respondents followed it closely says all you need to know about this survey.)

      Surveys authored by people with an agenda are always of dubious merit. A prime example is the University of Illinois survey of earth scientists of January 2009. I thought I had already explained to you why this is a wholly unprofessional and, frankly, absurd survey. If I did explain why, I am astonished to see that you are still citing it (here: http://makewealthhistory.org/2009/01/23/the-consensus-debate-who-believes-in-global-warming/) as evidence for your claim that 97% of climate scientists say that human activity is causing climate change. That is completely untrue and you’d wise to withdraw it. If I didn’t provide an explanation, I’d be happy to do so.

      1. No, I’m not going to go back and withdraw posts from 3 years ago, and I can live with your ‘astonishment’. I know your arguments, I’ve heard them before. I know the argument about that particular survey.

        You too, have an agenda, and I’m not going to engage with your climate scepticism today.

        1. It’s nothing to do with an agenda. It’s simply that the Doran survey didn’t find that “97% of climate scientists say that human activity is causing climate change”. Making false claims discredits your in many ways admirable site. But if you don’t mind so be it.

          1. BTW, what the Doran paper found is that 77 climate scientists in North America agreed that (a) the world has warmed since the 1700s and (b) mankind contributed. I agree – as would most sceptics.

    2. Sorry, are you suggesting that Americans don’t feel guilty about the environment because they’re all so engaged in positive environmental action? If that’s the case, why is their consumption so high?

      That’s a bizarre and naive interpretation, and it undermines the perfectly valid points you make about the internet sample.

      I don’t want to weigh in in defense of the survey, by the way. I think it’s interesting, I thing Byron’s reflections on it are worthwhile, and it doesn’t go any further than that.

      1. What I said was that “people in economically developed countries are more environmentally aware and (especially locally) active than are people in
        developing countries”. That’s largely true because poor people have to prioritise matters such as their shelter and next meal whereas wealthier people have time for matters such as air pollution and wildlife conservation. That’s why concerns over for example fishing are voiced, studied and actions resourced largely by people in developed economies. It’s especially true of the US. Nothing bizarre or naive about that observation.

        Yes, it’s an interesting, if flawed, survey. At least we can agree about that.

  2. At your prompting, I’ve read the post again and it’s staying exactly the way it is. Here’s the exact wording from Doran’s survey:

    “1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
    2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

    In reply, 76 out of 79 climate change specialists surveyed said yes to the first, 75 out 77 said yes to the second.

    So yes, 97% of the climate change scientists in that survey said that human activity is causing climate change. Not the only cause, not even the main cause, but a cause.

    Do you really think this is completely untrue, and a false claim that discredits my site? Seriously? Or are you just someone who likes to spend their time stirring the mud on climate change because you find it somehow amusing?

    I remember you admitting to the latter before, though obviously not on this site itself, so excuse me if my replies to your comments are somewhat curt.

    1. “Not the only cause, not even the main cause, but a cause.” Come on, Jeremy, that’s being disingenuous: you know your headline conveys the message that human activity is at least the main cause. And that’s misleading.

      Here’s what Doran, commenting on climate scientists, said about his finding:

      “They’re the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you’re likely to believe in global warming and humankind’s contribution to it.”

      That’s a reasonable statement. So here’s a challenge. To avoid any misunderstanding, change your headline to read: “Is human activity contributing to global warming?”

  3. No Robin, I’m not changing it. It is entirely correct to say that human activity is causing climate change, it’s not misquoting the research, and the link is there for anyone to look up for themselves.

  4. I don’t know you jeremy, but you describe yourself, coyly, as:

    “Jeremy Williams is a writer, project developer and freelance journalist. He grew up in Africa and now lives in Luton, UK, where he reads, writes, grows vegetables and plays with his baby boy.”

    Your website is entitled, unselfconsciously as:

    “Make Wealth History
    Because the world can’t afford or lifestyle”

    Like most environmentalists you clearly have no self-awareness at all, your lifestyle is the very epitome of wealth. It is because of the money making activities of the wealthy that you can use the internet to while away the hours when you’re not writing or playing with your baby boy, who, thankfully, isn’t starving because you make enough money writing, project developing and writing for journals to house, clothe and feed your family, that’s wealth beyond the wildest dreams of most people, the ability to please yourself what you do, and it’s on the back of the Western Industrial societies’ wealth creation. There are no countries in the world outside of the this complex that can afford to have citizens sitting at home, playing on their computers and with their babies and not creating wealth. If wealth goes, you’re lifestyle, and those of your children, goes with it.

    BTW Geunier is correct, the project asked 10000+ scientists the same question, 3000+ answered, many of them, rightly, highly critical of the manner and quality of the questions, so the authors decided to reduce the number to those who practiced climate science. That they only got 97% to agree is an achievement, considering if they’d asked sceptics the same two questions they’d have gotten 100% agreement. So the survey was loaded, as many of the scientists pointed out in their responses.

    1. You’re right, I’m immensely wealthy. I’m actually the richest person I know – I realise that sounds facetious, but I mean it. I just measure that wealth in time spent with my little boy, growing vegetables, and indulging my passion for writing. I’m am fully aware of how blessed I am, thank you very much.

      You’re also right that you don’t know me. I presume Robin send you over from Bishop Hill? I suggest you read the About page, the FAQ, and browse a few posts to see what this blog is actually saying before commenting any further. You might also want to check out the commenting guidelines.

      On the survey in question, no, they didn’t reduce the number to climate scientists alone. The 97% figure is just the climate scientists, and there are other subcategories for petroleum geologists, for example. If you’d looked up the original source, rather than getting your information secondhand from climate sceptic websites, you’d know this.

      1. One of the subcategories was meteorologists. You claim that the survey shows that 64% of them think climate change is caused by human activity.

        Well, you may be interested that, early this year (i.e. much more recently than the Duran poll), the American Meteorological Society published the results of a members’ poll about global warming (http://www.climatechangecommunication.org/images/files/AMS_CICCC_Survey_Preliminary_Findings-Final.pdf). Far from perfect, it’s nonetheless one of the best-designed GW surveys so far. It found that, at most (15% are uncertain), 52% agree that GW is happening and is caused mainly by human activity and 33% that GW will be “very harmful” if nothing is done about it.

    2. geronimo:

      Thanks for your support. But I don’t agree “the survey was loaded”. It was however unprofessionally conducted: e.g. its inadequate sample size (79 respondents) and demographic (almost all from the US and Canada). Then the questions are hopelessly ambiguous – see Jeremy’s post at 1.57 PM yesterday. In particular Q1: what does “pre-1800s levels” mean? The average temperature over the previous 4.5 bn years of the planet’s existence? And Q2: what does “significant contributing factor” mean? 5%, 10%, 20% 40% … who knows? These ambiguities make the findings virtually meaningless.

      But that’s not my point. It’s this: at most, the survey found that 97% of North American climate scientists agree that humans made some contribution to changes in mean global temperatures. That’s all. I’m the founder chairman of an online business that researches the opinions of healthcare professionals, mainly doctors. When we started (12 years ago), we soon learned that, when reporting results, it was essential to use the precise words of the questionnaire.

      Jeremy’s headline – Is human activity is causing climate change? – uses different words (the survey mentions neither causation nor climate change). Therefore, it’s misleading.

      It’s Jeremy’s post, not the survey, that’s loaded.

  5. Semantics Robin. You’ve prompted me to look at it again and I’m confident my paraphrase is fair and the post is balanced. Carry on if you wish, but my conscience is clear.

    1. Semantics refers to the logic of meaning – the meaning of a word or sentence. And “Is human activity contributing to changes in mean global temperatures?” (i.e. the words used in the survey) has a different meaning from “Is human activity causing climate change?” (i.e. your words). Therefore, your words are a misrepresentation of the survey.

      Here’s a test.

      Referring to the Duran survey, a group of leading sceptics (including, for example, Professor Richard Lindzen) wrote in a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal: “… the claim of 97% support is deceptive. The [survey] contained trivial polling questions that even we would agree with. Thus, [it found] that large majorities agree that temperatures have increased since 1800 and that human activities have some impact. But what is being disputed is the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming.”

      Do you think they would have written that had the finding been that 97% supported the view that human activity is causing climate change?

      The answer is obvious. So why insist on your wording when it would be so easy to rectify it?

        1. I’ve tried, but you’re not listening. Pity.

          “Something new”? Good plan, it’s a lovely day.

          PS: here’s a thought for you. At present, wind power was contributing 500 MW (1.3%) to the UK’s energy needs. Hmm … “contributing” again: “Not the only provider, not even the main provider, but a provider” as you might say. I suppose you would conclude that wind is providing the UK’s energy needs?

          1. The equivalent phrase would be “wind power is generating electricity”, just like I said “human activity is causing climate change”

            I am listening, I just don’t agree with you.

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