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Home | 2016 | November

Climate cognitive dissonance

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2016-11-07 17:06. Updated on UTC 2016-11-10

The cult

A puzzling characteristic of the orthodoxy of belief in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) is its ability to survive contradictory reality.

  • The current state of scientific theory about the effect of carbon dioxide on global temperatures is that the temperature rise caused by a doubling of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be tiny – scarcely measurable, in fact. As we have pointed out pointlessly elsewhere, this fact alone should destroy all belief in CAGW. There really should be nothing more to discuss.
  • Over about the last 20 years the global temperature trend as measured by satellite data has been as good as flat. The latest El Niño created a small blip, which is now being ironed out as temperatures fall once more. There has been no CAGW. Consequently all talk of increased or decreased hurricane activity, storms, rainfall, drought, polar winds, polar ice, glaciers and so on is complete fantasy. Not only have there been no changes in the frequency or strength of any of these phenomena, there hasn't been any warming to cause these effects in the first place.
  • The global temperature predictions produced by climate models – from which most of the alarmism has been derived – are completely wrong. The models all run hot (which is how they have been designed, after all) and their predictions differ wildly from measured temperatures.
  • All the frights – for example, no more snow, droughts, floods and an ice-free arctic – that were announced with grave conviction at the end of the 20th century have proved in the 21st to be completely unfounded.

Yet still the orthodoxy keeps going. The believers in the orthodoxy present themselves as clear, rational, scientific thinkers, deeply concerned for the future of mankind. The sceptics are branded deniers and considered to be dim, dangerous, swivel-eyed lunatics who are in thrall to various vested interests. Many media outlets have a policy of not allowing these lunatics any airtime at all to spread their dangerous nonsense.

However, the facts are clear: there hasn't been any CAGW and in any rational view of the matter there isn't going to be any CAGW. Yet why do so many people whom one would expect to know better still cling to this discredited theory?

A possible explanation might be found in the social psychologist Leon Festinger's famous theory of cognitive dissonance. [1] Festinger and his team infiltrated an end-of-the-world cult and observed what happened when its expectations and prophecies turned out to be false. There are considerable problems of methodology in Festinger's use of 'participant observers': it is difficult to see how the investigators posing as members of the cult could avoid influencing the behavioiur of the group as a whole. But if we bear that caveat in mind the more general conclusions of the study are still interesting.

The members of the cult gathered on 20 December 1954 in the expectation that a visitor from outer space would arrive to escort them to a waiting UFO, which would then leave with them, saving them from the impending destruction of the Earth. In other words, on the one hand we have the 'normal' world, which expected life to continue as 'normal'; on the other a quasi-religious cult, the members of which, on no scientific evidence whatsoever, expected the world to come to an end on a particular date.

Festinger and his team were not so much interested in the beliefs of the cult as in the reactions of the members of the cult when the prophecy arising from those beliefs was not fulfilled. No alien rescuer in a spaceship turned up and, fortunately for the non-believers, life on earth was not destroyed. Festinger opened his book about the event as follows:

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

Whereas the scientifically objective person would consider the failed prophecy as invalidating the beliefs behind it, the cult believer is so invested in the belief that he or she suffers from 'cognitive dissonance': on the one hand there is the belief and on the other hand its predictive failure.

Festinger found that the cult member finds various ways of removing this unpleasant dissonance by developing the belief further, as well as finding various ways of explaining the result away. The main explanation for the failure of the prediction in this case was that the preparations made by the group itself had pacified the God of Earth, who had now decided not to destroy mankind after all. In terms of CAGW theory, much amusement can be had from considering the many conflicting excuses put forward to explain the so-called 'pause' in the increase in global temperatures over the last 20 years.

We are not surprised to learn that the more invested the members of the cult are in their beliefs, the more likely it is that some dissonant event such as a failed prediction will actually cause them to double down on their faith: it becomes stronger and even more resistent to the operation of reason and even more closed to the acceptance of empirical facts.

Here is Festinger's summary [Festinger p. 4.] of the factors that were important in dealing with cognitive dissonance. All of these factors can equally be applied to the members of the CAGW cult.

  1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves. [E.g. belief in CAGW, man as the enemy of the Earth, the horror of 'emissions', unplugging an idle phone charger etc.]
  2. The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief. [E.g. climate researcher, renewable energy owner, proud owner of solar panel on roof, idiot politician.]
  3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief. [E.g. model predictions, arctic ice measurements, severe weather statistics, climate sensitivity calculations.]
  4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief. The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must, therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.
  5. The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct. [E.g. IPCC, learned societies, research groups, governments, media, each referring to the authority of the other.]

Festinger's cult group failed to proselytise effectively:

They were unskillful proselyters. It is interesting to speculate, however, on what they might have made of their opportunities had they been more effective apostles. For about a week they were headline news throughout the nation. Their ideas were not without popular appeal, and they received hundreds of visitors, telephone calls, and letters from seriously interested citizens, as well as offers of money (which they invariably refused). Events conspired to offer them a truly magnificent opportunity to grow in numbers. Had they been more effective, disconfirmation might have portended the beginning, not the end.
[Festinger p. 232f.]

For CAGW the alien in the spaceship never turned up, doom never came and looks less like coming with every passing year. Human activity has not warmed the earth in any appreciable way. Our weather is much as it was decades ago. When will the cult members change their minds? Will they just keep on proselytising even harder? Perhaps holding yet another conference might help to pacify the God of Earth.

CAGW-ers playing with their models: their jobs depend on it

Always remember: CAGW fans make up the crazed cult and we sceptics are the sane ones. They may be a big cult, but that doesn't make them sane.


  1. ^ Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1956.

Update 08.11.2016

The pointless climate conference in Marrakesh started yesterday. The consequence is that cult members from around the world are bombarding us in a coordinated action with reports of imminent doom.

A compliant and sensation-hungry media sprays this nonsense unthinkingly at us. There has so far been no mention of aliens in spaceships, but the general detachment from reality is of the same order. For completeness we really ought to do a review of these, but our stomachs are just not strong enough to deal with these ravings in such quantities.

We read, for example, that average sea-levels will rise by more than a metre… er, if the average global temperature rises by 5°C – a value that even the IPCC considers to be a bit of an outlier in all the model forecasts.

We in Switzerland have been singled out for special treatment: we have to digest a wild-eyed, 200 page report prepared by 115 climate researchers and 'assessors'. Apparently, poor little Switzerland is affected twice as badly by 'climate change' as other countries are: floods, droughts, landslides, snow shortage, retreating glaciers. We will have to get used to Mediterranean temperature levels. We must change our disgusting habits of commuting, travelling, eating, drinking and our use of energy. We are told that we are subsidising fossil energy which is making it too cheap. Electrical energy should cost much more, which will then reduce consumption and make renewable energy competitive.

Update 09.11.2016

Not only is the wicked carbon dioxide not in any demonstrable way causing temperatures to rise, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not rising as much as it 'should' (i.e. according to models). As extra carbon dioxide causes the greening of the world, the extra plant life gobbles up gratefully that essential plant food. This finding will naturally disappoint the members of the cult, squatting in their bunker, but will make sane people very happy – happy plants, happy people.

Update 09.11.2016

Examples of the CAGW cult's resistance to reality pop up each day that goes by without the alien in the spaceship arriving, for example this from Dr David Whitehouse, GWPF Science Editor:

For some the prospect of global cooling is a problem, especially for those who see the well-established change in the behaviour of global temperatures after around the turn of the century as a powerful “weapon” used by “sceptics” to cast doubt on climate science. But these sceptics were talking about real, emerging climate science in a way that was resisted by many of the more publicly visible scientists who had failed to adapt to the facts. The so-called “pause” – which is obvious prior to the recent El Nino – signaled a growing appreciation of decadal climatic variations. It provided an important step for understanding what was going on. Frankly, those individuals and organisations who a decade or so ago spoke of a clear and strong signal of global warming and imminent rapid temperature rise, have had to change their tune, and in some cases try to rewrite history by now saying they always knew what was going on.

Update 10.11.2016

The Swiss Meteorological Office employs a large number of climate cultists (the condition of their being hired), but there are still meteorologists there who are impressively honest, despite the serious cognitive dissonance there must be around the office water-coolers.

For the last few days the Swiss nerve centre of the Figures of Speech global empire has been surrounded by cold, white stuff – you know, the stuff that we were told 15 years ago that we would never see again. In the grumpy minds of the locals this white stuff is expected and welcomed around the beginning of December, earlier than that it is just a nuisance, later the skiing is at risk. So how unusual is this? The Swiss Met Office is used to Swiss grumbling about the weather and published an analysis (in German) almost immediately after the first flake hit the ground. The Swiss grumble as much as the British do, but much less politely – unusual weather events are taken as shameful administrative failures. Here is the chart:

MeteoSchweiz: The First Snow of the Year

The First Snow of the Year (depth 1 cm or greater) in Zurich, 1931-2015, measured in days after 1 January. The red horizontal line marks the beginning of winter on 1 December, that is, 335 days. Image ©MeteoSchweiz.

Let us really respect these meteorologists, who are by training and inclination 'data people'. Their analysis of this chart is an object lesson on how to cope with CAGW cognitive dissonance:

The measurements available digitally of the earliest snow covering display large variations from year to year. With the general warming in recent decades a tendency to an ever later date for the first snow cover could be expected. Such a trend is not initially apparent in the source data.