This is the first in a mini-series of posts about videos that really annoy us. First up – “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See“:
Greg (we almost feel a little bit bad for having a go at someone who describes himself as “A high school science teacher in the process of burning out“[EDIT: especially now that Greg – not Gary – pointed out to us, much more politely than would have been perfectly reasonable, and to our embarrassment, and for which we apologise, that we got his name wrong first try]) presents “inescapable proof” that it is definitely better to “do something” (anything?) about global warming than to “do nothing”. That’s because, if global warming is happening, the consequences of not doing something are too horrible to contemplate, and if it isn’t, then hey, no great harm done. The thing is, this is just a reformulation of the Precautionary Principle, which, as Philip Stott notes, is itself just a reformulation of Blaise Pascal’s famous wager. Stott does a fine job of explaining why Pascal’s Wager (and, therefore, the Precautionary Principle, and Greg) cuts no ice in climate change debates.
We would only add that it is striking that Pascal was arguing the case for believing in something – God – in the absence of proof or evidence. We have pointed out before that once you remove Environmentalism’s scientific fig leaf, all you are left with is an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics. Which is presumably why the video has been received and distributed so enthusiastically. Take out Greg’s sciencey-looking graphs and tables and what remains is an argument for embracing Environmentalism regardless of what science says. It is not science; it is theology – a theology written in the language of science, but which you’re not meant to take too literally or anything.
Hi! This is the guy who made the video. (It’s Greg, by the way, not Gary.) You and your readers might be interested in the follow-up I did to “The Most Terrifying Video,” addressing all of the criticism I received about it, including the Pascal’s Wager thing. It’s called “How It All Ends” and is accompanied by over 7 hours of “expansion pack” videos addressing every single objection, criticism, question, and “You Missed a Spot”s that I came across in reading over 7000 comments about the first video.
It hasn’t gotten nearly the attention that the flawed “Most Terrifying Video” has received, but in the five months since I posted “How It All Ends,” I have yet to come across an objection that I had not already anticipated (and answered, I believe) in the expansion pack. It’s not because I’m smart. It’s because I was freaking thorough.
Anyway, if that sounds like a challenge, it is. If you come up with good counterarguments that I didn’t address in any of the videos, please post them here, and then send me a message on my YouTube account alerting me (wonderingmind42). I’ll come here and perhaps we could have a civil and constructive discussion.
But please please, be aware of my points on confirmation bias, the uncertain nature of science and the role of peer review, credibility of sources, expected value, and especially the principle of falsifiability before you start, because for me, that’s where it all ends up anyway. And we might as well save ourselves some consternation in the journey. Otherwise, I’ll end up only taking the time to say “please watch the videos.”
What it all comes down to for me is asking each other the question: “Yeah, but what if you’re wrong?” With the stakes this high, isn’t it worth a few hours of your time to investigate that question?
Greg Craven (wonderingmind42)
Good God, man — you’re absolutely right. You DO have ALL of the answers. Like the commercial featuring the guy who finished surfing ALL of the internet, you have done ALL of the science and have found ALL of the answers. Finally, the science is indeed settled. Maybe your next project should be to go after that unifying theory thing that no one else can figure out. I’ll alert the media: we’ve found our guy!
Now maybe we can stop funding all that useless “climate research” stuff and start spending the money elsewhere.
So how come Algore got the Nobel Prize and you didn’t? Maybe it’s that name thing, Gary/Greg/whatever, and the committee couldn’t find your address in the phone book to deliver the check.
I have a question for Greg.
Let me preface my question by pointing out some non controversial facts.
Fact one Venus is closer to the Sun, so it has to be hotter.
How much hotter?
A buddy of mine did some quick calculations here.
“Ratio of available solar energy Venus/Earth: 190%
Earth, surface pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 288K
Venus, 50km altitude pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 330K
330K/288K = 114% < 190% Venus, surface pressure: 90,000 mbar; temperature: 735K
Temperature of terrestrial air compressed from 288K/1,000mbar to 90,000mbar: 887K
735K/887K = 82.9% < 190% Far from showing any CO2-induced global warming, Venus is much cooler than expected, likely because of the high-altitude clouds that prevent us from looking at the surface.” So here is my question for you Greg, given that Venus is expected to be hot enough to melt lead, just due to it’s distance from the Sun coupled with it’s atmospheric pressure, why is this point emphasized in text books, science mags, encyclopedias, online journals, and last but not least, by the very NASA scientists whose job it was to collect these uncontroversial facts and present them in an unbiased fashion, as indisputable proof of a “runaway greenhouse effect” on Venus? Did you cover that one in the second video Greg?
I have seen this video before, so I’ll post now what I posted then if you don’t mind!
The seductive power of the video lies in the moment where he claims that he has an argument that does not depend on knowing whether the claims of AGW are true or not: “…an argument where we don’t have to know whether it’s true or not in order to decide what to do” and with which the most “hardened sceptic” can agree.
Yet the argument DOES depend entirely on claims to factual knowledge for its force viz. that the outcome of the north west box is not as bad as that of the south west box. And exactly how are we supposed to know that? Because he says so? When he says “let’s take a look at how those outcomes might look like”, where does he buy his crystal ball?
He seems to think that the risk of an economic downturn is limited. Yet it is generally thought that the depression of the Thirties led to the Second World war and the Holocaust. The same thing now could mean nuclear conflagration. My point is not that it WILL. But how do we know? And if so, why is that less disastrous than the conjectured consequences of worst-case global warming? By the same token why is the vision of global warming so necessarily apocalyptic if true? There would be losers, but there would be winners too.
So without some privileged insight into future consequences you cannot assert a preference for one “box” over another. And as no one has that insight, the argument has no power. It is sophistry.
Pali Gap: You’re totally right, which is why I made “How It All Ends” and its expansion pack. Please watch (not just HIAE, but the pertinent expansion pack vids) and then share your assessment.
Paper Tiger: Before you “pound some bastions of science into dust” with a blogger’s back-of-the-envelope thermo calculations, you might want to look a little bit into the nature of science. You know, complexity, uncertainty, confirmation bias, peer-review. Especially if you’re going to be using it to contradict the statements of the most respected scientific organizations on the planet, like AAAS, NAS, the Royal Society, et al. Cuz–ya’ know–they might already know as much thermo as your friend, and have done the calculations, and have taken them into account with the rest of the picture. But then, who are they to make conclusions about a scientific issue? They don’t even have a blog! (Poor bastards. . .)
Doug: I’ll send all of life’s answers to you if you send me a SASE with $19.99. Of course, you might want to think about how risky that sounds to you, since whenever someone makes a claim (“It’s the end of the world!” “It would be the end of the economy!”), they might be wrong. But then, if you lose $19.99, I guess you can go out and earn it again, can’t you? Good thing it’s not something irreplaceable, that you only get to gamble with once. . . .
Great post: both for the original intent (videos that really annoy us) and for the response by wondermind42, complete with links to the accompanying expansion pack.
Theology is characterized by the fervour of its adherents. Concomitantly, many of environmentalism’s most vocal advocates are blind to its defining ontology, preferring the fig leaf of science as their mantra.
In short: you are not going to convert wondermind42 nor have him see the value in any counter-argument he has already (in his mind) considered and dismissed.
We have been tried and found wanting.
On the flip side, I do both respect and admire Greg for standing up for what he believes and for not hiding behind an anonymous web handle as so many do on the blogoshopere.
We may not agree but we can respect his right to his own opinion and his courage to stand for what he believes.
Okay, I will play. First off, I should probably say that I think wondermind is correct in saying that the focus needs to be taken off the ‘uncertainty’ path and onto the ‘risk management’ path. However, I reject that your solution is in anyway the one with the ‘least’ risk associated with it.
The biggest flaw in your argument is presented about 3:00 minutes into your presentation. (The 2nd video you made- not the first one.)
Most of the objections to your premise attack your portrayal of the upper left and lower right squares, saying that you understated and over-exaggerated each square respectively. In contrast to these people, my major objection is with your lower left square.
Here you state that “we will still have the economic problems of the first option, but we will all be happy because we will have saved our cookies.”
There is a simple problem with that: there is nothing we can do to ‘save our cookies.’
Consider the words of Gerald Meehl, who headed a study for the National Center for Atmospheric Research on the subject:
“Even if we stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, the climate will
continue to warm, and there will be proportionately even more sea level
Even if all industrial pollution and auto emissions
suddenly ceased today, Earth’s climate will warm at least 1 degree by the year 2100 and seas will rise 4 inches (11 centimeters)” 
This view is not restricted to a few fringe scientists. Rather, it has become the mainstream view of the scientific establishment, with the most recent IPCC report stating that global warming was “unequivocal,” even if all CO2 emission were to cease.  While you said in your video “The Solution” that we will be unable to tell when the ‘tipping point’ comes, the vast majority of scientists (assuming that the IPCC represents the world’s scientists) have accepted that the science clearly shows that we have already passed the point of no return in the fight against global warming.
What does this have to do with your grid? It means that, quite simply, all of those things in the ‘bottom right’- be it social, economic, or political upheaval- will still happen in the left quadrant, despite deciding to go with the ‘yes’ column.
Now in terms of risk management, what column is better: column A, in which we either get worldwide economic failure or massive AGW driven ECON/Health/POL/Environmental problems PLUS massive economic failure, or Column B, in which we either get a smiley face or all of the problems I mentioned above MINUS massive economic failure?
If you ask me, Column B is much better choice for both he insurer and the casino manager.
Robert Roy Britt “No Stopping it Now: Sea to Rise 4 Inches or More This Century” LiveScience March 2005
United Nations. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis; Summary for Policy Makers New York: United Nations 2007.
P.S. (My personal view is that we do need to take action climate change, but none of this silly Kyoto-ish stuff that essentially does nothing at all. I am an adaptionist to the core. You can see a more nuanced version of this reply, at my blog HERE.)
Well, he’s basically admitted that his argument that you don’t need to know who’s right to decide is wrong.
At a minimum, you have to have some degree of confidence.
To get that confidence, he runs to the NAS. However, look at what the NAS actually says:
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that the average global surface temperatures will continue to increase between 1.4 centigrade degrees and 5.8 centigrade degrees above 1990 levels, by 2100.”
First, the NAS has left itself plenty of weasel room by attributing the projection to the IPCC. Second, if a temperature rise does occur, and it’s towards the lower end of the projection, there will not be a disaster. We can handle that kind of temperature rise, just as we handled the rise from 1900 to 2000 while human well being improved dramatically over that time period.
The NAS makes no prediction about “tipping points” or the like.
So where does that leave Greg? Back with Pascal’s Wager. Which he admits is a bad argument.
My friends back of the envelope calculation have the advantage over your appeal to authority.
I notice you didn’t answer the question.
I think I pretty much decimated this guy in Grist.org. He fails to recognize that “doing something” about global warming entails a very, very high cost on society. There is a cost involved…a very severe cost to all humanity and economic progress, not to mention freedom.
If this guy is a high school teacher, I shudder to think what type of mathematical ignorance is being unleashed on society…
I did try to watch some of the expansion pack videos, but the download was very slow and my flaky link kept on cutting out part way through. It would be a lot more helpful if you were to put a text transcript somewhere – not only for those without the bandwidth, but also for the sake of easy reference and not having to take notes.
For what it’s worth, I wasn’t convinced. It seemed to me that you were offering a false dilemma in having only two alternatives. But I’ve no idea if you do a greatly expanded matrix elsewhere, so I can’t say more than that.