Climate Culture

Those who resist a new culture may call upon the (current) law both to protect themselves and to return fire, so to speak. Yet many will be afraid to if rapidly shifting social norms get to a state whereby this will result in their demonization. We consider this price worthwhile for benign cultural change, but not for unsavory culture, the problem being that we only know the former from the latter with the perspective of history or distant geography, or (too late) of many ultimate victims. The net effect can be hard to assess, for example regarding benign religions that once tortured and suppressed. At any rate this all means that the courts will be one of the main battle-lines, and for a cultural versus evidential scenario this results in the rather ridiculous spectacle of the law attempting to settle a scientific matter, for instance regarding Evolution the Scopes monkey trial, or regarding Climate Change and the rule of Law, Professor Sands’ proposal at a UK legal conference: ‘One of the most important things an international court could do – in my view it’s probably the single most important thing – is to settle the scientific dispute.’ (Sands pdf).

Climate culture doesn’t come up short regarding the above list. A few examples: a) Long record of rights and law being trampled in the name of renewable energy: Pat Swords, b) Gleick, c) Ban Fossil Fuels, Ban Beef?, d) Legal academics: Silence the Skeptics, e) Put fossil fuel CEOs on trial, The RICO 20 letter, f) Lovelock: democracy on hold, or Overridden, g) EPA collusion, Conflicts of interest in Climate Science. Whether any particular cases out of these and many others happen to have some justification or not, isn’t the main point. Such an overarching list of this form is yet another sure symptom of a rising culture, and so the ultimate justification is only an emergent social story. Whatever the state of the opposing skeptic position, this story isn’t truth, it is socially manufactured.

It’s extremely important to note that cultures are emergent phenomena. So while elites will play their (often disproportionate) part, cultures are not ‘ordered from the top’. Much of the pressure on the law comes from self-convinced front-line professionals in the relevant fields, plus grass-roots support from passionate individuals. Even for highly offensive cultures (as perceived now), the self motivation at all levels of a population is well documented3.


Considering how much may be predicted about the climate consensus from one single fact, i.e. it is a culture, this has to be the most important single fact one could possibly know about the climate Consensus. And if this fact isn’t grasped more widely, especially by those in the disciplines that deal with culture, everything we know about culture will have to be learned again within a climate-change specific context, the hard way. Worse, if we don’t choose to exercise our understanding about the phenomenon that is bulldozing its way through our morals and laws and infra-structure, there’ll be little chance to free science from its grip, or mitigate the downsides of its advance, or prevent fundamental cultural change that could never have happened without the stalking horse of science, from going bad on us.


  1. A few I collected for a WUWT post in Feb 2014: UK MP Peter Lilley , blogger John Bell, Michael Crichton via blogger Justice4Rinka [Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am], Richard Lindzen, blogger BetaPug, philosopher Pascal Bruckner, blogger sunshinehours1 [cult], professor Hans Von Storch [prophets], Evangelical skeptics, and the Climate Etc post One Religion is Enough. More recently I noticed Ian Plimer make the same comparison in his new book (h/t Bishop Hill).
  2. The Van Storch quote above is one such.
  3. Two examples I found to be particularly insightful are portrayed in the DVD ‘The Nazis: A warning from history’. The first is revealed by the astonishment of US researchers who worked through the papers of a captured Gestapo regional HQ. They’d expected a huge staff and a population suppressed from the top. What they found was an incredibly small staff and a population that ruled themselves through fear. Earnest letters of denouncement poured into the Gestapo HQ; with most of the job done for them agents merely netted up the worst ‘offenders’. The second is the self motivation of local doctors regarding the killing of disabled children. Armed with sanction from Hitler obtained using the single letter from a father asking to euthanize his disabled baby, chief of the chancellery Philipp Bouhler instigated a pseudo-legal system requiring 3 doctors to fill in a form agreeing to the euthanizing of disabled babies. According to the DVD, the system extended and evolved (lower thresholds, increase from babies to children) over the years largely through actions of the doctors themselves. There was no further instruction from Hitler, and the doctors eventually dispensed with Bouhler’s forms too. They simply decided themselves who to kill, and put ‘measles’ or some such on the death certificate. They thought they were cleansing the race and they wanted to please officials like Bouhler, who wanted what he thought would please Hitler. Within visionary cultural systems that dominate or override the law, schemes with radically different morality can self-establish at frightening speed.
  4. See ‘Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection’ by Peter Godfrey-Smith, section 6.2 .
  5. This WUWT series (1,2,3) describes 4 well-known main bias effects as applicable to climate culture. All references on the underlying mechanisms come from climate advocate sources (to avoid any hint of skeptic leaning). In fact mostly from papers by Lewandowsky and colleagues, before he jumped into the deep end of climate and claims of conspiracy ideation.
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5 Responses to Climate Culture

  1. Michael 2 says:

    This is a main reason I have been following this topic these past few years; witnessing the birth of a new religion. It is quite exciting to watch it come together and coalesce like rocks grinding themselves into a planet.

    It won’t be exactly what anyone wants and yet it will be at least some of what a great many people want, achieving “critical mass”, a vortex perhaps that will continue to exist long after the intiating force is removed.

  2. andywest2012 says:

    Yes, a lot of social inertia has gathered, and seeing its expanding force over the years does have a certain fascination!

  3. Barclay E MacDonald says:

    I read and briefly commented on your post regarding The Denialism Frame at Judith Curry’s on April 21, 2016. Today, May 13, 2016, WUWT has a top post, Breaking: CEI Defeats RICO-20…., which I’m sure you are now aware of.

    It appears there will now be endless, specific data that you may gather in pursuit of your cultural cognition theory as it applies to Climate. The emails released appear to be a virtual treasure trove of examples of culture and its impact on reasoning for even the most intelligent of us homo sapiens. Clearly, objectivity does not track intelligence. In that context this is all very interesting to me.

    I became interested in cognition and how it applies to ideologues, generally, from the neuroscience approach. I have now reviewed your postings at Climate etc. and WUWT and see that I am missing a big piece of the analysis of which I was totally unaware, except on an anecdotal basis.

    I am wondering whether you might be able to recommend a book(s)/reading material on cognitive cognition and how it applies to the world around me, especially as it relates to the creation and actions of ideologues, generally. From Amazon I recently downloaded Culture and Cognition by Walter Brehkus. It is a miserable book to plow through. As an attorney, I have read thousands of mortgages and commercial leases, and even the fine print therein is more lucid and coherent than Mr. Brehkus’ writing. Your recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • andywest2012 says:

      Hi Barclay. I’m not sure I can help, this is a huge topic and my own approach has been synthesized from many works over many years, some of which I can scarcely recall individually now. But the direction I came from is cultural evolution and memetics, which in turn needs some understanding of general evolutionary principles. To understand the big picture of how cultural entities or cults or just strong cultural influence operates, this ‘external social mechanisms looking inwards’ approach is the best way to get the big picture, rather than attempting the opposite approach of ‘individual psychological mechanisms looking outwards’ to culture, which gets bogged down in immense detail and can quickly lose the big picture, albeit this stuff must be doggedly filled in one day. So I haven’t spent much time on the latter. Having said that, and looking at the intro for the book you mention, it is indeed a pre-requisite for cultural evolution and memetics that, as it says, ‘thinking is a distinctly social phenomenon’. A very readable work on this same theme is “Who’s in Charge” by neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga, and especially chapter 5 ‘the social mind’. Much much better than reading mortgage documents anyhow (and I’ve spent a lot of time processing software licenses, which I’m sure are similarly dull). But even accepting the principle of ‘the social mind’ at first hand, doesn’t tell you how strong cultural influence and cultural entities actually work. For that, you still need the evolutionary principles mentioned above for the big picture (and rafts of other stuff like particular bias mechanisms etc), all of which point not to dishonesty or conspiracy or hoax or whatever, but to emergent behaviors that have been with us from prehistory due to their selective advantages.

      • Barclay E MacDonald says:

        Your response is appreciated! Recommendation looks excellent! I am familiar with the author and look forward to actually reading one of his books! I will continue to follow you with interest. You obviously have me moving in the right direction.

        Thank you,


        Sent from Barclay’s IPad


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