Climate Science, Ethics and Religion

Thanks to an insightful post at Climate Scepticism (here), we have a recent quote from former US President Obama:

“You have to believe in facts. Without facts there’s no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate…I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us it is.”

This statement is the starting point for that poster to explore ways that even the most accomplished scientists have in the past shared beliefs that were valid only as fashionable at the time.  In this post, I want to consider first why a lawyer like Obama gets science wrong, and secondly to consider the moral and religious confusion regarding our climate.

Science is Trial And Error, not Case Law

In the legal world, cases are judged and rulings become precedent for later cases that arise.  Thus principles become established, settled facts for jurists to follow.  Scientists operate in a different world, one where experiments provide evidence that an assumption successfully predicts how things work in nature.  But that premise can be overturned by subsequent experiments, so scientific laws are always tentative.

In short, lawyers proceed by deduction, going from the accepted generality to the particular instance.  Scientists refer to generalities, but induction is their primary method of discovery.  Science proceeds from the particular to arrive at general conclusions, sometimes overturning a previous generality.

A previous post Degrees of Climate Truth was based upon work by Andy May in discussing how climate assertions can be seen in various stages of development toward scientific truth.


In Table 1 we can see that the comparison of man-made climate change and the possibility of a man-made climate catastrophe are not really comparable to the theories of gravity and evolution. Man-made climate change is more than an idea, it is based on some observations and reasonable models of the process have been developed and can be tested. But, none of the models have successfully predicted any climatic events. Thus, they are still a work-in-progress and not admissible as evidence supporting a scientific theory.

Ethical and Religious Dimensions

Climate assertions come from people based on moral and religious frameworks.

This post is background to exploring the ethical and religious dimensions of the climate change movement. It is also important to recognize the human journey regarding morality.

Moral Models

The ethic of Good vs. Evil is a teleological paradigm, going all the way back to Plato, but still a reference for some today. This model asserts that values can be determined as eternal truths, applicable in all times and places.

Most people have moved to an ethic of Right vs. Wrong, a legal paradigm. Here morality is relative to a society that determines what is morally acceptable or not. And of course, there are variations both among different places, and within a single society over time.

Modern ethics has taken an additional step to an ethic of Responsibility vs. Irresponsibility, a contextual paradigm. Now moral behavior seeks the largest possible context: “the greatest good for the greatest number.” This can lead to some strange choices, such as suicide bombers or pro-life advocates who justify murdering abortion clinic doctors.  The perversion arises when an actor excludes some living things, or whole classes of creatures from the context of responsibility.

Summary: Climate Morality

Some climate activists/alarmists are operating with a good vs. evil model, in which their understanding of good separates people into sheep and goats.  Describing others as “deniers” shows this clearly.  And in the recent US senate supreme court nomination hearings we have an additional stark reminder that members of even advanced societies can seek to disqualify others as human beings, not simply block them from positions of responsibility.

Obama is clearly operating in the right vs. wrong model, as expected given his legalistic education.  Since laws and legal principles are relative to a social framework and heritage, social proof is all that is required for him to accept climate assertions as true.  At the same time, that mentality requires dismissing and demeaning the viewpoints contrary to the consensus. Such tribalism is contrary to scientific discourse, and in the extreme case like Rwanda the others can be considered “cockroaches” and exterminated.

It should be clear that when climate alarmists appeal to saving the planet for future generations, they are applying contextual ethics. Less obvious is the ancient religious notion that by making sacrifices, we humans can assure more favorable weather. These days, fossil fuels have become the sacrificial lamb required by Mother Nature to play nice with human beings.  In the past, people made images and worshiped them, thinking that they could control nature in that way.  These days, we make computer models whose projections are sure to scare the bejesus out of us.

See also: What’s wrong with the legal brief on climate change Facts Omitted by Climatists




  1. oiltranslator · October 7

    HL Mencken, whom Ayn Rand worshipped, used right and wrong to strip error of its mystical baggage in the 1930s. Virtue ethics has progressed greatly since that time.


  2. oiltranslator · October 7

    To debunk the consensus claim: suppose 97% having science degrees are Global Warming Millerites. Then if the 31000+ who signed the Petition Project are the only scientists unconvinced (the 3%), simple algebra shows that Millerites with at least a BS would have to number 5x the combined memberships of the APS and American Chemical Society to add up to the mythical 97%. If we plug in the number of IPCC signers who are Global Warming Millerites as God’s Punishment of Mankind, add Gavin and Schmidt to make an even 20 as the 97%, the 3% thought-criminals add up to less than one single scientist. Their junior high arithmetic fails utterly, so what am I to surmise about their curve-fitting calculus?


  3. manicbeancounter · October 7

    You have something here, but have not fully fleshed out the argument.  Maybe I can add a couple of thoughts. Consider

    Some climate activists/alarmists are operating with a good vs. evil model … Describing others as “deniers”.

    The “good vs. evil model”, is on absolute values. The wikipedia entry on “Climate change denial” is relating the denial to the climate consensus – what people believe are absolute relevant facts. In so far as values are absolute, it is very much unstated and unrelated to those facts. A belief that some of past warming is human caused, or that academics believe / assume the greenhouse effect is true, is far from sufficient justify unworkable policies to combat prospective CAGW.
    In terms of legal Right vs. Wrong, Obama (and others like Bernie Sanders) refer to precedent, but are not able to case(s) where the points have been disputed and judged based on all the relevant matters. A clearly false foundation for inferred precedent can only be maintained by shutting out those with counter arguments, or not allowing the counter arguments to be put, and then the case judged, “on a level playing field”.
    The “social proof” used in other fields would not be unacceptable – race or sex or religion – so why on the political response to CAGW?


    • Ron Clutz · October 7

      Manic, thanks for adding those points. A better value example is the environmental paradigm of the Garden of Eden. Some believe protecting nature is a higher value than human civilization and they bet the farm on global warming being the cause to bring down industrial societies. Of course, they ignore the fact modern societies put far less stress on the biosphere than do underdeveloped ones.

      This values position came out in Scott Pruitt’s EPA hearing when he asserted that supporting development does not mean you are against the environment, and vice versa. He was scolded for not putting nature first, and eventually was driven from office (his own missteps used against him).

      Another example is all of the environmental virtue signaling (banning plastics, drivings evs, donating to save polar bears, etc.), which have no actual impact except for the sanctimonious demonstrators.

      On your second point, legal decision making relies upon an adversarial process. Proponents make their case, and dissidents make theirs. The verdict is rendered by judges, or juries, or in the court of public opinion. But when, as Dr. Bernaerts notes below, basic terms are not even defined, the issue is not joined. And if dissidents are silenced, then only one side is heard, along with only those facts supporting one POV. I linked to a post where I point out facts omitted in a legal brief supporting a case claiming damages from “climate change.”


  4. ArndB · October 7

    Comment to „I want to consider first why a lawyer like Obama gets science wrong”.

    RE: Obama’s big mistake (as many other people as well), that they use a term “Climate” which is an empty shell.. Average weather is mere statistics, and all ‘weather items” cover many dozen. According the very comprehensive Glossary of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) the weather issue is broken down to:
    • The “present weather” table consists of 100 possible conditions,
    • with 10 possibilities for “past weather”, while
    • Popularly, weather is thought of in terms of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind.
    AMS-Glossary is silent on “future weather”, the nonsense get a face. (More here: )
    Voltaire (1694 – 1778) was not a lawyer but he put it nicely: “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” More here:

    Comment to „These days, we make computer models whose projections are sure to scare the bejesus out of us.”

    RE: The matter was briefly discussed together with the previous topic on climate definition. An excerpt here after:
    “For climate models one need primarily ocean data. Tennekes himself was hardly aware what that actually means, when he wrote the essay: “Karl Popper and the accountability of numerical Weather forecasting” (in: Weather, Vol. 47, p.342-6, 1992):
    • “Popper’s interest in predictability…in meteorological terms, a perfect model of the atmosphere, initialized with perfect data from an observation network of infinitive resolution, and run on an infinitely powerful computer, should in principle produce a perfect forecast with an unlimited range of validity”.

    Popper understands the problem of modeling perfectly. But if he restricts the problem to the atmosphere he is lost to forecast weather and climate over more than a few weeks.”
    Reference as above:

    Best regards


    • Ron Clutz · October 7

      Thanks Arnd. How often do we hear “Climate change is real.”, the ultimate fact-free utterance.


  5. Michael A. Lewis · October 8

    “Some believe protecting nature is a higher value than human civilization and they bet the farm on global warming being the cause to bring down industrial societies. Of course, they ignore the fact modern societies put far less stress on the biosphere than do underdeveloped ones.”

    I disagree with these statements almost totally!

    The first sentence assumes that humans are separate from nature and we must protect nature from ourselves. This is not a belief, but a statement of scientific fact. Humans are a part of nature as much as anything else in the Universe. Protecting nature is protecting ourselves. I don’t know anyone who looks to global warming to bring down industrial societies. Humans are doing a good job of that on our own, with no help from climate variation.

    I take great exception to the claim that “modern societies put far less stress on the biosphere than do underdeveloped ones,” on two counts.

    I bridle at the concept of “underdeveloped societies,” which is a value judgement, not a rational assessment of the intrinsic worth of society not part of the global economy and “civilization.”

    I’ve lived in “underdeveloped societies” and in our modern (sic) society, where I studied and compared stresses on the biosphere in both settings, as the subject of my doctoral studies in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

    The suggestion that industrial societies put less stress on the biosphere than non-industrial societies is laughably absurd! Non-industrial societies do not do strip mines, mountain-top removal, nuclear waste pollution, mono-crop agriculture, clear-cutting, high altitude aircraft pollution, ocean wildlife mining, synthetic fertilizers, billions of acres of cement and asphalt paving, towers of glass and steel, burgeoning landfills, oil pipelines, supertankers and billions of tailpipes spewing air pollution.

    This is not to suggest that we must live as the Native people of Alaska live. We must find our own way to a life in keeping with the fact-based realities of climate and energy resource variability, and not strive for a fantasy life that is incompatible with those realities.


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