Sorry climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters, reality bites

Businessman with head stuck in sand at the beach

What do climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters all have in common?

They are desperate to recuse themselves from reality, but reality bites.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Climate deniers and anti-vaxxers chortle with delight when they place their collective heads in the sand; their joy comes from recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.[/pullquote]

Politicians in the state of Florida banned the use of the words “climate change” in official documents from its Department of Environmental Protection:

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting…

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ ” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

That is about as effective as King Canute’s command to stop the tides.

Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'”

Even back in the 11th Century, Canute realized that reality bites. No amount of commanding the tides was effective in stopping them just as no amount of banning the words climate change is going to stop large amounts of Florida from being claimed by rising sea levels.

So what’s going on here?

A disconnect between its political choices and climate reality is all too familiar in the Sunshine State. Florida’s newly re-elected U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, and its two-term governor, Rick Scott, are both climate-change dodgers. They shrug off the science that indicates 1 in 8 houses in their state will be lost to rising seas by the end of the century…

Meanwhile, an octopus swam into a Miami Beach parking garage in November during one of the city’s periodic “sunny day floods.” Massive sewer spills are poisoning Tampa Bay as local storms worsen. And beaches and shoreline are rapidly disappearing along the southeast Atlantic coast, where sea level rise is accelerating from 8 inches over the last century to a conservatively projected 3 feet by the end of this one…

Many Floridians imagine they can recuse themselves from the reality of climate change, but reality bites.

Anti-vaxxers in Italy have promoted fears about vaccination claiming (with no scientific evidence) that the risks outweigh the benefits because vaccines don’t work and the diseases they prevent aren’t so bad anyway.

But:

In an update on the measles outbreak in Italy, since the beginning of the year through the end of April, 1,920 cases have been reported, according to Italian health officials.

One-third of the cases had at least one complication with diarrhea, stomatitis, conjunctivitis and pneumonia being the most common.

Nine out of 10 cases were fully unvaccinated and 176 cases were reported among health care workers and some nosocomial outbreaks have been reported…

Anti-vaxxers imagined they could recuse themselves from the reality of vaccine preventable disease, but reality bites.

Donald Trump is the apotheosis of recusing yourself from reality. He constantly vomits forth a barrage of lies, nearly all of which involve simple, but wrong explanations for complex problems and advocate simple, but wrong solutions that will never work. Trump is hardly alone. Brexit supporters in the UK, as well as Le Pen supporters in France also subscribe to the belief that they can change reality by pretending it doesn’t exist.

There has been a lot of discussion about the reason for the resurgence of alt right populism. Many have pointed out that a lack of education is a key factor. In my view, that’s probably just a proxy for the real difference. Most voters accept reality even when it is unpleasant; alt right voters insist on recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.

It’s almost as if climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters are engaging in a massive game of “hide and seek.” Babies chortle with delight when they play because they believe that when they cannot see you, you cease to exist. The joy comes from the “power” of making things disappear. Climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters chortle with delight when they place their collective heads in the sand; their joy comes from recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.

Why do some people imagine that they can recuse themselves from reality? Because social media enables them to do so. Facebook and Twitter (as well as old fashioned cable news) has allowed them create a carefully curated faux “reality” and then lash out at those who dare to point out that it isn’t reality at all. The rise of climate denial, anti-vax, and alt right populism reflect the effort to force that faux “reality” down others’ throats often through the power of the ballot box.

But as King Canute demonstrated 1000 years ago, such efforts are doomed to failure. The only remaining issue is how long it will take (and how many people will be harmed in the process) for those angrily recusing themselves from reality to acknowledge that reality bites.

  • John Doe

    What a ridiculous article. Climate change and vaccinations are objective science but political orientation is not. Being an “Alt-right supporter” cannot and will not ever be in the same league here. You could just as easily call out liberals, socialists or anyone else n this manner and it would be equally baseless.

  • Jnny

    It boggles my mind how such excellent, clear-eyed,
    pro-science bloggers such as you and Phil Plait have accepted the pseudoscience
    claims of climate modelers. In a nutshell, computer modeling is not science.
    Let’s put this in terms you might understand from your experience, Dr. Tuteur.
    Let’s say I told you I’ve made a computer model of the human body, using
    muscles, nerves, organs, and circulatory systems. Then I put the model through
    a treadmill routine, and told you from that, I could predict the blood pressure
    and velocity anywhere in the body, to a decimal place, of a real human doing
    the same routine. If you are smart, you’d say I’m nuts. There are too many
    variables, unknowns and unmodeled components to make such a statement. And yet
    the climate modelers are making such outlandish claims of precision with models
    of systems that are orders of magnitude more complex than my example. Models
    are tools, they help improve our understanding of science. They are not
    science.

    I’ve done modeling of complex, chaotic systems. Nothing on
    the scale of global climate, but complex enough to eat up weeks of
    supercomputing time for each round of evaluation. I could pretty much get my
    models to give any results I wanted when I first put them together. This was because
    I needed to make assumptions to fill in the gaps of what could not be explicitly
    modeled. It was only when I did the hard work of correlating my models to real
    world measurements did they start to produce results that I could use to make
    predictions for real world changes. Since we have only one globe, we can only
    correlate the global climate models to yesterday’s measurements. In the short
    history with climate models the correlation has consistently been that the models
    predict much higher temperatures than what is observed. We certainly cannot be
    confident on results 50 years out, because we can only rely on the biases of
    the folks doing the model construction for that.

    Do I want us to do better on global pollution? Yes. Do I
    want to see us shift away from fossil fuels? Yes, there are many other benefits
    that come from that. Do I want us to shred our global economy to avoid the
    scenario predicted by climate models, hell no. But that is what we are being
    asked to do.

    • Nick Sanders

      Yeah, climate modeling claims nothing near such absurd precision. That said, what we can model is fairly decent, and quite concerning. It’s also somewhat irrelevant, as we don’t need modeling of the future to look at what has happened and is happening now. Temperatures are rising, weather patterns and the ecosystems that depend on them are being disrupted, and a mass extinction is underway.

      Side note, what the hell is up with your formatting?

      • Melaniexxxx

        He’s obviously copied and pasted it from a document he has elsewhere – talking about himself and how bad he is at modelling and using that to attack climate science must be a hobby for him

        • Jnny

          Sorry, copied from a Word doc. I’m actually quite good at modeling. Also smart enough to know that what I do cannot be called science. I’m another tool in the scientist toolbox like an electron microscope or a spectroscopy machine

    • Poogles

      “how did the models do? Amazingly well. From 1970 through 2005, the models on average showed a warming of 0.41 Watts per square meter and from 1992-2005 the models gave 0.77 Watts per meter squared. This means that since 1992, the models have been within 3 % of the measurements. In my mind, this agreement is the strongest vindication of the models ever found, and in fact, in our study we suggest that matches between climate models and ocean warming should be a major test of the models.”
      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/27/climate-models-are-accurately-predicting-ocean-and-global-warming

    • Do I want us to shred our global economy to avoid the
      scenario predicted by climate models

      No one is asking for anyone to do that. A carbon tax, like a tax on the pollutants that cause acid rain, wouldn’t destroy the economy. It would be a market-based solution to a huge problem. We’re probably past the point where we can stop at anything that non-disruptive, but it was a good option at one point, and it’s still a good option if combined with other carbon-capture and decreased pollution options.

      • Roadstergal

        Helz, just not giving tax breaks to fossil fuel companies would be a good start!

      • Jnny

        Carbon taxes can be absorbed by wealthy nations. What about the poor nations who contribute so much carbon to the atmosphere?

        • swbarnes2

          What about them? First World nations got the lion’s share of the benefit from the Industrial Revolution, why shouldn’t we pay the lion’s share of the cost?

          Paying for things that cost money is not optional for responsible people. Dealing with the repercussions of climate change is going to cost money. A carbon tax is just paying the cost of polluting.

          • Jnny

            Logically, that makes sense, since we’ve shipped out dirtiest industries overseas, but can it be achieved politically? I’m incredibly skeptical.

        • The vast majority of carbon pollution still occurs in wealthy countries, so it makes sense we would pay a lot more.

    • Squirrelly

      How does regulating fossil fuels and carbon emissions shred the global economy?

      You say you are for shifting to clean energy and reducing pollution, but what is the incentive for companies to do better?

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        Fossil fuels being such infinite resources

      • Dr Kitty

        The global economy managed without plastics, oil and gasoline for a long time.
        There would need to be a restructuring of the economy if we move away from oil, and there would be economic losers in that scenario, but that isn’t really a great reason not to do it.

        The economic impact of rising sea levels, worsening cyclones, tsunamis, tornados and earthquakes and worsening air and water pollution won’t exactly be small potatoes either.

        • Azuran

          And lets not forget that there will also be economic winners. It would just be a shift toward different technology, which happens in basically every industry all the time.

        • Jnny

          What you call restructuring, I call shredding. We would literally have to go back to a pre-industrial age to get to the carbon levels the models call safe. Much as I love green energy, none of it is available enough or even close to cheap enough to replace our current global carbon-based energy usage. Unless some magic bullet technology we don’t have today come to the fore, the best we can hope for is a hold fast. But we are literally condemning the poorest of the globe to be stuck in poverty.

          • Solar and wind are actually price-competitive with fossil fuels now, and are getting cheaper over time. So yeah, actually, we can go to green energy for most things. We still need fossil fuels for plastics and some things, but for mass energy generation, we really don’t. We just have to spend the money to invest in them, and also to update our grid to handle the non-smooth generation that comes from solar and wind.

            Of course, that’s not fast, so we can’t do it this instant, but we can certainly move towards it! Even holding fast would be a huge improvement over where we are now.

          • Jnny

            Solar and wind are not competitive with fossil fuels today, without government subsidies. My last employer makes some of the most efficient solar cells in the world, and we don’t use them for any but our remotest sites. Solar is about 20-40% more expensive and wind is about 50 to 70% more. The good news is solar prices keep trending down, and we will get there eventually. The bad news is wind will never get there unless fossil fuels become precious. There is no downward trend in wind prices. Generating availability sucks in all but a few key geographies. And the maintenance is a nightmare. Don’t discount the NIMBYs either. My point is solar and wind numbers work when the government kicks in a dosh. But what are we to do with the third-world countries that can’t afford to kick in? Are the wealthy western countries going to start cross border subsidies?

          • Nick Sanders

            Why not? There’s cross-border hazards, so it’s only sensible that we protect our interests.

          • Solar and wind get a lot less subsidies than gas and oil do, and they’re still competitive. I’m okay to yank all the subsidies and let the market decide- oil and gas will lose that one.

            Don’t forget that Germany gets 100% of its power from solar, wind, and nuclear. Nuclear counts as renewable, clean energy too. Also note that developing countries don’t get coal power plants without government subsidies either, so don’t even try that one. There’s going to be subsidies either way, so why not focus the subsidies on new, cleaner energy generation anyways?

          • Jnny

            As for subsidies, which country are you talking about? In the USA oil is about 5%. I don’t have any info on gas subsidies. Some countries do grant crazy levels of subsidy to their fossil fuels. Sorry, but at today’s fuel prices, solar and wind still lose by a lot in the USA.

            Germany’s power markets are in trouble too. Prices are going up faster than the rest of the world.

            I’m a huge nuclear fan, but it is another nearly impossible sale politically between NIMBYs and the unscientific fear-mongering of environmentalists.

          • And all the tax breaks? The super-cheap land leases? The capital depreciation for very expensive oil rigs? Those are subsidies too, you know. You’re not taking into account ALL the money we throw at fossil fuels.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I boggles my mind that you think you understand what’s happening better than actual climate scientists. What are your qualifications to opine on the subject?

      • Jnny

        I’m a professional modeler. Done it my entire career. Based on what I’ve been able to uncover, these climate scientists have never hired a professional modeler and have just stumbled and bumble into the current modeled mess they are in.

        • Azuran

          You are a modeler, not a climate scientist. I’m still going to believe the informed opinion of basically over 95% of climate scientist over yours.
          How would you ever actually know that no climate scientist, ever, in the entire world, has hired a professional modeler?
          And even there, my SO just finished his master, for which he made a prediction model for water flow on a specific river depending on the weather. He’s no professional modeler, yet his model still works.

        • MaineJen

          Do you model gloves or shoes?

          (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

          • Jnny

            Someone as unlovely as me is only qualified to be a hand model. 🙂

        • Amy Tuteur, MD

          In other words, you have no qualifications in climate science. I thought so.

        • Mel

          Let me make the request more clear:

          I’ve never met anyone in science or math fields who described themselves as a “professional modeler”.

          Please tell us some more details of what you do: what is your field(s) of education and training, what are your main areas of research and which types of modeling have you worked in before.

          • Roadstergal

            Yeah, the modeling pros ’round here don’t call themselves ‘modelers.’

          • Jnny

            I was trying to keep it light for general consumption. My job title has always been analyst or system analyst. My degrees are in engineering, math, and physics. I’ve used simulation codes that use finite element, finite difference, computational fluid dynamics, electromagnetic radiation, and physics modelers such as those used for mechanisms and orbital mechanics. I’ve also dabbled in optical analysis, human factors modeling, ionizing radiation and decay and circuit analysis. I wrote code to combine these tools so that I could better model real-world phenomena, which is called multi-physics in the commercial world. I’ve also used the commercial multi-physics codes, once they got good enough. I’m not a researcher, other than a brief time spent trying to improve metal casting techniques. i worked with researchers to build complex, multi-physics models, smaller than global climate models, to be sure, but incorporating many of the same components that must be analyzed. Towards the end of my career, I was simulating large-scale disasters for government entities.

          • Heidi_storage

            What do you hope to achieve in this exchange?

          • Jnny

            As a dreamer and an optimist, I keep hoping that one of our leading lights in skeptical science wakes up and calls BS on this abuse of science by climate modelers. I have a hell of a lot of respect for what Amy does here, blowing up the woo in her chosen field.

          • So, you have no grasp of the difference between modeling physical interactions and modeling future probabilities, then?

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            She’s an engineer. I knew it, even before she said it.

            What are the odds that she’s a creationist, too?

          • I wouldn’t even begin to guess lol. I do know something about how complex future-looking models work, though. I’m in insurance- I’m not an actuary or financial adviser, but I know some and work with some. I know how complex their models are and the bare basics of how they work. It’s not as simple as tweak a variable, test the result …

          • Jnny

            So you know how often future financial models are wrong too. Done in by the factor unconsidered.

            The inestimable Richard Feynman had this to say about models and modelers.

            In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the
            consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is
            the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.

            The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

          • And in the case of climate models, the reality follows the model, so we know we have a good model. Your condescension is noted, really it is, but it’s also unnecessary.

          • Jnny

            zero

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          Oh? What software do you use in your models? What underlying assumptions do you base your models on? What are the limitations of your modeling technique?

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      It’s not a prediction, it’s an observation. The global temperature is increasing, along with carbon monoxide and dioxide levels in the air. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

    • Daleth

      Let’s say I told you I’ve made a computer model of the human body, using muscles, nerves, organs, and circulatory systems. Then I put the model through a treadmill routine, and told you from that, I could predict the blood pressure and velocity anywhere in the body, to a decimal place, of a real human doing the same routine

      If you made a computer model of a SPECIFIC human being, using that person’s muscles, nerves, organs, circulatory system, etc., and put that model through a treadmill routine, guess what? You WOULD be able to predict the blood pressure, etc., of that specific human being doing the same routine.

      That is what climate scientists are working with: models of a SPECIFIC planet and its atmosphere–Earth.

      • Jnny

        No, sorry, computer modeling does not work that way. You must be able to change a variable in the model, make the same change in real life, rerun the model and get the two to agree. Then do this for every variable in the model. Only then can you confidently make real-world predictions. It is impossible to do this for the global climate model without a time machine. Therefore we then have to rely on the biases put into the model by the scientist, and the history show the model is biased to predict temperature that are too warm.

        • No, that’s not actually how most models work. Monte Carlo simulations, for instance, actually specifically create a range of outcomes based on not knowing what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t need an exact model, because you’re right, we can’t have one. But we do need, and have, a close-enough model that gives us a range of possibilities and then estimates probabilities of those outcomes. The climate models are really freaking good at that.

          • Roadstergal

            I really don’t think she’s a ‘modeler.’

          • They might run simple simulations that you can do that for, but certainly not multivariate complex models, that’s for sure!

          • Jnny

            Monte Carlo simulations are only as good as your assumptions. Miss on one big assumption, and Garbage in, garbage out.

          • Sure, but that’s why we test them against reality as time goes on. Climate models are continuously refined so that their assumptions lead to results that mirror reality. At this point, with over 20 years of work and empirical testing on them, they’re really good.

        • Roadstergal

          “You must be able to change a variable in the model, make the same change in real life, rerun the model and get the two to agree. Then do this for every variable in the model.”

          Um, no.

        • Daleth

          I know you believe that that makes sense, and that you also believe you understand computer modeling of climate change better than people with PhD’s and professional experience in the subject. Nope on both points.

    • MaineJen

      Welp, debate’s over, guys. If Jnny cannot understand something, it obviously can’t be understood, or its behavior predicted.

      If only there were actual, verifiable observations to compare to our climate models! That would settle this problem once and for all.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    The King Canute reference is pretty funny-ironic with global warming. Don’t know if the old dude would be more Bernie or Donny, but it’s fun to hypothesize.

  • StephanieJR

    OT: I’m getting rather concerned about Erin. I don’t wish to encroach on her privacy, but she hasn’t been on in a while and I worry. I hope nothing has happened, that she’s as mentally well as is possible, and that she comes back soon, even if it’s just briefly, to let us know.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      here’s hoping she’ll pop in, tell us it went about as okay as possible and she and the baby are doing alright.

    • BeatriceC

      Her husband was extremely supportive the first time around, so even though things were bad, she had somebody who was really taking care of her. That’s the only thing keeping me from panic.