J.C. Moore Online
Current events from a science perspective.

Sue the EPA over Clean Power Plan? The Public Does Not Support It

     Posted on Thu ,05/11/2015 by J.C. Moore

The leaders of the Republican Party in 26 states plan to sue the EPA to stop the Clean Power Plan. Those same leaders often justify what they want to do by claiming it is what the people want. But in this case, they are doing more what the fossil fuel companies want. The public in 23 of the states does not support the lawsuits, as in the chart below.


The governors and attorney generals of the states want to make a name for themselves as “conservatives”, but it is a losing proposition for a number of reasons. The lawsuits do not actually represent a conservative position, as the EPA’s plan will lead to a shift to renewable energy which will keep billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In that respect, the EPA has the more conservative position.

The reason often given for the lawsuits is saving money on energy, but the politicians seem more interested in campaign money than saving money for their citizens. The EPA’s plan may lead to increased electricity costs in the present, but will lead to lower electric rates in the future. Coal and transportation prices are certain to increase in the future while the cost of renewable energy is falling. It costs upfront to build wind turbines and solar installations but, once they are in place, they are expected to function for 30 years or longer without any need for fuel.

It will cost the states lots of money for the lawsuits, and their chances successes is slim.   And, it will likely harm a number of citizens of the states if the lawsuit succeeds. There are many coal burning power plants in the US which operate without scrubbers to remove particulates, because coal is cheap and  scrubbers are expensive. The EPA projects the Clean Power Plan’s  proposed guidelines for particulates alone could  prevent up to 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days per year. As a result, for every dollar Americans spend on the Clean Power Plan, we will gain up to $4 worth of health benefits.

So in terms of future energy costs, environmental benefits, and health benefits the EPA Clean Power Plan is a winner for the citizens. Perhaps the Republican Attorney Generals clamoring to sue the EPA should reconsider.

(c) 2015 J.C. Moore


Newsflash: The Earth’s Temperature Is Still Going up

     Posted on Wed ,04/11/2015 by J.C. Moore

Conservative politicians and columnists like to say,”The Earth’s temperature hasn’t gone up since 1998″. That is certainly wrong, and creates doubts about them actually being “conservative”. Just a few weeks ago my Congressman said in a letter, “The Earth’s temperature hasn’t gone up since 1997″, stretching it a bit. That’s his excuse for not supporting action on climate change.

That untruth about the Earth’s temperature was popularized by George Will when he used it to attack John McCain during the 10warmest2008 election. George Will was apparently upset that a conservative Republican was recommending action on global warming. When I contacted George Will for an explanation, he said that 1998 was the warmest year on record and no year since had been hotter. Actually 2005 was, destroying his argument. There have been several warmers years since – as shown in the graph at the right. And so far, 2015 is setting a new record.

Not willing to give up on a good excuse, the politicians and pundits now claim the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed their deception. That’s not right, either. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report  stated that the global surface temperature “has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years [1998-2012] than over the past 30 to 60 years.” The apparent slowdown was termed a “hiatus” and cheered by the Skeptics, although a “smaller increasing linear trend” is not a hiatus. And it turned out that the “smaller increasing linear trend” was caused by a change in the way the Earth’s temperature was measured, not by an actual decrease in the rate of warming.

Dr. Tom Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information,  is the lead author of the  study published in the journal Science. He explained the discrepancy came from a change in how ocean temperatures were measured. “Global ocean temperatures are estimated both by thousands of commercial ships, which record the temperature of the water entering their engines and by thousands of buoys. The buoys tend to get cooler temperature readings than the ships, likely because ships’ engines warm the water. Meanwhile, in recent years, buoys have become increasingly common.”  The result, Karl says, is that the oceans did not appear to be warming as much because more buoys are now being used instead of ships. So Karl’s team adjusted the buoy data to make them line up with the ship data. The corrected data,  shows that since 1998, the rate of warming is about the same as it has been since 1950: about two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit per decade.

That should settle the matter but some politicians just are not willing to accept science  and, interestingly enough, one of them is the chair of the Congressional Science Committee.  Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has spent much of the last few years pressuring the National Science Foundation to ensure that it only funds science he thinks is worthwhile and “in the national interest.” He certainly didn’t think that Dr. Karl’s research,  showing the Earth’s temperature was still going up an alarming rate, was in the national interest. So, he sent a request that Dr. Karl and NOAA provide his office with “[a]ll data related to this study and the updated global datasets” along with the details of the analysis and “all documents and communications” related to part of that analysis.

The request was meant to be burdensome, but apparently Congressman Smith does not understand how science publications work. NOAA responded to Rep. Smith’s request by pointing him to the relevant data and methods, all of which had already been publicly available. Undeterred, Representative Smith asked for even more data, explanations, and communications. NOAA did not respond to that request or the following subpoena, citing a “confidentiality interest”.   Committee Member Bernice Johnson (D – TX), intervened  with a letter sent to Rep. Smith revealing and criticizing his actions. In it, she noted that Rep. Smith was looking into a scientific study and not a Federal policy decision. “As such,” she wrote, “this is not an area of delegated legislative authority by Congress  (unless you are proposing that Congress should somehow legislatively overrule peer-reviewed scientific findings).” Of course that is what Rep. Smith would like to do, but he will likely have to content himself with just harassing Dr. Karl and NOAA.

(C) 2015 J.C. Moore


PowerPoint Presentation: The Citizens’ Climate Lobby

     Posted on Wed ,28/10/2015 by J.C. Moore


This is a presentation given at Ecofest 2015 by Darrel Hart, Mark Shobe, and J.C. Moore. It is designed to promote the Citizens’ Climate Lobby carbon fee and ccl1dividend proposal as it is the best way to build the political will to address climate change. Part 1. of the presentation was  on the Science of Climate Change and explained the urgent need to address climate change. Part 2. was on a bipartisan way to address climate change as described in the presentation below:

Part 2. : Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Please click on the link above. You will need a PowerPoint program to view the slides – or you may  download a free viewer here. The slides will display as set in your viewer.

Paris Climate Conference: Pope Francis and CEOs Urge Action

     Posted on Fri ,23/10/2015 by J.C. Moore

On his world tour, Pope Francis called on world leaders to address climate change in November at the Paris Climate Conference. eiffelIt is not just religious leaders and climate scientist who are concerned, but business leaders who are aware that climate change will hurt the world’s economy. A recent study, published in the journal Nature, found that temperature change due to unmitigated global warming will leave global GDP per capita 23% lower in 2100 than it would be without any warming.

Joining the call for action on climate change are companies such as Nike, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Voya Financial, all who have adopted a goal of 100 %  renewable energy.  Food Companies are concerned that climate change is threatening our food supply. CEOs of Kellogg’s, Mars, Dannon, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms, and Nestlé have signed a letter urging US and global leaders to “meaningfully address the reality of climate change.”

By this week, 81 big-name corporations representing 9 million employees and $5 trillion in market capitalization have signed on to the President’s “Act on Climate” pledge.



 “We applaud the growing number of countries that have already set ambitious targets for climate action. In this context, we support the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.

We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.”


The list of the corporations taking the pledge and a summary of their pledges are listed in this White House fact sheet. Their pledges set ambitious, company-specific goals such as:

Reducing emissions by as much as 50 percent,

Reducing water usage by as much as 80 percent,

Achieving zero waste-to-landfill,

Purchasing 100 percent renewable energy, and

Pursuing zero net deforestation in supply chains.

Most importantly, these companies set an example to their peers who will be asked to sign onto the pledge before the Paris Conference.

The plan to reduce emissions with broad bipartisan support in the US is the carbon fee and dividend as proposed by the Citizens’ ccl1Climate Lobby. Their proposal would place a fee on carbon at the source and allow market forces to encourage reduced emissions, energy conservation, and investments in renewable energy. The carbon fee is not a tax as proceeds would be distributed equally to every household as a monthly energy dividend. It would effectively stimulate the economy and add an estimated 2.8 million jobs over the next 20 years. What could be a better plan?


(c) 2015 J.C. Moore

Westar Energy’s Rate Request: A Study in Short-Term Thinking

     Posted on Sun ,23/08/2015 by J.C. Moore

Many of America’s power companies have put their profits before the health of our citizens and the 6coalprotection of the environment. The American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school.  Yet, there are many coal burning power plants in the US which operate without scrubbers to remove particulates, because coal is cheap and  scrubbers are expensive.

Scientists have known since 1980 that our increasing CO2 levels were endangering our environment. All the world’s major scientific organizations are now saying that we must take immediate action to avoid environmental disasters.   There is really no effective way to remove carbon emissions from fossil fuel   plants, yet our power companies have fought a shift to renewable energy. Many power companies are now being required  to install costly upgrades to their coal-fired  plants, and  are trying to recoup the cost of their short-term thinking by raising their customer’s rates. Westar energy is a good example, and it is likely  that your electric company may  soon follow suit.

Westar Energy has requested a rate increase by $152 million a year, about 8% over its current rates. Most of the increase will go to upgrade its Wolf Creek nuclear plant, to install scrubbers at some of its coal-fired power plants, and to remove mercury from its La Cynge coal-fired power plant. Westar’s proposed rate design would shift more of its costs  from businesses to residential customers and increase the basic charge for residential service by $3 a month each year for the next five years. That means the cost to just keep the power on would increase from the current $12 a month to $27 a month. Customers who want to install their own solar or wind power would be required to pay a $50 customer charge or pay for power at the peak rate, effectively killing private investments in solar energy. Westar’s customers are understandably unhappy about this.

CEO pay and profits : As a Westar stockholder, I felt bad about the recent rate hearing in Wichita. Speaker after speaker, including several ministers and AARP representatives, testified about how the proposed increase in rates would affect the poor and elderly. The timing of the rate increase seems inappropriate. Morningstar moneyreported that last year the company’s top five executives received 23.5% in salary increases. Westar’s CEO now receives $3 million in compensation, more than 30 times that of our governor. A large portion of the compensation is in stock, which tends to encourage short-term decisions to increase stock value.

Many people also testified that the proposed rate structure would discourage private investments in energy efficiency, energy conservation, and solar panels. A poll by Magellan found that 76% of Westar’s customers oppose the tariff on solar panels, agreeing that Westar’s position was based on increasing its profit. Westar is also requesting a 10% return on investments which seems high for a company which has just invested several million dollars in executive raises.

A misleading process: Although Westar says it is committed to renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions,  their proposal would have just the opposite effect. There are number of red flags for investors evident in the rate proposal and in Westar’s actions over the last several years.  Many investors are now looking for long-term investments in environmentally and socially responsible companies. Westar may no longer fall into that category.  AARP ran a full-page ad in the local newspaper protesting the rate increase.  About 73% of Westar stock is held by  institutional investors and many of those are retirement funds.  If some of those retirement funds  decide to divest of  Westar’s stock,  the effect will certainly not be what the  CEO intended.

There was also concern about the integrity of the process, which was unnecessarily secretive and sometimes misleading. A local newspaper article pointed out that, ”Westar’s public notice fails to detail changes in billing, solar rates”.   And, the CEO’s letter to stockholders claimed that outside agitators were responsible for opposition to the solar fee – which was not what the Magellan study found.  His idea that solar customers were “free riders”  who didn’t  pay their fair share came from an ALEC meeting in Chicago.  Chicago?  It was propaganda created by power companies  worried about solar cutting into their market share.  His letter claimed that solar customers  who hooked to the  grid using net metering agreements were being subsidized by other ratepayers, though research has found just the opposite.  I would expect such a well-paid CEO to know about the research.

Solar Research: Studies in Vermont, New York, California, Texas, and Nevada concluded that net metering provided a net positive benefit for utility companies and their customers. A 2015 study done in Missouri is even more relevant to Kansas. A cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri arrived at the same conclusion as the other studies, “ Net metering provides a net benefit. “ Missouri has 6000 net metering customers while Westar now has approximately 300. It is unlikely that a study done in Kansas would come up with a different result,  but the Westar executives claim differently.

Why should customers who cut their energy use in half by installing solar panels be charged an extra fee, while those who cut their use in half by installing extra insulation be considered differently? Westar claims they should be, but that seems unreasonable. Net metering customers are charged a fee to set up the system and for a safety inspection, but otherwise net energy metering customers should be treated just as any other customer when they use electricity and be reimbursed as any other supplier when they supply excess power. Charging solar customers an extra fee may actually cause an increase in electric rates.

Gaming the system: My son, who worked for a gas company, observed that in gas company rate cases they always asked for about twice what they wanted and settled for half of that.  Other than the money to have Wolf Creek comply with federal regulations, much of the other requests are unjustified. Residential customers are already paying a customer fee, an electricity fee, a fuel charge, a distribution fee, an environmental fee, an energy efficiency charge, and even Westar’s property taxes. Last June, our bill was $24.95 for electricity, but our total bill came out to be $53.27 after all those things were added in. The $12 customer charge is already greater than most other companies charge and Westar’s rates are second highest in our region. Westar has implied that residential customers are not paying their fair share of the cost. However, residential customers use about a third of the energy, but it seems they are being asked to pick up much more than a third of the cost of upgrades and pollution controls.

Westar owes a better accounting of the money it collects. There have been over 20 rate cases in the last six years. Too much time and resources have been devoted to rate cases designed to increase the company’s profits. The executive compensation seems excessive and much of it is in stock, which means a rise in profits will greatly benefit the executives. That tends to lead to short-term thinking, which is evident in this rate proposal. It does not take into account the increasing future regulations of carbon emissions and the need to reduce dependence on coal-fired power plants.

Settlement?  Just before the rate case was to go to the  Kansas Corporation Commission,  Westar cut  its rate request  in half. My  son said, ” See there”.   Westar also asked to postpone its request for a tariff  on solar panels to a later hearing.   Westar is now proposing a reduction in the subscription fee for wind energy customers, building its own solar plant, and selling solar power to customers. That is a big improvement, but Westar is  still relying too heavily on its coal-fired power plants. Three of its smaller plants have no scrubbers and they should be phased out as soon as possible.  Earlier,  $600 million was budgeted for upgrading the LaCynge plant.  I’m not sure how much of that has already been spent , but pouring more money into it to remove mercury may be a bad investment. It is expensive to remove mercury, but it is impossible to remove carbon emissions.

The Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the EPA to make a determination as to whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. The EPA found, based on the best scientific evidence, that CO2 is an endangerment to public health and has moved forward with regulations to reduce the carbon emissions from power plants. There will be future environmental regulations which will be costly to the coal plants. Why waste million of dollars in emission control equipment and spend millions importing coal from Wyoming when we could be transitioning to Kansas-based renewable energy?

The future: The Kansas Corporation Commission should approve upgrading the Wolf Creek plant, but carefully consider the amount of money requested. Moving forward with plans to provide customers with wind and solar energy subscriptions is in the right direction and should be encouraged. Other than that, there are better options for Kansas. The Kansas Corporation Commission should send the rest of Westar’s plan back to the drawing board.

(C)   2015 – J.C. Moore


The Citizens’ Climate Lobby: A Better Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions

     Posted on Fri ,21/08/2015 by J.C. Moore

The article “Obama orders steeper cuts from power 6coalplants” described how the EPA’s proposed limits on carbon pollution could cost $8.4 billion annually by 2030. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) has a better way, a Carbon Fee and Dividend,  which would produce  deeper cuts in pollution in a shorter time.  CCL’s proposal would place a fee on carbon at the source, and market forces would then encourage reduced emissions, energy conservation and investments in renewable energy.  The carbon fee is not a tax and it would not raise taxes. The money collected would be distributed equally to every household as a monthly energy dividend.

CCL’s legislative proposal would set an initial fee on carbon at $15 per ton of CO2 or CO2 equivalent emissions.  The fee would increase by $10 each year until the CO2 emissions were reduced to 10% of the 1990 US levels. To protect American businesses and agriculture, adjustments at the  borders would be made on exports and imports by the US State Department to ensure fairness. The carbon fees would be collected by the US Treasury Department and rebated 100% to American households, with each adult receiving a dividend and each child one half dividend up to a limit of two children per household.

A similar Fee and Dividend policy is successfully working in Canadian British Columbia. In 2008, BC enacted a revenue neutral carbon tax which set an initial rate of $10 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent emissions, increasing by $5 per year until it reached $30, which it did in 2012. The revenue went straight back to taxpayers as tax reductions with a tax credit paid to low income households of $115.50 for each parent and $34.50 per child annually. The tax raised the price of gasoline by about $0.25 per gallon and the price of coal by about $60 per ton. Though there were winners and losers under the BC plan,  it’s GDP grew in relation to the rest of Canada’s.


British Columbia gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric power, so it is difficult to estimate the effect it had on the price of electricity. There are now no coal-fired plants in British Columbia and the consumption of fuel there is now 19% below that of the rest of Canada.

In the US, all the money collected from the carbon fee would be distributed to US households as a dividend – which would effectively stimulate the economy. President Bush’s Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provided a $600 rebate to each household. A 2012 study by Christian Broda found the increase in disposable income was an effective stimulus to the economy. President Bush’s stimulus, however, was only for one year and the money came from taxes. CCL’s proposal does not come from taxes, and a $30 per metric ton fee on CO2 is estimated to provide about $876 annually per person in the US. Though the price of gasoline and fossil fuel generated electricity will certainly go up, it will be offset by the dividend. People who reduce their energy consumption, or choose lower cost renewables, will be able to  increase their disposable income by saving more of their dividend.

The CCL Fee and Dividend proposal has a wide range of supporters such as notable climate scientists James Hansen, Katharine Hayhoe, and Daniel Kammit.  It has the support of both conservative and liberal economists such as Gary Becker, Gregory Mankiw, Art Laffer, Nicholas Stern, and Shi-Ling Hsu. CCL’s advisory board is bipartisan as it includes George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, conservative former US Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), and RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris, who is an advocate for solutions to poverty.

A study by Regional Economic Models Inc. found CCL’s proposed carbon fee and dividend would achieve better pollution reduction than regulations while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy over 20 years. Ccl

What could be a better way to reduce carbon emissions?


(c) 2015  J.C.Moore                   

Credit: Darrel Hart, Wichita CCL leader, who helped greatly withthe editing.  


Just Raise Taxes

     Posted on Sat ,18/07/2015 by J.C. Moore

As the chart below shows, cutting taxes does not necessarily lead to greater economic growth, but it certainly means a large increase in our national debt. The high tax rates and increasing national debt under the Eisenhower administration were mostly to pay off our war debts and rebuild Europe, yet there was also growth in GDPand and jobs. Reagan dramatically cut taxes, and experienced a lower growth in GDP, more jobs, but also a large increase in peacetime national debt.

Article PhotoTax Rates and Economic Indicators


If you wonder why a country as rich as ours is going broke, it may be because of Arthur Laffer‘s economics, Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, and ALEC.   We should not let men we did not elect or some secretive organization that represents special interest groups determine our tax policy. If you will remember, under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 90% and we used the money to take care of our soldiers, send them to college, rebuild the countries devastated by war, and build the interstate highway system that fueled economic development for the next several decades. Now we have cut the top tax rate, the corporate tax rate, the capital gains tax, and were now working on cutting the inheritance tax, while we are also cutting the safety nets and help for the poor because we cannot pay for them. We are better country than that.

Norquist claims 235 US Representatives and 41 US Senators have signed his Pledge. In doing so, they have clearly given up their responsibility as our elected representatives.   Those in the US Legislature who have signed the pledge are listed here. You may wish to check see who from your state has signed the pledge and contact them. Since Norquist claims that signing the pledge is binding into perpetuity, I would suggest that we make sure none of those who signed his pledge are re-elected.


Thermodynamics Says There Is No “Hiatus “in Global Warming

     Posted on Tue ,14/07/2015 by J.C. Moore

During the 2008 Presidential Election,  John McCain proposed a pragmatic national energy policy based upon good stewardship, good science, and reasonableness. George Will attacked his proposal, claiming that “global temperatures have not risen in a decade”. He claimed the hottest year on record was 1998 and no year since has been hotter. His argument was simple, easily understood, and very wrong. While 1998 was an unusually hot year, NASA’s data shows that 2005 was warmer.

  • George Will’s claim resonated with those who wish to deny that the Earth is warming, so they extended the statement to “the Earth hasn’t warmed in 12 years”, 15 years, and finally 17 years – so far. Apparently truthfulness is not a criteria, as 2005, 2010, 2014, were warmer than 1998. Now they claim the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed their deception. That’s not right, either.
  • The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report  concluded that the global surface temperature “has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years [1998-2012] than over the past 30 to 60 years.” The apparent slowdown was termed a “hiatus” and cheered by the Skeptics, although a “smaller increasing linear trend” is not a hiatus. The apparent slowdown intrigued the climate scientists, who immediately set about trying to discover where the energy went.
  • Scientist knew the energy had to go somewhere  because of the First Law of Thermodynamics, which says that energy is conserved. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was  still rising and, because of the greenhouse effect, the Earth was still absorbing more energy that it emitted. According to the conservation of energy, that extra energy has to go somewhere in the environment, and whether it warms the air, the land,  the oceans, melts ice, or evaporates water – the Earth was storing the energy somewhere. Claiming that “global warming has paused”, is badly misleading as the amount of energy in the Earth’s systems was still increasing. To claim a pause is to claim that the Law of Conservation of Energy is invalid. And, that is an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary proof. No Skeptic was up to that task.
  • What followed was a flurry of research by climate scientists,  trying to figure out where the energy had gone. It turned out that it really hadn’t gone  anywhere, because the missing heat has been there all along. It was an artifact from how the ocean temperatures were measured.
  • According to a recent NBC news report,”Global warming has not stopped or even slowed in the past 18 years, according to a new federal study that rebuts doubters who’ve claimed that that heating trends have paused. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration readjusted thousands of weather data points to account for different measuring techniques through the decades.”
  • Tom Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information,  is the lead author of the  study published in the journal Science. He explained the discrepancy came from a change in how ocean temperatures were measured. “Global ocean temperatures are estimated both by thousands of commercial ships, which record the temperature of the water entering their engines and by thousands of buoys. The buoys tend to get cooler temperature readings than the ships, likely because ships’ engines warm the water. Meanwhile, in recent years, buoys have become increasingly common.”  The result, Karl says, is that the oceans did not appearing to be warming as much because more buoys are now being used instead of ships. So Karl’s team adjusted the buoy data to make them line up with the ship data. The corrected data,  in the graph below, shows that since 1998, the rate of warming is about the same as it has been since 1950: about two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit per decade.



The Skeptics, of course, were not happy that the missing heat had been discovered and their ” hiatus” was exposed as a myth. So, they have now gone back to their familiar theme, that “scientists adjust the data to get what they want.” Saying that is certainly easier than disproving The First Law of Thermodynamics.

(C) 2015 – J.C. Moore

PowerPoint Presentation: The Science of Climate Change

     Posted on Tue ,14/07/2015 by J.C. Moore
This was taken from Apollo 11 as the Earth rose over the disc of the Moon.

This was taken from Apollo 11 as the Earth rose over the disc of the Moon.




2015x-(3) The-Science-of-Climate-Change with notes

Please click on the link above. You will need a PowerPoint program to view the slides – or you may  download a free viewer here. The slides will display as set in your viewer. Explanations of the slides are in the notes section.

The Psychology of Internet Trolls

     Posted on Sun ,05/04/2015 by J.C. Moore

If you have a website, or post comments on blog sites or newspaper articles, you have likely run into trol0trollls. Trolls are the bane of the Internet as their main goals  are to shut down reasonable discussions or spread misinformation. Free from editors or peer review trolls can, and do, distort information for ideological reasons or because they are paid. Then, there are trolls who do it just for fun.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.


It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

Trolling and Denialism: Trolls often use the same tactics as those who deny scientific evidence.  A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers (and trolls) as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics trolls employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.” However, that may not work with trolls of the dark tetrad.

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with paid trolls, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Comments from those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2015  J.C. Moore