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Want to represent Kentucky Farmer in Congress? Well then you better learn to keep track of which "climate changes" he "believes in" and which he "doesn't"!

A lot of people seem to think that members of Congress who “deny” climate change are stupid.

Obviously, I can’t vouch for the intelligence of every single one of them. But in fact, I think I can readily put my hands on some evidence that attests to the considerable mental dexterity of at least some.

In particular, the ones who represent Kentucky Farmer are pretty impressive. 

Kentucky Farmer, I’m sure you’ll recall, is one of the many citizens who both do and don’t believe in climate change.  Or more specifically, don't or do depending on whether they are doing something that is enabled by disbelieving or believing in it.

The main thing disbelieving enables them to do is enjoy a particular cultural identity. 

Expressing disbelief with genuine conviction and sincerity, and also with a caustic undertone of contempt for people with values different from his--for whom “belief” is also primarily expressive, much like an article of clothing or bumper sticker that evinces contempt for him—is a way for the Kentucky Farmer to be a member of a community defined by commitments to certain social norms.  Being "skeptical" is like carrying a gun: a way to evince male virtues like self-reliance and and honor, and to occupy male roles like provider and protector . . . .Or in his wife's case like being against legalized abortion, which demonstrates commitment to norms that confer status on women for mastering female roles like wife and mother.

But believing in climate change—honestly & truly—is a way for him to do something too: namely, be a successful farmer.

He knows, e.g., that it makes sense to engage in no-till farming to protect the robustness of the soil in his fields, the fertility of which will be subjected, he realizes, to relentless assault from drought and heat and that he should be shifting his crops from, say, wheat to corn and soybeans to adjust for changes in growing seasons.

He has purchased or is planning to purchase greater crop-failure insurance coverage and various other services to help protect himself from the escalating variance associated with climate change.

And he’s hoping, too, that scientists, whose work he has always relied on to help him to master his craft of extraction from nature, will come through for him again with technological innovations that enable him to keep doing what humans but no other animals always have done: defy Malthusian constraints on the progressive expansion of their number.

Whether he lives in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, or wherever, keeping track of which “climate changes” Kentucky Farmer believes in and the ones he “doesn’t” can be a real challenge for his elected representatives!

Just ask poor Wisc. State Senator Tom Tiffany.  He managed to get himself in a heap of trouble recently by instigating a provision to get rid of two dozen scientists in the state’s Department of Natural Resources who have been studying the impact of global warming on the vulnerability of the state’s vegetation to pest infiltration, as well as the state’s trout stock, another critical element of its economy, mainly for tourists who like to Wisconsin to fish. 

Those scientists, Tiffany complained, shouldn’t be wasting their time studying climate change, a matter he had previously dismissed as a completely “theoretical” matter.

I’m sure this seemed like a great idea to Tiffany.  After all, the majority of his  rural Republican district “don’t believe in” human caused-climate change!  No doubt he expected a hearty round of applause.

Wrong! To his surprise, I’m sure, Tiffany has found himself on the hot seat since his role in the firing of the DNR scientists was discovered, and he’s been trying to get his ass off of it ever since.

Hey, he explained, “I’m only one out of 33 in the State Senate,” so don’t blame me.

Okay, okay, he conceded, “Climate change, climate variability, is happening, I mean, all you have to do is look at the climatic record. It clearly is.

But that “doesn’t mean that we should have these significant shifts in public policy without having proof that we are causing this,” he added.

Wrong answer, dude!

Wisconsin is in deep shit because of climate change and its Kentucky Farmers, including the ones who are part of the state’s forestry and tourism industry, know it.  Fire the scientists that can help them weather it—so to speak—and you’ll lose your friggin’ job!

Now consider how the pros—the ones good enough at politics to earn seats in Congress representing the Kentucky Farmer—handle things.

Global warming? Bull shit!, says Ok. Sen. Inhofe, hoisting a snowball aloft on the floor of the Senate in Feb. 2015. “God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains.”

I’m sure his Kentucky Farmer constituents in Oklahoma were chortling with glee!

But they aren’t when they think about the impact of global warming on their cattle industry.

Thank God, too, I guess, that the US Department of Agriculture has awarded scientists at the University of Oklahoma at Stillwater some $10 million in recent years to study how to help keep the cattle industry going as temperatures in the state start to soar.

“The ultimate goal is to develop beef cattle and production systems that are more readily adaptable to the negative effects of drought,” explained the principal investigator for the most recent $1 million grant, a faculty member in OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Is Inhofe or any other member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation proposing budget cuts to stop Oklahoma university scientists from engaging in this foolishness?


On the contrary, Rep. Frank Lucas, an OSU Stillwater graduate who represents the district in which that university is located, sponsored  the 2014 Agriculture Bill that funds the research initiative that has made the OSU-Stillwater grants!

Attaboy, Frank!, his constituents, exclaim appreciatively.  That will help us to deal with the horrible consequences of climate change!

But that’s the “climate change” they believe in—in order to be farmers.

There’s also the “climate change” they don’t believe in—in order to be individuals with a particular cultural identity.

Frank Lucas doesn’t believe in that “climate change”—or at least, as a major-league, professional politician knows better than to support legislation that evinces belief in it.

Those goddam idiots at NASA, he says. What they hell are they doing wasting tax payer dollars investigating something that my constituents don't believe in?!

click me ... click me...Frank, as co-chair of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology will fix that problem!  Cut the funds for those silly NASA scientists who are modeling climate change.

Way to go, Frank!, his constituents say! Show that stupid Al Gore!

BTW, the chair of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, Lamar Smith, R. Tex., keeps perfect track of the which "climate changes" his constituents do & don't believe in too.

Cut the funding authority that USDA uses to support scientific investigation of the effects of climate change on agricultural production in Texas? Are you out of your mind?!

See? Members of Congress like Smith, Lucas, and Inhofe are no dummies!

What do you think they’d recommend to a junior varsity pol like Tiffany to help him keep his constituents’ “climate changes”—the ones they don’t “believe in” and the ones they do—straight?

I’m not an expert, of course, but I’d try index cards.

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Reader Comments (14)

The interesting question to me is why couple a funding request with reference to extraneous political issues. The Kentucky Farmer doesn't care why droughts happen. But he does care how to keep his cows alive.

May 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan


Do you mean why was "climate change induced drought" part of the OU Stillwater grant proposal? It's climate change that threatens the cows.

Or why am I coupling the funding of climate-change adaptation w/ political conflict over funding science related to climate change in Congress? I agree that Kentucky Farmer cares about climate change only as it affects his cows & crops, etc. I would get, for sure, why his representatives would be channeling the pork, as it were, to him for that purpose & grabbing funding from other programs to get it. But what's interesting is that they lug snowballs into the Senate & publicly calling denying climate change exists & disputing evidence for it etc at the same time that they are bringing home the climate-science bacon to their constituents. That sort of performance is something their constituents obviously value too. So they end up w/ compliant representatives who go out of their way to insist that the very thing that they are tryign to protect their constituents from is a "hoax" etc.

May 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Kentucky Farmer, I’m sure you’ll recall, is one of the many citizens who both do and don’t believe in climate change."

Nope. He does believe in climate change. He doesn't believe in human-caused climate change. There's no inconsistency between those two positions.

May 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV


Yeah, I was a bit confused in my first post. I think you are seeing a contradiction here which really doesn't exist.

So let's give credit where credit is not due. Our theoretical congressman is in total agreement that the greenhouse effect works by radiative heat flow in and out balancing where it is emitted to space and the convective adiabatic lapse rate maintaining the surface at a higher temperature in proportion to their separation. He fully accepts extra GHGs work by increasing their separation by raising the altitude of emission to space.

But he knows the greenhouse effect alone does not give rise to much warming, but it is magnified or reduced by a variety of feedback mechanisms, the total effect of which is unknown. He also knows software climate models have been built by researchers, in which these feedbacks roughly treble the warming due to anthropogenic GHGs alone. These software models are the embodiment of the best scientific understanding of climate we’ve got. But these software models make predictions known to be false. They differ from reality in numerous ways, including the behaviour of clouds, the amount and variation of precipitation, humidity, upper tropospheric temperature trends, and even surface temperature (their estimates of natural background temperature vary by several degrees between models).

And because of this he considers himself very skeptical of the long term predictions made by these models, especially those which predict extreme catastrophe ("come on guys, it's obviously just the math running away with itself, how do you not see that?"). He would answer a survey question about the risks of climate change with a rather low value, give conservative answers to the political survey questions, and get most of the science literacy questions correct, putting him nicely at the bottom right of several of the graphs you've made. He is also opposed to overly expensive policies aimed at substantially reducing CO2 emissions.

Yes, he still wants to funnel research money into what his farmers can do to deal with droughts or changes in planting season onset patterns. But those things are a fact of human life, known to every farmer alive and dead. A lack of concern for those issues does not strike me as logically required by the above stated skepticism.

May 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

@NiV & @Ryan:

I'm sure the congress members could care less about what is happening w/ data. Their only goal is to be re-elected (that's my "model" of them, for @NiV).

The interesting point, for me, is how doing that requires them to respond to their constituents' demands for gestures that evince skepticism toward climate change & for $ to adapt at the same time. That tells me something interesting about their constituents' mental lives -- about what it means for *them* to "believe" & "disbelieve" in climate change.

But if we were trying to rationally reconstruct a member of Congress's "position" on climate change, it's pretty tricky to get either of your views out of carrying a snowball into the Senate, calling climate change a "hoax," and announcing that God is taking care of the weather.

Also, am wondering what @NiV thinks the odds are that a farmer in Ky who votes Republican would answer "believes in climate change" vs. "no global warming in last few decades" in a survey? And what pct of Oklahoma Rs? Presumably you think it is well over 50%, right? 70%? 80%

May 19, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


"The interesting point, for me, is how doing that requires them to respond to their constituents' demands for gestures that evince skepticism toward climate change & for $ to adapt at the same time. That tells me something interesting about their constituents' mental lives -- about what it means for *them* to "believe" & "disbelieve" in climate change."

There is a very, very easy way to resolve this issue. Climate change in the political sense and climate change in the literal sense are two wholly unrelated concepts. There's no reason to expect people to have congruent opinions on each simply because we use the same words to signify them. Someone can love banks and hate banks without contradiction, because the former is the edge of a river and the latter is a soulless profit extraction machine.

May 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan


Is that FYATHRIO, then?

Or cognitive dualism?

River "bank" and financial "bank" have different referents.

I'm pretty sure "climate change" in "political sense" refers to the same thing -- a change in earth's climate-- that "climate change" in "literal sense" refers to. Pakistani Dr says evolution he "believes in" is "entirely different" form one he "disbelieves in"-- but knows they both refer to same thing: a scientific theory of natural history of humans.

I think FYATHRIO is only "simple" answer -- but it strikes me as least likely to be right.

May 20, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


I don't discount FYATHRIO. I think that's a pretty good explanation for a lot of things.

The mental speed bump I'm running into is the following. Suppose KY farmer is completely on board with Senator Inhofe. eg he thinks bringing a snowball to congress is a completely rational argument. He happens to think droughts are god's punishment for allowing gay marriage. That would not preclude him from wanting to know how best to keep his cows alive.

I guess I'm with NiV in thinking that it's not illogical to disbelieve that X causes Y, while also believing that Y is happening and is a concern in their life.

May 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan


But presumably INhofe didn't bring the snowball in to show that "hell had froze over"-- which was when he said he'd accept that there the temperature of the earth was actually going up.... He brought it in to show that it was cold outside. He has been rejecting the premise of global warming for yrs & yrs.

What's making the cows unhappy is that it's too darn hot ... Same for Ky Farmer's chickens, but he's got that under control.

If FYATHRIO is the right answer, then Ky Farmer has apparently been persuaded that "climate change is scientifically proven" after all? He is just saying he doesn't believe that earth has been heating up in surveys to bug Al Gore? And the skeptics don't get that Ky Farmer doesn't *really* agree w/ them?

Or are the skeptics also FYATHRIO'ing around too? Maybe they are investing in artic mineral exploration firms while despite, if they are Rs & have high climate science comprehension, being 70% likely to say they don't believe there has been *any* warming in recent decades?!


But maybe simpler than cognitive dualism.

May 20, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Also, am wondering what @NiV thinks the odds are that a farmer in Ky who votes Republican would answer "believes in climate change" vs. "no global warming in last few decades" in a survey?"

I really don't know, but I'd hope that if they know what they're talking about (and I think a fair number do) they'd give the correct answer which is that climate is conventionally defined over 30 year intervals so 18 years of no warming does not contradict the idea that climate changes. There's lots of evidence that climate changes (certainly locally, which is where it would affect farmers) naturally over longer periods than 30 years - the most blatantly obvious examples being the ice ages, but there are plenty of cycles on shorter time scales - so that's pretty uncontroversial. And the zero trend line when calculated by OLS (not a good way to calculate it, but we didn't start that game) over the last 18-odd years is just a question of arithmetic. Likewise pretty much unarguable. Assuming that's what you meant.

The problem, as always, is a matter of definitions. What do you mean by "global warming"? Do you mean the warming of the globe? If so, just subtract. Do you mean the OLS trend? If so, calculate away. Do you mean some underlying physical anthropogenic contribution to which weather noise has been added? If so, you need a statistical model of that weather noise to tell.

Ask a sceptic that particular question, and they'll have a specific definition in mind. If you define it differently, you can argue that they're 'wrong'. But it's not because they're being inconsistent or paradoxical, just that they're speaking a different language to you. That's not the same.

"I'm pretty sure "climate change" in "political sense" refers to the same thing -- a change in earth's climate-- that "climate change" in "literal sense" refers to."

No, they're different. Literal "Climate Change" can be either man-made or natural. Political "Climate Change" only applies to the man-made hypothesis.

Suppose the governments of the world declare that rain is caused by people in discos accidentally doing Native American rain dances, and thus as the number of dance clubs increases, the world will drown. They refer to this theory and the associated anti-dancing political campaign as just "rain". We ask our farmers "do you believe in rain?" They say yes. Then we ask them "So do you agree that we ought to ban dancing?" They reply that they don't. Is this a paradox? Are they claiming both to believe and disbelieve in "rain"?

If you don't pay attention to whether people mean "natural climate change" or "anthropogenic climate change", you'll continue to get weird results like this. If you talk about "climate change" in a political sense, people will implicitly assume that you're referring to the (heavily political) theory that it's anthropogenic. If you ask questions separately about their belief in climate change and whether it's human-caused, they'll deduce that you're using the term in the literal sense, and any believers in natural climate change will answer accordingly. The paper in question made it clear they were doing the latter.

May 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV


Just to confirm, then, by your lexicon, the 67+% of Rs in rural Ok (same for Ky) who say "no warming in recent decades" rather than "warming as a result of natural cycles" or "warming mainly as a result of human activities" mean "I believe the earth is heating up, just not as a result of human activity, so please give me some $ to figure out how to deal with rising temperatures...."

And bringing a snowball into the Senate also means, "I agree with scientists that the earth is heating up in recent decades, so I'm voting to give $ to those scientists to help my constituents to can figure out how to adjust crop selection & growing seasons & develop climate-resistant chickens; the snowball just means not form human causes-- other than gay marriage, of course."

Curious: what do you think of Lewis Carroll as an author?

May 20, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Come on man, haven't you seen Footloose? If you ask KY Farmer if we should ban dancing, he's going to say yes regardless of whether he believes in rain. Also I think I just accidentalied an analogy for environmentalism.


Here's my take on the data in the graphs. The left graph shows little to no variation in belief that surface temperature has increased in the last few decades among liberals but conservatives with high science literacy are more likely to say it hasn't. I think this is FYATHYRIO all the way.

The second graph is interesting. I think the trend in the conservative response is due to smarter/more knowledgeable people being more confident in their positions. But what's really interesting is the large overlap between low science literacy conservatives and liberals.

If I might practice the George Lucas school of blog commenting, I am curious what you think of Jonathan Swift as an author:

This is probably off topic, but in the spirit of MAPKIA:

Do a survey with the ordinary science literacy and political affiliation questions. Then ask about belief both in GHG emissions causing recent climate change and belief in evolution. You'll end up with a Simpson's Paradox-esque situation, where the plots for climate change and evolution individually follow the usual trends, but when you look at all the data together there is going to be

- a large clump of data at high science literacy, conservative political beliefs, yes on evolution, no on climate change

- a small clump of data at high literacy, liberal political beliefs, yes on evolution, no on climate change

- little to no data at low science literacy, yes on evolution, no on climate change, regardless of political leanings

- essentially no data at no on evolution, yes on climate change, regardless of political leanings or science literacy

May 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

"Just to confirm, then, by your lexicon, the 67+% of Rs in rural Ok (same for Ky) who say "no warming in recent decades" rather than "warming as a result of natural cycles" or "warming mainly as a result of human activities" mean "I believe the earth is heating up, just not as a result of human activity, so please give me some $ to figure out how to deal with rising temperatures....""

It depends what "recent decades" you're talking about. The global mean temperature rose from about 1910-1950, remained static/declined slightly 1960-1980, rose 1980-2000, and remained static 2000-2015. If by "recent decades" you mean "the most recent two decades" then there hasn't been any warming. If by "recent decades" you mean "the most recent seven decades" then there has. The question then is "is it natural?"

The theory is that there is a steady rise with short-term variations imposed by "weather". Since there are 20-year periods in the record where the rise (if there is one) was cancelled out by this "weather noise", it necessarily follows that the weather noise must be of at least a comparable magnitude on the 20-year timescale to the anthropogenic component. So if the dips can cancel the anthropogenic warming, couldn't the bumps exaggerate it? In fact, what if the natural wobbles happened to be more up than down over this period (a recovery from the "little ice age", for example) and the majority of the rise we see was actually natural?

What empirical evidence do you have that it wasn't?

To explain the flat bits, even believers must accept that the natural component has a comparable magnitude the the anthropogenic contribution. Sceptics might just estimate it a little higher. That doesn't seem to me such an outrageously unreasonable position from a scientific point of view...

"And bringing a snowball into the Senate also means, ..."

It probably means lots of things, but I expect that's one of them, yes. :-)

"Climate is changing, and climate has always changed, and always will, there's archeological evidence of that, there's biblical evidence of that, there's historic evidence of that, it will always change. The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can't change climate."

Guess who? :-)

May 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Somewhat relevant - Norwegian social scientist actually asks sceptics what they believe, and find their views are more complicated and less black-and-white than everyone thought. Who knew...? :-)

Not so relevant but I thought you might be interested - an article asks why believers in global warming are so hard to convince otherwise and concludes (in other words) it's Cultural Cognition! :-)

Is the word spreading, do you think?

June 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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