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Although a game played on a relatively tiny stage, ClimateBall™ points to fundamental processes, which across the vastly larger global public stage and involving billions of meme transactions annually, have caused the emergence of a cultural belief-system based upon the narrative of ‘certain catastrophic climate-change’.

Introduction

Climate blogger ‘Willard’ has put significant efforts into a large taxonomy of skeptical challenges (the ‘Bingo Matrix’ or ‘Contrarian Matrix’) and brief rejoinders to same. Along with the very useful characterization of especially the rhetoric aspects of the conflicted skeptic / mainstream climate-change blogosphere, as an engagement not based primarily upon rational argument leading where it will, but one with different rules, a kind of ritual or game: ClimateBall™. Everything herein is my own view of ClimateBall, and what it points to. 

Willard’s site describing this game, with its interlinked plus well laid-out taxonomy of challenges / rejoinders, has been slowly developing for some time and from its own description is still at an early stage. I’ve found it most interesting, not regarding the domain-related points themselves but from an overall conceptual point-of-view. Although highly aligned to a particular ‘Battleground’, i.e. exchanges that occur within the climate-change blogosphere plus associated forums / knowledge-rich venues / social-media (in the spirit of the game I will term this the Clogosphere[1]), ClimateBall captures some essence of the critical processes that also occur in the much vaster and far less constrained global public sphere (which is not at all climate-science literate).

This article draws comparisons between the battleground of ClimateBall, and the enormously amplified battle playing out across the global public stage: ‘Public ClimateBall’, or ‘ClimateBall Big’. Games have rules, and although there are many constraints in the Clogosphere compared to the global public stage, some of the rules and indeed some of the very same subject material, are present in both environments; yet with very different outcomes. ClimateBall Big is a different league.

In the FaQ for ClimateBall, blogger ATTP (Professor Ken Rice) is quoted regarding the spirit of ClimateBall: ‘[I]t’s a game whether we like it or not. If you’re going to get involved, it’s best that you understand that it is [a] game, how to play the game, and what the rules[2] are.’

The Contrarian Matrix

Each skeptical challenge in the Matrix has its own link, boiled down to the essence of what the challenge is about. For example Historical TimesConsensusExtreme EventsRenewables, etc.

THE ‘BUT’ PRECURSOR

Each skeptical challenge has the word ‘but’ added in front of it. So, ‘But Historical Times’, ‘But Consensus’, etc. This is of course a rhetorical device in itself, yet usefully serves as caution that the challenges might be more about rhetoric and bias than about rational content. This is as seen from an orthodox PoV, but this PoV is the widest net for catching skeptical rhetoric, should this indeed form a main component of the challenge. And if any skeptics arguing each point are tripped over by such a very simple device, maybe the device found out their own rhetoric, or maybe instead they’re just ClimateBall novices, losing the play but not necessarily the point. And the game operates in both directions of course. One could add the ‘But’ precursor to every orthodox challenge, laying the gauntlet that maybe these are not well-founded. While this is hardly the way to proceed with rational debate, an element of ritual gaming has been a part of the Clogosphere for years, in part nourished by newer players sucked in.

To separate the game from rational exchange that has also occurred, it would actually be pretty useful to have a map of it. And a map from any PoV is a useful start. Whether some of the ‘buts’ are actually false positives (in the detection of rhetoric sense), and how much the given rejoinders to each skeptical challenge might also lean upon rhetorical devices and bias rather than full objectivity, is likely recursive within the game. Some points include domain knowledge that itself is disputed plus isn’t easy to untangle from ‘pure’ rhetoric. A similar mapping from a skeptical PoV would be helpful and might not be a mirror image, which itself would be interesting. The identification of as many known fallacies as can be found, would I think help to make maps from any PoV more convincing. Yet much more important than maps, is what the perceptive notion of a game points to.

THE CENTRAL SQUARE OF THE MATRIX: ‘CAGW’

The heart of the matrix and highest profile skeptical proposition is: ‘But CAGW’, where CAGW = Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. The first rejoinder is: ‘“CAGW” {1} is a contrarian strawman of the scientific established view’. Usage and controversy regarding the ‘CAGW’ acronym is discussed in detail at Climate Etc. here (with a pre-cursor / partner post here); which posts also point out that indeed mainstream science (the IPCC technical papers) does not support certain global catastrophe from anthropogenic climate-change or global-warming, the general meaning of the acronym. But while skeptics might often and inappropriately lay it at the door of mainstream science, they certainly didn’t invent this position. On a massive scale and with a landslide victory (as confirmed below), this is the winning thread in ClimateBall Big. ‘CAGW’ is a focus for both leagues.

Accelerant and inhibitors for the game

If there was no game, fully rational debate would lead only to withheld judgement in the absence of enough evidence, or with sufficient (overwhelming) evidence to choose between candidate theories, the emergence of provisional (almost certain) answers consistent with the evidence. There would be no ritual repetitions, no rules outside the normal process of testing candidates against the evidence. So, what fuels the game? What leads to different rules? A clue is in the frequently emotive nature of many exchanges (unfortunately, often negative emotions).

Many different fallacies and detailed bias mechanisms have pervaded the Clogosphere, these always occur systemically in conflicted domains where group identities are at stake. And the ultimate driver of group or ‘tribal’ identity is emotive (so not rational) conviction about accepted group-values. This is accelerant for the game, which in principle can literally bypass rationality for group adherents. This leads to rules that are more to do with emotive selection and an evolving population of false narrative variants, than with rationality. And ultimately, can create an environment in which emotive content and rhetoric devices have more power than evidence. Oppositely, where emotive convictions are resisted, exchanges drop out of the game and progress rationally. Rational exchange promotes more rational exchange; it’s a game inhibitor.

Battlegrounds: The Clogosphere and the Global Public Space

Having noted all the above, the Clogosphere is actually a place of relative sanity. On average the Clogosphere is pretty climate-literate, hugely so compared to the public domain, which means there is knowledge to feed rational exchanges even if that doesn’t always happen. And notwithstanding enough emotively driven plays to earn their own taxonomy (I look forward especially to the forthcoming sections of the ClimateBall Manual: IV-Climateball Tricks, V-Climateball Strategies, and VI-Climateball Principles), arbitrary evolution of narratives is severely constrained.

To this extent I disagree with ATTP’s quote above; the writ of ClimateBall in the Clogosphere is very far from all-powerful. While there are emotive redoubts and a significant proportion of emotively driven exchanges, and indeed it’s more than handy to have an idea of the game, playing is by no means compulsory and there’s a great deal of rationality too. While a never-ending-audit[3], another useful concept expressed by Willard, can be a very negative phenomenon when executed by a mono-culture, in a domain where everyone of every cultural loyalty and position audits everyone else, a never-ending-audit is net healthy and severely limits the extent to which emotive memes can depart from reality. Without this limit, such memes can achieve run-away evolution, hence asserting an arbitrary mono-culture based upon complete falsehood. For instance, a constant fire-watch on ‘CAGW’ by both skeptics and the orthodox (from very different perspectives and for different reasons[4]), prevents this meme from ever gaining purchase in the Clogosphere. Even as it remains an incessant bone of contention, which contention helps stop the fire-watch from ever lapsing.

Which leads us to what must happen on the battleground of the global public space. This space is essentially devoid of climate knowledge, subject to less rational audit as decades pass, and fosters demonization of any remaining audit functions. Nor is it constrained by any sense of ‘doing science’ or weighing evidence. Plus, it is also several orders of magnitude larger than the Clogosphere. As there are now few countries left where sizeable portions of publics haven’t heard about climate-change, the number of memetic transactions that occur annually in the global public space must be in the billions. Transactions = transmits, receives (much bigger than transmits due to various broadcast functions), and modifications. While smaller, the latter rise as transactions rise, which leads to faster rates of evolution; so narrative variants can swiftly pivot to challenges (such as covid, for instance). From a ‘selfish meme’ PoV, the burdens of evidence, inconvenient rationality and never-ending-audit that clog up the Clogosphere, are all absent; only the gaming ruleset applies.

The game uninhibited: ClimateBall Big

Emotive selection is a major part of that ruleset. Although it isn’t so simple as ‘the most emotive meme takes all’, nevertheless such a meme rises to the top-dog position. And it’s difficult to be more emotive than certain global catastrophe for the planet. In practice, a whole population of associated variants implemented by a plethora of rhetoric devices live under the top-dog narrative, which directly or indirectly sponsors them. This allows for many potent emotive ‘cocktails’ (e.g. ‘hope and fear’) that leverage more support, plus reduces the effect whereby highly emotive variants induce not only emotive conviction, but also emotive rejection at the same time (cultures are polarizing). ‘Softer’ narratives still linked to the top-dog can increase the number of adherents ‘on the sly’, prompting less rejection and pulling in wider (albeit less ardent) support for the overall cultural agenda. A key sub-theme is ‘salvation’ (via a crash Net-Zero program).

So, as a result of runaway narrative evolution the CAGW fairy-story dominates the global public space. As it has slowly captured institutions and the machinery of governments plus mainstream media, church leaders, influencers and uncle Tom Cobbly and all, then less and less rational audit prevents its spread. Relative to the Clogosphere, this is not at all a rational space. Rationality is effectively vanquished. For full clarity, from here on I add the implied ‘certain’ catastrophe (absent salvation via crash Net-Zero) to the acronym, so ‘CCAGW’.

Being free from all encumbrances causes different sub-narrative variants to be surfaced compared to the Clogosphere (which is mainly about science and policy even where exchanges fall prey to ClimateBall). I term the population of narrative variants sponsored by the top-dog theme of CCAGW, ‘Catastrophe Narrative’.

It’s more intuitive that in the Global Public Space, the processes driving masses of individuals to the tune of emotive narratives are largely subconscious. Cultural drives are the oldest and most potent way of aligning human activity, for which no deliberated hoax / conspiracy / nefarious plot is required. Notwithstanding that in any barrel there’ll be a few bad apples, there’s no reason to suppose that this is different for the gaming aspects of the Clogosphere. People aren’t emotive because they’re knowingly pushing a false agenda, but because they deeply believe they’re pushing the truth, and against what is frequently perceived as deliberate resistance; yet such strong (group) belief can blind any of us.

Measuring the game

The overall effect of ClimateBall to date is very difficult to measure, maybe impossible. Particular encounters can be catalogued, but they’re often highly entwined from multiple positions, may well be inconclusive, and the Clogosphere remains stubbornly riven with rationality that undermines or even short-circuits plays. Nor are formal surveys generally carried out on the Clogosphere. Some attempts to characterize websites and traffic seem too simplistic to tell us anything that denizens didn’t already know. From purely the gaming PoV it has a word-war one-ish character, a stalemate punctuated by ritual exchanges that achieve little.

However, measuring the effect of ClimateBall Big is certainly possible. There are quite a number of relevant surveys covering the global public space. And while public authorities are not separately surveyed, for the higher-profile ones at least their clear statements are frequently recorded on the internet, which means a useful catalogue can be compiled. Authority stances both indicate the level of cultural penetration achieved, plus for any given period, what narrative is pushing corresponding publics via authority influence. The section below covers such a catalogue, which indeed demonstrates ubiquitous Catastrophe Narrative from public authorities; the section after that covers the mass response of global publics. Overall, ClimateBall Big has an early world-war two-ish character, a constant conquering of territory – so far memetic Blitzkrieg is winning.

The Catastrophe Narrative Matrix

The Climate Etc. guest post here briefly describes some of the Catastrophe Narrative variants as propagated by many authority sources (from presidents and prime ministers and UN elite on downwards) across many nations, plus supplies an archive file containing many more (179 quotes from 157 sources). I list the more common categories here, and in the spirit of the game that operates uninhibited on the battleground of the global public space, I precede the paraphrased typical variants in each with ‘But’. For precise quotes see the archive, which I reattach here (I’ve never had time to add more quotes since 2018, but there are now many internal links for moving easily around the file). Some particular phrases are more explicit / extreme than in the summary below.

While some seem more obviously emotive memes than others (it’s hard to mistake ‘Earth is a car heading for a brick-wall’), the persuasive potency for all comes from the sponsoring narrative. So, ‘save the children’ from CCAGW. ‘Extreme weather’ because CCAGW (whatever the state of attribution science for any particular event, using CCAGW to emotively convince of its veracity is a memetic falsity). But ‘X is bad anyway’ and it’s causing CCAGW. Nefarious doubters betray us to CCAGW. The new world is ushered by fighting CCAGW. But ‘listen to the children’ who spout CCGAW. And so on. Even in a CCAGW context some make no sense (e.g. blaming earthquakes on CCAGW); since the top-dog sponsoring them all is false anyhow, that’s a side-show.

  • Basic / CCAGW.
    • But certain man-made catastrophe! But no Planet B. But save the Planet. But all life on Earth. But climate-change catastrophe is real. But the future of every human-being. But “this apocalyptic reality is the elephant in the room”. But a question of survival.
  • Emotively overwhelmed conditionals.
    • But scary. But passion. But sorrow. But listen to FEELINGS (not the qualifications). Panic! (I dropped this in as it’s now explicit from Greta).
  • Fear plus hope.
    • Incredibly scary, but “Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen”. But new and better world! But new green economy. But one-world government! [Insert to taste].
  • Engaging anxiety for children.
    • But save the children! / grandchildren / next generation.
  • Moral association.
    • But noble cause. But climate justice. But climate criminals. But greed. But sacred duty. But willful denial.
  • Agenda incorporation.
    • But X is BAD anyhow!  X = Capitalism / Democracy / Flying / Frakking / Power-stations (even nuclear) / eating meat. Whatever. [Insert to taste].
  • Terminal metaphors.
    • But Earth is on life-support. But Earth drowning. But Earth burning. But Earth cancerous. But Earth is a car heading for a brick-wall. But heading for train-crash. But heading off a cliff. But into the abyss. [Insert to taste]. But we are “at the limits of suicide”. But we are playing Russian roulette. But unleashing Hell. But giant asteroid equivalent. “About a decade ago I realized we were putting the finishing touches on our own extinction party.” (2011).
  • Merchants of doubt.
    • But don’t heed doubters! Doubters are immoral / lining their pockets / greedy / dishonest. Doubters = deniers / corporations / fossil-fuel purveyors / mavericks / right-wing. [Insert to taste, essentially anyone out-group on CCAGW]. (Essentially, but don’t listen to the Devil).
  • The voice of innocence.
    • But listen to the children!
  • Attribution reinforcement.
    • But extreme weather. But Natural Disasters.
  • Deadline deployments
    • But Doomsday clock. But the cost of inaction is catastrophic! But only X years / months / days / hours to act! [insert interval / dates to taste, very many have passed].
  • Miscellaneous: Cute icons, Ultimate out-group action, No-hopers.
    • But Polar Bears. But Penguins.
    • But “You cannot pick and choose — if you don’t accept climate change, you should not be given penicillin or painkillers or even visit a doctor…”. Greg Skilbeck, essentially because it’s an “existential threat to civilization”, and science is an all or nothing proposition.
    • “But any which way, barring miracles, this civilization is going down. It is time we stopped engaging in the absurd contortions and pretences of ‘climate-optimism’. It’s time now for climate-realism. That entails not only an epic struggle to mitigate and adapt, an epic struggle to take on the climate-criminals, but also starting to plan seriously for civilizational decline and collapse”. Rupert Read.

The mass response of Global Publics

Public surveys don’t generally ask what people think about climate apocalypse and simultaneous salvation, the core of Catastrophe Narrative. However, many questions / answer-options approach this to various emotive degrees by asking about, say, national harm or personal harm, or offering terms like ‘extremely serious’ to describe climate-change, or offering a list of national or global issues from which climate-change can be picked as the single-most or 1 of N most important issues. These allow us to see emotive convictions in publics across nations[5], who have been soaked in Catastrophe Narrative for decades. As Catastrophe Narrative is cultural and contradicts mainstream science (and skeptical science), we expect responses to dominantly conform to a cultural pattern if it has indeed won ClimateBall Big. So, is this the case?

The chart below shows a basic summary (less series, less features) of climate-change ‘most supportive’ responses across national publics, to various survey questions. Text of the questions is listed at the end of this post. Two features of the chart shout out that a strong ‘climate culture’ is indeed being interrogated here; religiosity is acting as the ‘lens’ via which we can see it. But first, some nomenclature and context.

The grey trends are climate-change supportive responses to reality-constrained questions, i.e. those asking about climate-change relative to other real-world issues / policies / financing. Such questions have different strengths of constraint. E.g. picking climate-change (or a related policy) as a single priority from 9 issues, is a stronger constraint than picking climate-change as one of 5 priorities from 12. Picking from national issues is a stronger constraint than picking from global issues (less perceived personal impact from the latter).

The black trends are climate-change supportive responses to unconstrained questions. These are free from the above constraints, allowing full expression of cultural commitments absent any clash or compromise with reality. Such questions have different strengths of emotive alignment to Catastrophe Narrative. And in regard to posited climate-change harms, the emotive ranking is: personal beats national beats global. Because cultures are emotively polarizing, all the black trends should intersect somewhere. This isn’t the case for the reality-constrained responses, as long as each represents a unique and non-equivalent reality.

So, the trendline key is: ‘SA’= Strongly-Aligned, ‘MSA’ = Medium-Strong-Aligned, ‘MWA’ = Medium-Weak-Aligned, and ‘WA’ = Weakly-Aligned. ‘FC’ = Fully-Constrained, ‘SC’ = Strongly-Constrained, ‘MC’ = Medium-Constrained, and ‘WC’ = Weakly-Constrained. Note: the ‘MC’ trend is intuited; I haven’t yet found a series roughly bisecting the space between ‘SC’ and ‘WC’. Note: due to noise, the RH end of ‘MWA’ lands bang on top of ‘WA’. Hence, 1 unit (+1Y) is added to MWA, in order to make the conceptual situation clearer.

The first shout-out is that the systemic differences between the grey and black trends should always occur when interrogating a strong culture. The two different response types will be similarly grouped, and the unconstrained trends will intersect while the reality-constrained ones won’t. For instance, this exactly occurs when interrogating religion (and with basic enough values, across all main Faiths). In one-dimension so to speak, i.e. when plotting faith supportive responses to questions on religiously-orientated values against the same X-axis of National Religiosity, then all the trends must slope the same way. But otherwise, the features are the same. And we know that religion is wholly cultural.

The second shout-out that attitudes to climate-change are cultural, is the apparent paradox that those nations expressing by far the most concerns about climate-change (RH ends of black trends), also express the least priority for climate-change relative to other issues / policies (RH ends of grey trends). And the opposite is true at the LHS, albeit the grey and black trends overlap more. Such a pattern can’t possibly come from the climate or climate exposure of nations, or climate-science or related policy aims, or indeed anything rational. Yet this can arise from cultural motivation; cultures feature fundamental contradictions that may sometimes achieve blatant expression. In this case, it’s due to a dual interaction between religion and ‘climate culture’.

Together, these shout-outs tell us that public attitudes to climate-change are indistinguishable from those for any other strong culture. In the global public space, climate-change is essentially a secular religion. This is the result of ClimateBall Big to date, a memetic game in which Catastrophe Narrative, with it’s top-dog theme of CCAGW, has triumphed.

Consequences

The victory of Catastrophe Narrative in ClimateBall Big isn’t just an academic matter, because real-world phenomena are driven by the cultural attitudes of national publics to climate-change. For instance, the level of climate-activism per nation also follows a simple and dominantly cultural pattern. Perhaps not a complete surprise. Yet so does the commitment to renewable energy (Solar and Wind) per nation, meaning that this does not depend primarily on the climate or climate exposure of nations, nor science or engineering issues, nor objective policy generally. This ought to be a concern to everyone across the spectrum of climate-change opinion, from the skeptical to the highly concerned. Via emotive selection, cultural entities steer us en-masse to pour resource into not solving their touted problem, which maximizes their spread and influence, while a genuine solution would kill the culture. This is likely the main source of animosity in various green groups (and Greta) to nuclear as the heavy-lifter in Net-Zero solutions. And all this is why I probe the big league that determines events, not the little league; yet the concept of ClimateBall is nevertheless a helpful one.

Table and notes

QuestionMeasured (CC supportive) responseData-points, R2, pThose who choose…Measured (CC supportive) responseData-points, R2, p
How much of an impact, if any, do you believe climate change will have on your life?‘A great deal’ SA240.87, 2.2E-11Climate-change as important in 1 of Y (National issues)Point samples confine below5, *, *
How concerned are you, if at all, that global climate change will harm you personally at some point in your lifetime?‘Very concerned’ MSA260.45, 1.7E-4Fully-Constrained upper estimate from WC (Divide by 6)FCn/a
Because of human activities, the Earth is close to ‘tipping points’ in nature where climate or nature may change suddenly, or may be more difficult to stabilise in the future.‘Strongly agree’ MWA17, 0.66, 7.4E-5‘Climate-change’ as important in 1 of 9 (Global threats)SC160.33, 2.1E-2
How much power, if any, do you think International bodies (e.g. the United Nations) have to combat climate change?‘A great deal’ WA240.8, 4.6E-9‘Action on climate-change’ as important in 6 of 17 (Global issues)WC480.57, 5.7E-10  
How serious a problem, if at all, do you think climate change is?‘Extremely’ WA1370.49, 1.4E-6

[1] From the ClimateBall Manual‘More Dance than Sport’. A clog-dance seemed appropriate: Climateblogosphere.

[2] Willard has on occasion noted transgression of the rules, e.g., ‘ClimateBall malpractice’. But purely in a gaming sense, true rhetoric competition driven by emotive bias is never malpractice whatever path it follows. Or from an alternate perspective, compared to 100% objectivity and rationality it is always malpractice, so separating out one ‘transgression’ due to bias from all other transgressions, is not too meaningful.

[3] A key tool of ‘the grey men’ in the 1973 novel Momo, by Michael Ende, via which they steal time.

[4] Both sides in the Clogosphere disbelieve this meme. They disagree only about its source. Skeptics often presume it must be mainstream science that produced and underwrites ‘CAGW’, which as noted earlier is not the case. The orthodox often presume it must be a skeptic strawman, rather the winner of ClimateBall Big. It’s notable though that science has consistently turned a blind eye to the rise of ‘CAGW’ / Catastrophe Narrative in the public domain.

[5] Excluding those where a one-party state suppresses religion, as this warps the lens of religiosity through which we are looking. So, China, Vietnam, North Korea. And also, for different reasons the US; the same cultural principles hold but there is more complexity due to a 4-way cultural dance (Rep/Con culture, Dem/Lib culture, religion, and ‘climate-culture’). In the rest-of -world it’s only a 2-way dance, religion and ‘climate-culture’. The US scenario can still be tied to the pattern in the chart, but it’s outside the scope of this post.

via Climate Etc.

 November 27, 2021 by curryja