Cognitive Dissonance and the Pause in “Global Warming”

In case you’re not familiar with the term, “cognitive dissonance” was coined by Leon Festinger and his colleagues in the 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. It is a groundbreaking work in social psychology, an attempt to explain how people deal with the failure of a deeply held belief. A classic example, cited by Festinger, was the failure of prophecies of the End Times and beginning of The Millenium, as preached by William Miller, a retired ship’s captain and lay preacher. Miller published his calculations of biblical chronology in 1818, calling for the End of Days on 22 October, 1844. The belief was widely held in upstate New York and New England; thousands of families sold their homes and belongings in preparation for being taken up into heaven. Festinger sought to understand and explain how these “Millerites” dealt with the discomfort of conflicting ideas and opposing sentiments (“dissonance”) after the prophecy failed.

Of course, all of us have experience with cognitive dissonance – a lost love, a failed business, a contract that went to a competitor, a promotion we didn’t receive. We pick ourselves up and go on, with a healthier psychology – one that understands and accepts what went wrong. Most of the “Millerites” accepted that they were too willing to believe, that they wanted to believe they were among the few who had been favored with the truth. The most interesting response, however, is the variety Festinger termed “deflection”; deflectors admit the prophecy was not fulfilled, but not because of falsehood or hoax. They weren’t fooled, or taken advantage of; rather, there was a countervailing force that nullified what should have been. And, yes, scientists – especially those whose sense of self is bound up in publications and graduate students and post-doctoral followers and graduate programs – are liable to such an unhealthy psychological response.

Incidentally, in case you’re interested in the application of “cognitive dissonance” in a larger, political context, see the article in last week’s issue of The Weekly Standard, which deals with the Obama as Messiah expectations. The supposed racism of the American public is a classic deflection mechanism to explain the Obama failures.

I’m not a psychologist, I’m a meteorologist, but I’ve wondered for years how the believers in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) would deal with the necessary failure of their belief. It was only a matter of time before the “prophecy” of climate disaster became an obvious failure. Contrary to scores of computer climate models, there has been no global warming for 17 years. These models are totally wrong, along with the physical mechanisms they assume. As the Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said:

“…then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is—if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

There are now at least ten different “explanations” from serious “climate scientists,” explaining how unforeseen external events – i.e., “deflections” – prevented CO2 from increasing the Earth’s temperature. Here are five not unreasonable explanations. If you want to see all ten, they’re available at What’s Up With That.

1) Low solar activity We are currently just past the peak of solar cycle #24, which, indeed, has been about half as intense as cycles 22 and 23. Unfortunately, the solar scientists are predicting cycles 25 and 26 – out to 2040 or so – will be even weaker. Who knows? And why should we cut back on fossil fuels if the Sun controls the climate? We will certainly need artificial heat and light if the Sun is getting weaker, and we might want that greenhouse effect warming too. Incidentally, the solar scientists are definitely NOT part of the “97%”.

2) The heat went into the oceans We have thousands of ocean buoys (the Argo network) out there, which measure temperature and heat content down to 2000 feet below the surface. Somehow, they missed measuring any of that heat as it went by. Darn. And, if there was no heating of the air, what heated the ocean anyway?

3) Volcanic aerosols cooled the Earth Wait! What? Volcanoes also put out tremendous CO2 , don’t they? And we measure the CO2 in the atmosphere, and it’s been going up at a steady, predictable rate – no big change. People tend to notice big volcanic eruptions, which put aerosols up into the stratosphere, where they remain for months (unlike the lower atmosphere, where they get rained out in a week or so). The last big eruption was Pinatubo, in 1993. But, if volcanoes control the climate, what part of our government predicts volcanic eruptions? We can predict the climate if we can predict volcanoes? Or stop their eruptions?

4) We just didn’t measure the right stations There’s a lot of territory in the Arctic and Antarctic where there aren’t any weather stations and observers. The
warming was there, alright; we just didn’t measure it. Volunteers needed. Seriously, too many of our weather stations are in airports (lots of tarmac, lots of
jet exhaust) where measurements are of doubtful validity. A recent Chinese paper claims most of the “heat waves” are due to the growth of cities around previously isolated weather stations.

5) Pacific Decadal Oscillation went into its cold phase Oh dear – this explanation actually makes sense. There is a sixty-year cycle of changing temperature in the Pacific Ocean; El Nino and La Nina are part of this cycle. The PDO was in its cold phase from 1940 through 1976; remember those 1974 articles (front page) by TIME and Newsweek about the coming Ice Age? But the PDO has been going on for millennia; it’s not part of some new “climate change.” It’s merely the shortest cyclic change we’re aware of. And, of course, there’s nothing we can do about it. Like the other “deflections” being offered.

So what? Well, according to Festinger, deflectors don’t accept the failure of “the cause;” they just come up with excuses. (E.g., Harry Reid claiming that failures of ObamaCare are “just lies” – from 5+ million Americans.) That is what the “climate change” community seems to be doing. In fact, even the change of nomenclature from “global warming” to “climate change” was a step on the path to deflection rather than acceptance of failure. I’m aware of few “climate scientists” who have made a retraction of the religion; Judith Curry, at Georgia Tech, is one of very few.

So, your children and grandchildren will continue to hear about “climate change” and “carbon pollution” for years to come, until a generation of believers dies off or retires from their academic chairs. It took 40+ years for “continental drift” to become accepted, rather than heresy.

Be strong.

If you’d like to understand more about climate change – yes, the climate does change, mostly by natural causes – may I recommend a bargain book? sells a very comprehensive book (407 pages), with lots of references, called The Resilient Earth by Simmons and Hoffman. In the Kindle edition, it’s available for $5.99. In case you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon offers a free app – yes, free – that you can download to your desktop or laptop computer that will allow you to read a Kindle document there.

EDITORS NOTE: The features image is the Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) composition titled Composition in Dissonances.