The Herding Aspect of Global Warming

Posted: September 8, 2008 in 2007, Articles
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Excerpted from the July 2007 issue of
The Elliott Wave Theorist

Now back to my main point: The fact remains that there is powerful evidence of herding at the social level on the global warming issue. Commentary on the subject is even selling theater tickets. And like all past social trends that were ending, there is a rush to extrapolate. The temperature data from which modelers at NASA derive their extrapolation are scant, the projection is extreme and their tone is strident. When any writers, including scientists, extrapolate 29 years’ worth of temperature data to predict an imminent apocalypse of Biblical proportions in an environment of waxing social focus, rising panic and calls for government obstruction, one must acknowledge the likelihood of social-psychological forces behind such a report and investigate whether the data support the prediction.

It’s fine to describe chemistry. It’s fine to offer a theory of atmospheric and temperature change. But there seems to be a degree of statistical selectivity behind this specific prediction from NASA.

Global warming advocates told me that doubting man-made global warming was akin to denying evolution, but the global warming movement has not a little taste of old-time religion in its accompanying admonition of humanity: Man is evil; he is destroying the earth; he is “fouling his own nest,” as one scientist on the web says. Scientists are usually good at their fields but not necessarily at recognizing their own political, moral and economic biases.

As I said, “My primary intent is to take a look at the question from the point of view of a social psychologist to decide whether it appears to be the result of hysteria.” One thoughtful scientist took issue with the term, “hysteria.” But the term applies here to social activity, not the overt behavior of any particular individual.

In 2005, when I was speaking about real estate hysteria and warning people against investing in property, people sporting a rather bemused expression would coolly respond, as if instructing an alien who lacked understanding of the way things worked on Earth, “They are not making any more land” and “it’s all about location.” They would say this with utmost calm. They had thought about it and sifted through the evidence. They were not hysterical but rational and thoughtful. At least, this was the appearance of behavior at the individual level. At the collective level, something else was going on. The number of people participating in the real estate market was unprecedented, and their borrowing, building and bidding activities, collectively, were extreme. Advocates of man-made global warming may appear sober as judges individually, but they are participating in a mass movement, complete with press releases, student rallies, pop concerts, movie documentaries and an underlying tone of moral crusade.

As one advocate for global warming admitted, the issue does become problematic when politics enters the picture. This is an understatement. Collective fears come and go, but public policy in response to them usually causes real horrors. Millions of people in the world are infected with malaria thanks to the DDT ban. The US starves for oil and emits more greenhouse gasses thanks to the ban on building nuclear plants, which could have powered a clean rail system.

Perhaps global warming is an exception to the overwhelming tendency of mass fears to prove unfounded. Perhaps NASA’s spectacular extrapolation of more than a 10 percent rise in temperature in the span of a single lifetime is accurate. But the advocates of government restrictions on productive activity had better be right, or they will once again have to answer for the “collateral damage” they will do with their proposals.

So, would I call man-made global warming a hoax, as a recent television program did? Definitely not; it has a strong scientific basis. Is the social environment with respect to the issue one of mass herding in an emotional state? It most definitely is. Should you believe predictions that climate change will usher in mass doom in coming decades? I don’t. I think the current frenzy over the subject is probably a symptom of peaking cycles in both climatic temperature and social psychology. But unfortunately 70 years from now most of us won’t be around to know the answer.

What I expect, based upon observing mass movements, is that this fear, too, will go away. Like the sweeping prison-yard spotlight that catches glimpses of external causes for stock-market behavior and then passes over them after a few years, crescendos of commentary on various foci of social fear almost always go away. Before my lifetime ends, global warming will probably fade as a focus of concern, and some new mass fear will be on the front page of USA Today. Nevertheless, I caution that only my views on the social aspects of the matter—not the meteorological aspects—are adequately informed.

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