I first came across the term "Overton Window" when learning about climate science. The idea is that in a given area of public policy, only a narrow range of policy options will be acceptable and that range is defined by what policy-makers believe they can support and still win re-election.
Climate science deniers keep trying to push the window of policy options to mitigate climate change such that there will be no policy action. First they wanted to reject climate science altogether, claiming it to be a hoax. Some of them still do, with conspiracy theories getting wrapped up with older conspiracy theories relating to all sorts of things, often anti-Semitic. Others used to try to claim that CO2 is plant food as if the fact that some plants respond to CO2 (all other things equal) will outweigh all the downsides of a rapidly warming world. There are some deniers who don't deny that greenhouse gases exist and that CO2 is one of them, but try to argue that for some reason this time around, greenhouse gases won't behave as they've always done in the past. From now on, they argue, the warming won't be as great as it was in the past when greenhouse gases increased.
All of the above positions are a rejection of science. Which is why people who hold these various views are often called "science deniers". The reasons individuals hold some or all of these views (yes, even contradictory views) are varied, but often are based in their world view. They cannot reconcile a world view that includes public policy with their own world view of individualism. These are people who are not comfortable living in harmony with others.
Now there are people who probably understand the science very well who promote disinformation. The reason they do so is to try to push the Overton Window such that it excludes policy options to mitigate climate change. It's their job. It's what they are paid to do. When the day of reckoning comes they are likely to whine that they were only doing what they were told by their paymasters.
There is an article at WUWT today (archived here) by someone who I suspect is one such person. He probably understands the science but is trying to position the Overton Window away from policies that promote clean energy. The person is Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger. He often pairs up with Pat Michaels, another science disinformer, and are known here as Pat 'n Chip. It's Chip's job as assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute to try to position the Overton Window in a place that suits the people who fund the Cato Institute.
His argument is not logical or coherent or correct. It is not in accord with the science. The tack he's taking today is that the AAAS is wrong. After all, what would this organisation know about science?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest non-government general science membership organization and the executive publisher of Science, a leading scientific journal.
Put the AAAS against a right wing political lobby group and see how the science stacks up. You can read the AAAS science here. We can sum up Chip's argument as follows (archived here):
- CO2 is a greenhouse gas and more of it makes the world heat up more.
- The world isn't going to heat up as much as most science finds it will because he's found a couple of oddbods who will back him on that assertion - such as a retired financier rather than climate scientists, but what the heck.
- Action to mitigate global warming is both inapplicable and will be ineffective. [Sou: Point 3 doesn't follow from point 1 or point 2. Chip isn't strong on logic.]
Chip would never get a job in the insurance industry, which is probably why he's stuck writing nonsense for a right wing lobby group. As Nicholas Stern pointed out on ABC Lateline last night, these are very high risks.
Whatever we're doing we can't reverse. The best we can hope for is to stop doing it, but we're stuck with the damage we've already done and the future consequences of the damage we've already done. That means that we have to be damn sure of ourselves in the action we take.
This is a very high risk path we've taken. The chance of mild warming is much lower than the chance of high warming and all the other consequences such as irreversible damage to ecosystems on land and in the oceans; irreversible melting of ice sheets and glaciers, meaning irreversible sea level rise. We still have some choice in how quickly these changes happen and the extent of them. But we've already put the changes in motion.
Chip is making a judgement call that we'll be able to adapt in time to the incredibly rapid changes. He's not just a risk-taker, he's foolhardy to the point of being certifiably insane, and wants everyone else to play his high stakes game.
From the WUWT comments
The fact that Chip is agreeing that the greenhouse effect and global warming are real means that the Overton Window he's shoving allows a little bit of science to peep through, even though he wants to shut out most of it. Let's see how the deniers at WUWT react. There aren't a lot of comments yet. You can read them here.
Robber is an illiteratum and says:
March 27, 2014 at 1:36 pm
Are they the Association for the Advancement of Science or the Association for Shaming & Scuttling Science?
Chad Wozniak is also a member of the illiterati and says:
March 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm
The American Association for the Adulteration of Science.
wws says people are disinterested and dumb, and America is the entire world:
March 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm
And you wanna know what is the PERFECT counter to this, as far as communicating our message to any average voter? “COLDEST WINTER IN 100 YEARS!!!” And that’s all. If they’re really interested, show them the simple chart, and then stop talking. One simple picture destroys years of studies and thousands of words of explanations.
Who cares if it’s not a perfectly accurate representation of the big picture? Not your average voter, that’s for sure.