The Average Person

craven I first watched the Manpollo videos about a year and a half ago, when I had the flu, and ended up watching the entire six hours over two days. I don’t remember when it was that I discovered Greg Craven was writing a book based on the videos, but I’ve been excited to read it ever since.

The Manpollo videos have inspired my view on climate change and transformed my way of talking about it more than anything else I’ve read or watched. In a nutshell, Greg Craven’s process of risk management takes the pressure off us to be amateur scientists. It doesn’t require that we assess the statistical methods of people with PhDs when we only have a high school knowledge of science. Instead, it shows us how to use logic, assess credibility, and weigh the benefits and consequences of taking action vs not taking action on an uncertain threat.

I suppose I sort of expected that Greg Craven’s book would be a step up from the videos, would contain even more ideas, anecdotes and talking points that I could really sink my teeth into, would tell me more that I hadn’t already heard in the six hours of Manpollo.

But his book wasn’t like that. Greg Craven disappointed me.

And I’m grateful for that.

See, the book was not aimed at people like me who have an interest in climate change that borders on obsession. It was not aimed at the people who already know which sources are skeptical of anthropogenic climate change and which are worried about it. It was not aimed at those of us who can rattle off the current concentration of atmospheric CO2 without a second thought.

The book was aimed at the average person, who basically knows what climate change is but hears so much shouting in the media that they have no idea of its level of agreement. Who knows there are two sides and doesn’t want to offend anyone. Who has never heard of Milankovitch cycles, methane hydrates or the Goddard Institute of Space Studies.

If the average person stumbled upon most climate change blogs, most of the terms would be foreign to them. I hope they’d be able to understand most of what I write here on ClimateSight (as I try to stay away from analysing hard data) but they’d probably still need a bit of background information.

The average person, with little to no background information on climate science and policy, needs somewhere to start. They need the tools to assess the credibility of a source. They need to know where to go for more information about a topic. They need a basic knowledge of risk management, logic, and bias.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen? provides exactly that. It seems like a more concise version of the Manpollo videos, all the topics outlined in a simple process without the need for much background reading. If I were to recommend a book to start with for this anonymous average person we’re discussing, it would be hard to find one better than this one.

Instead of telling you stuff, Greg Craven tells you how to find stuff out for yourself. He doesn’t tell you how much agreement there is on climate change, he introduces you to a credibility spectrum instead. And even then, he doesn’t just give you his credibility spectrum, he shows you how to make your own.

He doesn’t tell you that oil executives are denialist trolls, he explains possible biases that could lead a person to a hasty conclusion. He gives one of the best basic explanations of the mechanics of anthropogenic climate change that I’ve ever read. Craven is possibly the least offensive, but most helpful, writer I’ve ever encountered.

My only complaint about the book was how he handled the “individual professional” and “individual layperson” sections in the chapters about statements. On the Skeptic’s side, he listed every individual prominent skeptic he could think of, I believe it was about a dozen. On the Warmer’s side, he had Hansen, Oreskes, and Gore. That was it. He explained that this was because he filled his credibility spectrum from the top down, and the statements at the top were almost exclusively weighted to the Warmer’s side. But there is something personal about an individual’s work that makes a person trust them and put faith in their arguments, rather than a report like the IPCC which is dry and anonymous. I wish that Craven had put some kind of indication, perhaps the Doran and Zimmerman report, that the opinion of individual scientists was also weighted towards the Warmer’s side. Otherwise it seems like the masses are not in agreement with the authority, which is supposed to be the source you listen to.

And because I agree with this concept so wholeheartedly, I feel compelled to share with my readers my answer to the question Craven asks at the very beginning – what would make you change your mind?

I would change my mind about dangerous anthropogenic climate change if a new discovery was made, if some new explanation came forward that gained as much agreement as the current theory holds now. If the national scientific bodies of the world, the peer-reviewed journals, and university textbooks had a complete overhaul because scientists discovered that humans were not changing the climate. If some new explanation surfaced that proved Arrhenius and Callendar wrong. It would be a discovery akin to the theory of relativity. As George Monboit said, “If you can prove these statements wrong, you should apply for a Nobel Prize. You will have turned science on its head.”

I listen to the scientists. I’m not surrending my rights and freedoms as an individual to them. I just trust their analysis more than I trust my own.

To conclude

If you already know a fair bit about climate change, and want some really fascinating dicussion points that will keep you going for literally years, watch the Manpollo videos. If you’re a really hardcore skeptic who thinks climate change is a global conspiracy, Manpollo was made especially for you.

But if you’re new to this topic, start with What’s the Worst that Could Happen? I assure you that there is no better place to begin.


9 thoughts on “The Average Person

  1. What a coincidence, I saw his first video for the first time tonight and then I went on to check the latest climate related blogs I read (which I added you on couple of days ago). And kaboom – there you are writing about it.
    Anyway, thank you for your blog – it is very good.

    • That is a very strange coincidence!

      I just went to check out your blog that you linked to – I always like seeing what my readers are working on – what language is it written in? It looks like some kind of Cyrillic text, am I right?

      Thanks for reading, I hope you’ll keep coming back.

  2. I’m glad you did a review of this book. I was just about to buy it.

    Greg Craven’s ideas are pretty cool, but they aren’t so useful in a real climate change debate, since they are almost entirely appeals to authority and to popularity. Those types of arguments, though, are useful for making an uninformed decision. Unless it’s about politics or taste. XP

  3. mtgandp: Within science, if you aren’t an expert, authority does matter. An appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, but as soon as you add extra requirements to a discussion besides logic (for instance, physical evidence) you change the rules of the game.

    As to appeals to popularity, I don’t see where that was used anywhere in his argument except as a way of saving space and time (i.e. listing each and every individual professional scientist on the “yes” side vs. “there are loads to choose from”).

    Two of my friends are very far on the “right” of the political spectrum (one far enough to fit the Fox News wingnut caricature almost perfectly, except for his scientific training). I have NEVER been able to make headway on climate discussions with them using any amount of scientific argument or PR revelation — but both actually listened and re-evaluated aspects of their positions when I used Greg’s approach. One of them (not the wingnut) now no longer opposes carbon trading (he opposes taxation on principle and doesn’t necessarily agree that the missing carbon price is a market failure, but sees the benefits of such a move as outweighing the costs). (For the record, the wingnut keeps shifting his stance to whatever Watts is promoting that week, but he stopped citing the Great Global Warming Swindle and started paying attention to the discussion. Not a victory, but an improvement.)

    I would certainly say that’s “useful”.

  4. Brian, you make a good point there. I agree that appeals to authority are applicable in some situations. I’ve never tried to persuade anyone with it, but if it worked for you, maybe I should try it.

    It is true that he didn’t use any real appeals to popularity. It was mostly appeals to authority (valid as they are). He didn’t present any scientific arguments, but that was kind of the point, wasn’t it?

  5. Definitely true. One of the advantages of avoiding science in these areas is that it bypasses the problem of America’s poor scientific literacy on the whole, which combines well with the economics-styled risk assessment approach. Have you read the Luntz memo, by the way? Risk assessment was one of the things he warned the Republicans from using when discussing this issue.

    Of course, even though Greg explains why authority matters, this also leaves open the problem of America’s general war on expertise (see, for instance, any of the attacks from the Republicans against educated folk during the 2008 campaign, the best of which was probably Palin’s fruit fly or grizzly bear research bashing). This means it’s less effective than it could be, since the target audience may not place the same values on education as a high school science teacher, say. (For far more on this subject than I can fit in here, pick up a copy of Charles Pierce’s Idiot America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue In The Land Of The Free, which is based almost entirely on the history and implications of the war on expertise.)

  6. Kate,
    Your opinion means a lot to me, and I’m glad to find that even though I “disappointed” you, you found it worthwhile. That’s the most important thing! :-) I am glad you liked the book. Now the challenge is…getting it into people’s hands.


    • Thanks for your comment Greg, it’s great to hear from you. Your book is very enjoyable and I’ve already recommended it to multiple people. However I’m still recommending your How it All Ends series to even more people. Your message is getting out regardless.

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