Pareto Speaks to Us About Environmentalism

Vilfredo Pareto, who died in 1923, was an Italian economist and sociologist. In the spirit of Machiavelli, he developed theories concerning human belief and the rise and fall of elites. His insights can be applied to explain much about contemporary America. (See: The Rise and Fall of Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology by Vilfredo Pareto)

Pareto believed that men form their beliefs from emotion or sentiment and that rational justifications for beliefs are constructed after the belief has been subscribed to. In other words, the rational justification is window dressing. Pareto also thought that men deceive themselves about the origin of their beliefs, not recognizing that their beliefs are the consequence of sentiment. Men claim, and believe, that their beliefs are the result of rational thought.

Because belief is emotional at its root, it is extremely difficult to make ideological conversions by logical argument. Logical arguments won’t work because the believer will mount a logical defense to every argument and will be impervious to rebuttals. Successful ideological conversions are made by using emotional tactics, such as applying psychological pressure.

The religious group, the Moonies, has been successful in recruiting new members by the technique of “Love Bombing,” a term they invented. The technique is to lavish flattery, affection, and attention on the prospective recruit. This emotional technique is highly successful. Love Bombing is far more promising than explaining Moonie theology to the typically youthful recruit.

Charles Manson recruited middle class youths into his criminal "Family" through the use of powerful emotional stimuli involving psychotropic drugs, promiscuous sex, and shared illegal acts.

Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heir of a wealthy family, was converted to the revolutionary beliefs of the Symbionese Liberation Army after being locked in a closet for weeks at a time under threat of death.

If we examine belief in global warming, the believers claim scientific justification for their belief. This is window dressing. The real motivation is emotional. The scientific basis for global warming is incredibly weak and has been powerfully attacked by various skeptics. The scientific attacks from skeptics may have swayed weak believers, but strong believers, including the Obama administration, have responded with attacks on the integrity of the skeptics. For example the skeptics are accused of being in the pay of fossil fuel companies, even though there is little evidence of that.

Oddly, many of the fossil fuel companies profess to be concerned about global warming and declare that they, too, are working to reduce CO2 emissions. The executives of the fossil fuel companies fit into Pareto’s theory of declining elites who become effete and too timid to defend their privileges. Incredibly, fossil fuel companies give money to organizations, such as the American Geophysical Union, or even the Sierra Club, that attack the very right to exist of the fossil fuel companies. Groups skeptical of global warming get little or nothing from fossil fuel companies that are apparently too busy trying to appease their deadly enemies.

What is the emotional core of belief in global warming and why is the scientific justification mainly window dressing? It’s actually fairly obvious. The emotional core of the belief is fear of modern technology.

Global warming is only the latest of a string of, doomsday scenarios, justified by dubious scientific claims, dating back as far as the 1940’s. In 1948 two influential books were independently published. Our Plundered Planet by Fairfield Osbourne and The Road to Survival by William Vogt. These books are considered to mark the start of the many periodic environmental scares. The scares generally have a theme that modern technology is damaging the ability of the Earth to support mankind and that it is polluting the environment, trends aggravated by reckless population growth. Stanford professor, Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, was published in 1968 and has sold 2 million copies. The book Limits to Growth published in 1972 predicted, based on computer models, disasters due to exhaustion of resources, increasing pollution and population growth. During the last 60 years there have been dozens of major environmental scares. Examples include projected shortages of food, oil and even water. Pollution scares include arsenic, mercury, radon, chlorine, pesticides, acid rain, etc.

These scares have in common the theme that modern technology is backfiring. The scares play to and promote this emotional belief. To many people, technology is an object of suspicion and fear. There is romantic nostalgia for an idealized simpler time in the past. For example, the organic food movement basically advocates growing food by restricting technology to that used prior to about 1930. This is based on the idea that pesticides and synthetic fertilizer is harmful, a belief that is scientifically not supportable. Plants don’t care whether they get nitrogen from synthetic fertilizer or chicken manure. Pesticides used to kill insects are not passed into the food product except in microscopic, harmless quantities. The advocates of organic farming don’t mention that half the world population would starve if their less productive farming schemes were universally adopted.

If you are highly fearful and confused by modern technology, then the succession of environmental scares supports and fortifies your worldview. However you will not, of course, say, or even think, that you are puzzled and scared by the modern world. No, you will say that scientific research has shown that much of modern technology is dangerous and must be stopped. Ironically, the environmental movement turns science and technology against science and technology.

The scientific weakness of global warming science, and other environmental science, is demonstrated more than anything else by the reaction of the scientist and lay advocates to those who dare to raise objections to the doomsday theories. Rather than meeting the objections with scientific arguments, the critics are attacked and marginalized. This behavior is not scientific, it an attempt to defend a dogma by lashing out at those who dare to question the dogma.

When Lennart Bengtsson, a Swedish climate scientist and meteorologist, joined the advisory council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organization skeptical concerning global warming, he was forced to resign a week later due to abuse he received from the climate science community. He said: “I had not expected such an enormous world-wide pressure put on me from a community that I have been close to all my active life.”

When the Danish researcher Bjorn Lomborg published The Skeptical Environmentalist a book that questioned much of the environmentalist canon, he was vilified in 11 pages of the Scientific American by such people as John Holdren, now Obama’s science advisor. Lomborg’s opponents in Denmark accused him of scientific dishonesty. Lomborg effectively defended himself and the attacks backfired, making Lomborg famous.

Numerous other examples of attacks against persons skeptical of the environmental cannon could be cited. Characteristically the attacks are attempts to discredit and smear, not to engage in an honest debate. Honest public debate on environmental issues is rare. The claim, often repeated, that the doomsday claims of global warming are settled science, is a claim intended to shut down debate. People with honest scientific questions or objections are depicted as idiots who probably think the Earth is flat.

It may seem odd that scientists are emotionally fearful of modern technology. However, attacking modern science and technology is the stock in trade of environmental scientists. That is how they get attention and funding. The global warming scare has been a bonanza for climate scientists. Indisputably there are brilliant climate scientists, but scientists from harder sciences are likely to view climate scientists as second-rate scientists who give an excessive amount of credibility to computer models that don’t work very well. As population bomb man Paul Ehrlich said, “to err is human but to really foul things up you need a computer.” He does not take his own advice, since he is a supporter of computerized global warming doomsday predictions. Climate scientists are seen to be opportunists, profiting from poorly supported doomsday predictions.

How should he global warming scare be combatted? The scientific theories promoted by the global warming advocates are soft targets. Their science is lousy. But critical scientific arguments are highly technical and only of use in getting authoritative scientists to join the skeptical side. To influence the vast majority of citizens, including non-specialist scientists, emotional arguments are necessary. My suggestion would be to paint a picture of a future when global warming promoters get what they want and everyone else loses money, mobility, jobs, etc. Combine this with authoritative scientists saying that global warming dogma is scientifically flawed and you have a winning formula.

Norman Rogers is a volunteer Senior Policy Advisor for the Heartland Institute. He writes often about global warming.

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