Systemic thinking on causation

by Judith Curry

George Lakoff has just thrown  a big can of worms into the global warming debate:

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy — and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation. 


Lakoff’s Salon article is entitled Hurricane Sandy:  Global Warming, Pure and Simple, subtitled We can dance around the issue all we want, but climate change was the storm’s systemic cause.  Excerpts:

Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

There is a difference between systemic and direct causation. Punching someone in the nose is direct causation. Throwing a rock through a window is direct causation.  Any application of force to something or someone that always produces an immediate change to that thing or person is direct causation. When causation is direct, the word cause is unproblematic.

Systemic causation, because it is less obvious, is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tends not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled.

Above all, it requires a name: systemic causation.

Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.

The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident. But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.

Well, this line of reasoning seems like a license to blame anything on global warming.  Shall we predict who will start using this terminology to attribute extreme weather events to global warming?
The term systemic reasoning is new to me, but the basic idea is quite familiar in the context of epidemiology.  So I googled around, to see what I could find.
Patrice Aymes
Patrice Aymes has an interesting take on Lakoff’s piece, in particular:

One can go further than that. Systemic causation is all over. Quantum Physics itself is systemic. That was its most baffling aspect. Whereas Classical Mechanics used direct causation, Quantum Mechanics did not. Quantum Physics is all about inferring the singular, from the whole.

Nor did the modern statistical mechanics advocated by the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann. [Planck] postulated that energy was only sent by packets (“quanta”) provided with a process explaining the observed blackbody radiation, and the non occurrence of the “ultra violet catastrophe“.

Notice that Planck introduced the “Quanta of Light” (Lichtquanta”) as an unknown mechanism. The greatest strides in science are not made by connecting causality what is known to what is known. Great strides come from postulating a meta-phenomenon, something outside of the realm of what is known.The fundamental axiom of the Quantum is that it is processed by the entire system it can access (and partly penetrate, as it’s made of waves).

The fundamental practical axiom of the Quantum is that it is processed by the entire system it can access (and partly penetrate, as it’s made of waves).

Interestingly the greatest minds (including Einstein) had a very hard time to understand this. Even the Copenhagen School (Bohr, Heisenberg, etc.) did not really understand it fully.

If the Quantum itself is systemic, it’s not surprising that nature is systemic.

How is the Quantum systemic? Through the interference of waves. That is the fundamental axiom of Quantum Physics, the De Broglie axiom: any matter is guided by a wave whose frequency is determined by the momentum-energy of said matter (it’s then not too clear what’s matter, and what’s a wave, or a bump in the night, a charming difficulty of particle physics).

Waves can interfere constructively, or destructively, or somewhere in between. So think of systematic causation as such a thing. It makes sense, even in detail.

For example smoking causes cancer after the smoke interferes with inhaling, or not and various waves of diet and genetics and epigenetics, and immunological competency, and what not. So many causal waves give haphazard looking interference patterns. The same thing happens in a hurricane.

Ultimately there are no causes, but for waves interfering: that image applies extremely well to hurricanes. In particular Atlantic hurricanes originate as the spawning of easterly waves.


WebMink has this to say:

There are two views of the place of “cause and effect” in the world. One believes in direct causality, the other in systemic causality. Both are correct much of the time, so the difference between them rests beneath the surface of most realities. Both are tools in guiding behaviour and predicting consequences and have value as a “lens” to bring decision-making into focus; neither is inherently deprecated.

In most circumstances, direct causality seems the obvious interpretative lens for the past and predictive lens for the future. We are most comfortable when we can draw clear circles around causes and thick lines between them and their consequences. We admire the “chess players” of society who can draw long chains of clear circles and thick lines; for most of us the ability to mentally calculate chains of cause and effect is limited to only a few steps.

But certain systems involve a longer chain of lesser causes and effects that makes a focus on the individual steps unhelpful. Things like evolution, national economics, global warming and terrorist motivations all need a systemic view if they are to be properly understood. A focus on what the individual can prove directly themselves in these cases may well lead to bad choices. These systems are especially difficult for people with “just do it” attitudes, who find it hard to take “on faith” that they should act in a contrarian way because of a larger system which can’t be seen and computed in its entirety.

When our outlook is dominated by direct causality, we seek control over causes. When our outlook is dominated by systemic causality, we seek influence over the network of causes and effects. In many simpler cases, both outlooks lead to the same decision.  But as we have moved to a meshed society, the importance of systemic causality has risen. Every cause has an immediate effect, but to believe that effect is the only consequence is increasingly a risk.

If the distance to the effect we seek is short, and that effect is the only outcome that matters, control is obviously desirable. But if the distance to the desired effect is large and filled with many connections, it’s better to collaborate and co-operate with other participants and prioritise influence over control.

Lubos Motl

Lubos Motl picks up on this:

But I want to continue with my second topic, namely the right of “systemic causes” to lead to bans. Are bans justified by “systemic causes” i.e. causes that only affect undesirable effects probabilistically desirable and compatible with some legal principles of civilized countries based on the rule of law? I would say that the answer is mostly No and if it’s Yes, it shouldn’t be “complete bans” and the legislation behind some “incentives” shouldn’t be dogmatic but it should be based on a careful cost-and-benefit analysis.

In 2006, I discussed an important legal technicality, the standing doctrine:

It says that the plaintiff in front of the federal courts must show that her injury is “concrete and particularized” as well as “actual or imminent”. The founding fathers wrote these wise sentences exactly in order to make things like suppression of the freedom of speech or suppression of life and the work of companies with the help of hypothetical accusations impossible.

Using Mr Lakoff’s new terms, a person who thinks he has been affected by a “systemic cause” has no standing in the federal courts! Indeed, it’s very important that only “direct causes” may be used as arguments against a “culprit”. Mr Lakoff’s suggestion that we should suddenly start to fight against “systemic causes”, i.e. against all kinds of acts and events that have been hypothesized to increase the chance of some undesirable “systemic consequences”, is therefore extremely dangerous for the life in the U.S. and elsewhere. Such a program would have a huge potential to restrict the very basic freedoms of the citizens and corporations – well, indeed, this may be the very goal of Mr Lakoff and his comrades.

Systemic ‘causation’

I’ve tried to find some scholarly works on the idea of systemic causation, here is a link to an article by L. Michael Hall, subtitled The non-Aristotelian System Thinking About ‘Causation’ in Complex Systems.  Ah, now that is something we can sink our teeth into.

This leads us into holistic non-elementism, extensional devices, non-allness, non-identity, self-reflexiveness, probability, and to-me-ness.  Too much to dig into here, but I will quote him on to-me-ness, since it seems particularly relevant here:

Each of us symbolizes in our own nervous system, from our own experience, and hence speaks our own language. We each have our own personal version of “reality.” Starting with this realization we can thereby avoid assuming and projecting our maps onto others.

Back to Sandy

NPR has an interesting article Insurance Companies Rethink Business After Sandy.  Excerpts:

Peter Hoppe heads the Geo Risks Research center for Munich Re, a global company that insures other insurers. His company put out a report just before Sandy warning that North America will face a rising number of natural catastrophes due in part to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We believe that climate change is a big problem and will drive losses in the future,” Hoppe says.

He says there is no evidence climate change caused Hurricane Sandy. But, he says, it doesn’t matter whether insurers believe in man-made climate change. His report says the number of weather-related events nearly quintupled in North America over the past three decades. And that means premiums will increase in the long run if exposure continues to increase.

She says after Hurricane Katrina — the most expensive of all documented storms — some predicted a warming cycle would produce more powerful storms. That forecast did not bear out.

“It just shows you that we just are not that smart, you know, when it comes to what’s really going on,” Clark says.

Bill Keogh, president of Eqecat, one of the major risk-modeling firms in the U.S., says that despite what it may seem, we are now in a statistically low period of hurricane activity. After Katrina, few powerful hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S.  

That is not to say Sandy won’t change the way insurance companies assess their weather risks.

“Risk models change all the time, and they change when we have new information,” Keogh says.

That’s especially true when that information is unusual. And Sandy was unusual because it hit the Northeast, as few hurricanes do, and because it veered inland, instead of toward the ocean. That information from Sandy, Keogh says, will shape views about the probability of future risks. But probability is not the same as a crystal-ball prediction.

The only thing we can do, insurers say, is build our buildings safer, and better prepare for what will eventually come.

JC note:  for more than a year, I have been collecting material on causation, I have been planning my next ‘series’ on this topic, analogous to the uncertainty series.  Unfortunately I haven’t had time to spend on this, but Lakoff’s article is an interesting and timely intro to the topic.

225 responses to “Systemic thinking on causation

  1. Judith – where have you been? Everything has been blamed on global warming, and its opposite. Suffice it to say that Sandy wasn’t particularly powerful, and yet it’s been recruited as such to The Cause.

    Note that eg for smoking and lung cancer the relative risk for smokers is 40 times the one for non-smokers. That’s why it is taken seriously. In the case of hurricanes there is nothing remotely approaching that, mostly because we have not seen of late anything unusual in the number, strength, position and any other characteristic of hurricanes (apart from Cyclone Catarina of 2004, I suspect).

    • It seems at best to increase probabilities of such storms. Using the smoking example- While for an entire population there may be a greater risk of cancer, does it necessarily follow that a single individual will be struck with cancer due to smoking. If that is the case, then if he did not smoke apparently he would not have gotten cancer and yet it happens all the time. Using that line of logic then, if we had an absence of AGW in 1821, how did the same location experience a storm of proximate scale to Sandy. If there is systemic causation, does that not imply some opposite result when there is an absence of that systemic causation. A storm of nearly the same magnitude occurred 190 years ago. What does that infer about some other type of systemic causation back then since that was during the LIA and there was no AGW.

    • I’d like to add that what is missing from the concept of Systemic Causation is that of probability. Let’s take the example of smoking from above: Let’s assume for the moment that all people who develop lung cancer are smokers. A quick look at the US NHS statistics will show that given the number of smokers in the USA, only one in 20 will develop lung cancer. Still a serious problem but far from a blanket claim that “If you smoke, you will die from lung cancer!”. Uncertainty counts for something in the real world. Systemic Cause simply leaves us with a way of assigning guilt without having to worry about simple random chance as a cause.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      I would agree with your assessment that we need to add probability into the overall notion of systemic causation, and this is of course exactly what is done with other systemic approaches to science. It is exactly, by the way, the point of Hansen’s “loaded dice” metaphor. If the dice are the climate system, then changing the mix of elements in that system, alters the overall probability of the frequency and intensity of climate events. What is missing (but being worked on worldwide) is the science and research that uncovers all the interactions, feedbacks, and general teleconnections of the system such that we can more confidently assign probabilities to the occurrence of any given event. So, a systemic or wholistic approach with the goal of establishing reliable probabilities is the only logical way forward in dealing with such a complex and interrelated system.

    • Gary –

      I’d like to add that what is missing from the concept of Systemic Causation is that of probability.

      Undoubtedly you would disagree with his quantification – but Lakoff does speak to the issue of probability – so I’m not sure it’s “missing” unless you think he is so far off the mark in his quantification that it amounts to being “missing:”

      A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism.

    • After I came to Queensland (the world’s melanoma state) in 1979 I followed the prescribed “slip, slop, slap” regime – long-sleeved shirts, broad-brimmed hat, sunscreen – to mitigate against the apparently extremely high risk of skin cancer. Many years later, I saw some research which said that the incidence was much, much lower than suggested by the campaigns, there was not statistical support for benefits from two of these things; but that the third brought a modest reduction in risk. (The incidence of melanoma in any year is about 0.04% of the Australian population, mostly people who’ve suffered excessive sun exposure (sunburn) in childhood and throughout their life; I’m not in the that group.) Moral: treat health-risk cautions with caution, get better info before you accept the official line; extend this approach beyond health risks.

    • “…because we have not seen of late anything unusual in the number, strength, position and any other characteristic of huuricanes…”

      And that is core of the reason why this interest in “systemic causation” is missing the point. The smoking analogy is apt, because smoking has been rigorously shown–by repeatable, objectively measurable experiments–to increase your risk of lung cancer. Although smoking doesn’t USUALLY cause cancer–meaning that most people who smoke will never get it, we can calculate the relative probabilities of contracting it if one does or does not smoke. So it makes sense for us to think about how we ought to respond to that kind of weak causal relationship, in term of assigning blame and responsibility for the harm that results.

      The relationship between temperature and storminess, on the other hand, has not been established. There is, consequently, absolutely no indication that humans have done anything to increase the destructiveness of the weather, except, that is, for our habit of building more and more stuff where it’s likely to get smashed by hurricanes. Leaving aside the entire debates about (a) whether global warming is still happening, and (b) if it is happening, whether CO2 is the cause, and (c) whether anthropogenic CO2 is the cause of increased atmospheric CO2, I gather we haven’t yet figured out whether warmer actually means stormier, much less figured out how to quantify the relationship. I say “I gather,” because the question appears to involve a complex interaction with the still poorly-understoof variable, water vapor, and the entire subject never gets more than the vaguest of hand-waving argument.

      In short, the probablistic nature of the supposed causation is really not the reason the alleged causation is problematic.

  2. Reminds me of this paper in Science: Detecting Causality in Complex Ecosystems


    “Identifying causal networks is important for effective policy and management recommendations on climate, epidemiology, financial regulation, and much else. We introduce a method, based on nonlinear state space reconstruction, that can distinguish causality from correlation. It extends to nonseparable weakly connected dynamic systems (cases not covered by the current Granger causality paradigm). The approach is illustrated both by simple models (where, in contrast to the real world, we know the underlying equations/relations and so can check the validity of our method) and by application to real ecological systems, including the controversial sardine-anchovy-temperature problem. “

  3. Quinn the Eskimo

    Post-normal science and deconstructionism now directly attack the foundations of logic itself. The comprehensive empirical refutation of the claims that AGW causes weather extremes is such that they must resort to inventing “fantasy logic” and defining new terms and “analyses” in which actual facts, logic and scientific reasoning no longer matter. Conclusive empirical disproof of theories would be wiped away with a definition and some semantic hocus-pocus.

    That is a very slippery slope on which nothing good happens.

  4. It seems to me that Lakoff includes Quantum Mechanics just exactly for the same reason that Deepak Chopra does: it’s fanciful and mysterious and right, therefore whatever Lakoff then goes on to say must be of the same nature and we should listen to him.

    I say this because the connection is silly. Systemic causation as defined is basically chaos theory, and Lubos is simply right by calling it a danger for our society. When we allow these nubelous concepts enter the realm of law and policy, then every scenario becomes “possible”, every potential cause becomes important, everyone becomes potentially responsible for everything. The danger of this is that the people who will choose what constitutes danger, who is dangerous, what should be forbidden and who should go to jail and so on, suddenly is given a free-pass on any link that might suit his own legal purposes.

    And that will happen because people are notoriously bad at maths and probabilities, and so lots of taking advantage of will be done. If something was “potentially responsible for X”, then by systemic causation, it was clearly at least “*one* actual cause responsible for X”, and thus we can deem it “responsible for X”. This process of mental degeneration was already true for Sandy: Despite all evidence pointing out that storms and hurricanes are not becoming more dangerous (see Roger Pielke’s posts on this matter), if it is even *possible* to say that Climate Change constituted a cause of the event by systemic reasons, then it was *surely* a cause. And if it is *a cause*, then it becomes the *only* cause politically interesting.

    And from that moment on, anyone politically opposed to CC regulation is someone who doesn’t care about New Yorkers, who will put coal and oil companies’ profits above people’s lifes and so on and so on.

  5. Quinn the Eskimo

    Caution should also be exercised in relying on casualty insurers’ predictions of disaster. They make scientifically baseless claims as a pretext to jack up premiums. Munich Re in particular. Pielke, Jr. has written on this many times. I know it may come as a shock to some people that insurance companies might lie to make money, but it does happen.

  6. So, logically, global warming systemically caused there not to be a hurricane in all the places that there wasn’t a hurricane this year.

  7. So Sandy was ( albeit very large ) a category 1 hurricane.

    When Sandy approached the area of anomalously warm seas it…..

    …. remained a category 1 storm.

    Claiming AGW is a big example of confirmation bias.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      You are still missing the big picture of systemic causation, but even on a simple level, had you thought what would have happened to the Cat 1 storm if it had approached cooler waters instead of warmer?

      In a systemic approach, the the entire state of the climate system must be looked at as the “cause” for surely it takes an entire system to create the climate. Thus, greenhouse gas levels, ocean heat content, the state of planetary waves, ocean cycles (PDO, ENSO, AMO etc.), solar cycle, seasonal cycles, etc. must be looked at in total– as a whole system. Which would lead to interesting research into teleconnections and long-term cycles. For example, how would the probability of Sandy forming and hitting NY be affected if CO2 was at 270 ppm, and we were in a warm phase of the PDO and at a solar minimum?

    • You’re getting closer the Skeptical Warmist. Only the GHG levels seem to have very little effect, if any.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      The greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere absolutely has a role to play in the state of the overall climate system. Denial of this basic scientific fact by people such as yourself causes me to unfortunately side with Trenberth and Mann in using the word “denier”. Why is it so hard to accept the role that greenhouse gases play in our climate? To suggest they have “very little effect, if any” would put you in the category of a denier, and I really hate to put anyone in that category, honestly.

    • Where is the effect? How long do we have to wait for something “unnatural” to show itself. Rain, wind snow and ice are all well within variability seen so far so when will this alarming change reveal itself?

      Furthermore why is it necessary to assume that all effects of CO2 will prove to be negative for us and the Earth? 30 years of ghastly predictions and yet here we are just experiencing the weather as it often has been.

    • Basic scientific fact? That you claim such thing says a lot.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      I’ll take the decades of research into the basic physics of greenhouse gases over the non-sense such as espoused by Doug Cotton et. al any day…

    • Gates, there’s no basic physics of GHGs. There’s basic heat transfer and it has to be applied properly.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      Keith AB,

      In looking at the climate system, as a whole, over the past few years, you can make a credible case that we are seeing changes to the system in many different areas, from changes to the hydrological cycle and ocean to species migration and the cryosphere. Taken as a whole system, there seems to be more than enough evidence that climate change is underway with strong scientific support to the notion that anthropogenic factors are playing an important part in this systemic change. The continued denial of the many ways the system as a whole seems to be changing is an interesting psychological study in and of itself, and may be more related to the work Kübler-Ross and the stages of grief, of which one of them is denial:übler-Ross_model

    • You are being deceptive in your response. I have said that whatever changes we are seeing, and that would be a changing climate, are well within the bounds of natural occurrence . There is no need to ascribe an anthropogenic character to these weather events as they are consistent with the weather and climate we know as mankind.

      The weather does not orbit mankind Mr. Gates the weather simply is. I was tempted to say that Man must have some impact but that wouldn’t be true unless our very existence caused that impact and how would you cure that problem, by doing away with mankind? I say this because long before Industrial Man existed the weather was doing what it does today. Droughts, floods, storms, heat waves have all happened before and often worse than today but certainly within the bounds of normal weather.

      Before anybody starts to go on about “conspiracists” I will say that there is no conspiracy. There is no need for a conspiracy. This whole AGW concept fits well with the beliefs of many who see a dirty, over exploited and over populated world that could be changed if we just stopped burning stuff. It is political but trying to use science to underpin it is destroying the importance of science to humanity.

      The only constant, Mr R Gates, is change. You and yours are using natural change to try and change mankind’s thrust into the future by making man feel guilty for his aspiration and restless desire to advance in every direction and in every way. That is not a good thing to do.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      Your denial of the physics of greenhouse gases is an interesting psychological study. Not much point in arguing with you about it as you’ve seem to become stuck somewhere in Kübler-Ross stages of the grieving process:übler-Ross_model

    • “Taken as a whole system, there seems to be more than enough evidence that climate change is underway with strong scientific support to the notion that anthropogenic factors are playing an important part in this systemic change.”

      Climate change is underway, that’s certain.

    • Nice projection Gates! A textbook example.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      Keith AB said:

      “There is no need to ascribe an anthropogenic character to these weather events as they are consistent with the weather and climate we know as mankind.”


      Lung cancer is consistent with the types of diseases people can get even if they don’t smoke and it is also consistent with the types of diseases that people can get if they do smoke. Being consistent with what can happen is not at all the issue as the issue becomes a matter of some element altering systemic probabilities. If you smoke, you raise the probability of getting lung cancer– pure and simple. (Interesting that certain scientists were in denial of this smoking-lung cancer relationship that are now currently also in denial of anthropogenic climate change).

      The issue isn’t one of consistencies, but of humans altering the probabilities of certain events happening in the climate through a variety of means, of which increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is only one .
      Finally, all species of animals and plants contribute to the climate. The biosphere is an integral part of shaping the climate of Earth and has been for hundreds of millions of years. Thus, humans are indeed partially responsible for the climate regardless of whether you think that our radical alteration of greenhouse gas concentrations is a big deal or not.

    • With lung cancer Mr. R Gates, you can point it out and say “that is lung cancer”. That exposition has no need of cause or driver, it is a simple observation.

      What are we supposed to point at in our climate that is the equivalent of lung cancer both in positive identification and effect?

    • There is Edim discussing projection while Lakoff writes the books on framing and projection, see his books “Don’t think of an elephant” and “Metaphors we live by”.

      The standard practice of projection as practiced by the fake skeptics here is they transfer their own inadequacies wrt science onto those who do understand.

      Keen minds like Lakoff help us understand the origins of all the garbage that swirls around us every day.

    • Keith @ 1.17, well said. As for Kubler Ross, when I’ve been in states to which KR’s analysis applies, I’ve skipped the denial phase.

    • Climate Weenie

      Sandy DID traverse cooler waters:

      And the intensity remained a cat 1 for most of its life.

      Doesn’t appear as if SST was particularly significant.

      Looking for GW in the storm is a first step to confirmation bias ( it has to be in here somewhere ).

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      I agree that looking exclusively for AGW as “the cause” in superstorm Sandy would lead to confirmation bias. The most can be learned by looking at the complete state of the climate system at the time, and trying to unravel the various connections and feedbacks without focusing on any particular one as “the cause”.

    • The more fundamental bias is the selection bias that we get as soon as we start to look at those events that have materialized but cannot look at events that would have occurred but didn’t.

      It’s really hopeless and fundamentally biased to discuss, how Sandy was influenced, the only even theoretically unbiased approach is to go back to estimating probabilities of all possible outcomes in the alternative scenarios. That’s very difficult, but at least that’s not fundamentally biased.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      Pekka Pirilä said:

      “It’s really hopeless and fundamentally biased to discuss, how Sandy was influenced…”


      I heartily disagree. This storm will be (and already is being) studied by dozens of researchers and and will be the topic of many papers. What will be discovered will advance the science and knowledge of Earth’s climate system, if even only a few small steps. As long as the researchers don’t begin by any assumptions related to a single cause, but approach it from a systemic viewpoint, their research is likely to be both more accurate and more fruitful.

    • R. Gates,

      Every observation may be used as data in improving understanding, but to get an unbiased estimate on the “systemic causation” it’s necessary to recreate the full set of probabilities based on the improved understanding. Including the actual observations in the resulting data set cannot be done without bias (or at least it’s so difficult that erring is much more likely than succeeding). This a well known issue in no way specific to climate science or severe weather events.

    • son of mulder

      All of this section, it seems to me, is essentially a debate about a chaotic system undergoing a minor external perturbation. Adding anthropogenic CO2 to the climate will perturbe it but since one can’t predict a chaotic system one can’t predict the effect of a perturbation.

      Think of it this way – every time a computer makes a calculation in attempting to predict a chaotic system usually it makes a compromise by rounding to a defined finite level of precision at each calcultion. That immediately means that each such calculation moves the effective previous point in the calculation to onto a slightly different track and the one thing we know about chaotic systems is that no matter how close 2 starting points are they diverge. Repeating millions of calculations will generally build to a big diverence. Just looking at simulations of the 3-body problem shows the chaotic effect ie a natural unpredictability. Climate and weather are somewhat more complex so one can’t know cause and effect.

    • Aren’t you simply saying that “the climate” was the cause of one climatic event. I call ” tautology”!

    • Was it a category 1. I was under the impression that it wasn’t a hurricane cat landfall and the ferocity of the storm was the result of Sandy meeting a cold front?

    • You’re right. It was not a “hurricane” at landfall, just a really powerful storm. Thanks to other conditions in the North Atlantic it veered westward to the west rather than following a more typical track to the northeast causing it to interact with a cold air mass from Canada.

      It could easily be argued, based upon the premise that AGW will reduce temperature gradients between the equator and the poles that storms will be weaker as a AGW increases. That in turn means that AGW could be credited for reducing the damage that Sandy “would have caused” if it had not been weakened by AGW.

      The key facts that actually explain the damage by Sandy most efficiently are quite simple. Since the inception of Euroamerican colonization the eastern seaboard has seen increased populations year by year. Accompanying that are increased urban concentrations lacking direct access to critical resources (energy, water, food all have to be imported). It follows that each time a large storm comes ashore the probability that it will cause damage to urban areas increases. Also, each time a large storm hits an urban area, the magnitude of the damage will increase. Inflationary behaviour in the money supply will serve to magnifiy the apparent costliness of the damage. Very, very simply, if you are a sparrow and you insist on nesting in a downspout, expect floods.

  8. Seems like the same subject in a different frame to me, but it’s an interesting frame nonetheless.

    The excesses of addressing systemic risk are a real concern, just as are addressing the causes of systemic risk. What’s interesting to me is what happens when this frame gets overlaid onto political and ideological frames. One example that comes to mind is the neocon policy of preemptive wars or other hegemonic policies.

    Now here’s an interesting example of what I mean – from Motl: -

    Mr Lakoff’s suggestion that we should suddenly start to fight against “systemic causes”, i.e. against all kinds of acts and events that have been hypothesized to increase the chance of some undesirable “systemic consequences”, is therefore extremely dangerous for the life in the U.S. and elsewhere. Such a program would have a huge potential to restrict the very basic freedoms of the citizens and corporations – well, indeed, this may be the very goal of Mr Lakoff and his comrades.

    Grab the women and children and run for the hills, eh?

    Looks like folks are going to get out the tribal drums on this one and just bang away hard.

    • Joshua – the identity of view between the neocons and the enviros in suggesting anything should be done for their Cause because we cannot exclude the worst-case scenarios, has been recognized already some time ago.

      To me it suggests that most if not all the people that scream on a subject are in fact totally clueless about it and just slaves of the zeitgeist.

    • omnologos -

      the identity of view between the neocons and the enviros….

      My point is that your alignments are too categorical – in ways that doesn’t reflect reality. People exploit these kinds of categorizations to confirm their biases. Let me give an example.

      “enviros” largely overlap with the left, which broadly opposed the concept of addressing systemic risk as represented by the policy of preemptive war.

      There is nothing unique about that. Conservatives, libertarians, everyone, simplifies these issues so that they can be used selectively to confirm biases.

    • “Conservatives, libertarians, everyone, simplifies these issues”

      Mommy, mommy, they do iiiiiit toooooooooo!



    • Bad -

      Look up “everyone” in the dictionary.

      Then get back to me.

      We’ll talk.

    • “everyone”

      I’d like to see your evidence that everyone does it, Joshua. Perhaps you are the one that is confused by the term.


    • My bad, Bad.

      I should have said everyone except you and those you agree with.

      Too funny.

    • I’ll try again.

      The zeitgeist is about lowering risks to nil. This can be seen in everything from helmeted cyclists to nut-food-free schools. This can also be seen in the idea that the precautionary principle makes any sense.

      Neocons and enviros who scream the same thing although masked up with different skins are then just slaves of the zeitgeist, not purveyors of intelligent analyses and solutions to actual crises.

      The ‘same thing’ is of the type: ‘if we don’t do THIS, civilization will die’ and/or ‘since we cannot rule out a planetary collapse will be caused by THAT, we have to eliminate THAT’.

    • The zeitgeist is about lowering risks to nil. This can be seen in everything from helmeted cyclists to nut-food-free schools.

      This is an inaccurate characterization. W/hen I put on my seatbelt, it isn’t because I expect my risks to be reduced do nil. When localities legislate seatbelt laws, they don’t do so to eliminate traffic fatalities.

      The ‘same thing’ is of the type: ‘if we don’t do THIS, civilization will die’..

      Please take a look below at Max’s alarmism about what might happen as the result of Lakeoff’s focus on the question of systemic risk. Please take a look at the alarmism in the thread about the scientists convicted in Italy. Please take a look at Motl’s comment about the intent of Lakeoff and his “comrades.” Everyone does it. There needs to be a balance between inadequate focus on systemic risk and excessive focus on systemic risk. In the process of striking the appropriate balance, it is necessary to explore the boundaries of what is or isn’t reasonable.

      Not only do you inaccurately generalize about those you disagree with, but you also create false distinctions to dismiss the excesses of folks who you, presumably, agree with.

      It is exactly what I was talking about. The problem of systemic risk, whether it be along epidemiological concerns, or concerns about environmental damage, or concerns about terrorism, are real. As are the concerns about excessive focus on systemic risk. When you use concerns about the excesses of a focus on systemic risk to create caricatures, only to serve an ideological agenda, in the end you only marginalize the legitimate discussion.

    • So the left broadly opposes pre-empyive wars does it? Would you please define “left” for me else I’ll be forced to fill these pages with lists of pre-emotive wars started by those who I regard to be “left”.

    • Joshua

      Looks like folks are going to get out the tribal drums on this one and just bang away hard.

      You’re right. Lakoff just did.


    • You’re right. Lakoff just did.

      Ah yes. “Mommy, mommy, they did it fiiiiiiiirrrsstt”

      Never gets old, does it Max?

    • Yes it does, just read this appeal from authority…

      & consensus too.


    • So you basically ignored all the logical analysis by Motl and focused instead on his political rethoric. That tells me a thousand times more of you than of Motl. Motl I know he uses such colorful phrases, and I’ve learned to smile at them or just ignore them. But now, I know that you only care of these things, and so I’ll just ignore the entirety of you.

    • So you basically ignored all the logical analysis by Motl and focused instead on his political rethoric.

      Well, the “logical analysis” of Motl seems trivial to me. It is obvious that an excessive focus on systemic risk would be counterproductive. I don’t see any particular reason to focus on that.

      What is important to me is how he exploits the trivial and extends his logic into the irrational and illogical – that Lakeoff’s a communist who has the goal (along with his buddies) of restricting the freedom of citizens.

    • When I say I don’t think there’s any particular reason to focus on “that” I mean Motl’s “logical analysis.” There is reason to focus on problems that could result from an excessive focus on systemic risk – to the extent that it is a real problem. When I say that it is a trivial problem I mean that it is obvious, not that it isn’t a serious concern. But ludicrous red-baiting rhetoric only gets in the way of addressing the serious concerns.

    • Motl has been using such rhetorical statements for awhile. He dos not like the policies that have been called for to address climate change. But , does not Lakoff pull a strawman, coat rack or something? He identifies smoking to cancer, HIV to AIDS, coal mining to black lung, etc. All of these are known to have direct cause from “A” to “B” like unprotected sex and pregnancies. All these have been measured directly, experiments performed intentional/clinical or not, or the probabilities can be used to separate the two populations due to the number of cases (data) that can be used. This is not true for relationships that are unknown, or small databases. Even the model of the paper Detecting Causality in Complex Ecosystems has to be attributable in a known manner. The key wording is “that can distinguish causality from correlation.” This IS the problem with climate change. It is average weather for 30 years. We do not have enough data for hurricanes for example which are known to destroy barrier islands once per 500 years. “””” has a fair write up of the problem. To determine the increase in frequency or destruction would concieveably take 250 years, based on the results of the last decade. Yet he is looking at one or two storms in a low period of landfalls and only 30 years of baseline. There is neither data nor knowledge to support such. It is a rhetorical device, as is the argument. In his examples, the causality was established, and then action taken. If Lakoff wants to claim such, then specify some objective way to determine these effects, rather than inundate the reader with fears, and lack of proof, and rhetoric.

      Stated “”Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.

      The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident. But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.””

      But this is the problem with his argument “”Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously.”” Data supporting causality were not provided. The terms and measurement of greatly increased energy and water vapor are not provided.

      One particular frame of reference is different that Lakoff does not address, the ability to measure. In the examples used, it is easy to separate those measured with and those measured without the condition. This is not the case for potential hurrcane increase by AGW. It is just one reality where hurricanes are known to effect the whole coast from Texas to Maine. The comment is engaging in an analogy where the examples do not match what is claimed. Perhaps “bait and switch” is a better description of the claim.

    • John -

      Motl has been using such rhetorical statements for awhile. He dos not like the policies that have been called for to address climate change.

      Sorry, bro – you know that I appreciate your input, but that is an unsustainable characterization of Motl’s red-baiting.

      Lakeoff considers the linkage between ACO2 and climate change risk to be unarguable, or at least close enough to unarguable as to sustain his identification of a systemic risk. As such, Lakeoff’s analogizing to other systemic risks if valid. If you disagree with him about the certainty of the link to ACO2 and climate risks (my guess is that you know more about the science than he) then that is the point of focus – not whether or not he supports policies that will wind up with people in Gulags.

      So along those lines, this:

      If Lakoff wants to claim such, then specify some objective way to determine these effects,

      seems to me like an appropriate response. Not Motl’s tribalism.

    • Joshua, red-baiting is using rhetorical statements in opposition to policies, real or only imagined wrt what people may or have done. In some of his posts the red-baiting may not be directly as a result of policies or considered policies, but I don’t remember any. I do know that wrt climate change, the red-baiting is because he expresses that the policies are freedom stealing and mechanisms to steal freedom since as he states he believes climate change theory at present fails empirically, either by the lack of measurement or by economic analysis. He has posted several arguments as to his opinion. Since I do not think the economics are knowable at this point, my opinion is that CO2 should cause some increase, but agree that costly measures for mitigation cannot be supported. That is why I agree with the “no regrets” policy, it does not conflict with what is actually known.

    • “the linkage between ACO2 and climate change risk to be unarguable”


      ‘climate change’:

      Where’s the linkage? Humans emitted roughly as much since the trend is ~flat (1997, 15 years) as during the warming (1975 – 1997, 22 years). It doesn’t make any sense. Well, if one postulates other arbitrary negative forcings, the it kinda makes pseudo-sense.

  9. I’m inclined to suspect that there must be an election happening someplace.

  10. The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

    Very interesting. Glad to see a wholistic systemic approach is at least being looked at. It has the potential of moving forward the climate models as well.

    • I disagree. I mean, I agree with your second sentence but I don’t think that’s even remotely relevant to this post. The idea that global warming “systemically” caused all the damage from Sandy is complete bunk.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      I still think that you and others are missing the big picture of systemic (or I prefer “wholistic”) approach to causation and the potential such a perspective has to deepen our understanding. We know that climate is a complex system with many interrelated pieces. One thing is seldom* the cause of any single event. Rather, it is the way all factors come together that forms the systemic condition at the time. Hurricane Sandy reflected the exact state of the system at the time, else the storm would not have occurred. Part of that system is the greenhouse gas composition of the atmosphere, which, despite what some would posit, has a large role to play in Earth’s overall energy balance.

      *The exception to one thing seldom being the cause of any single event is when that one thing so vastly overwhelms the system that it causes all the interrelated processes of that system to lose their combined “connectedness” or related feedbacks. An example of this would be something like a very large volcanic eruption or a large asteroid strike. These sudden shocks to the system can single-handedly knock the system into a different regime.

    • “One thing is seldom *the[*] cause of any single event.”

      No, one thing is NEVER *the* cause of anything. Throw a rock at a window. That’s the textbook example of direct causation–as simple as it gets. But it’s still not *the* cause of the broken window. Other causes include:

      (1) whatever flook of the big bang made the universal gratitation constant roughly 6.67e-11N(m/kg)^2
      (2) whatever ticked you off enough to make you pick up the rock in the first place;

      (3) the guy who put the window there;

      (4) the guy who hired the guy who put the window there (etc.)

    • Billc -

      The idea that global warming “systemically” caused all the damage from Sandy is complete bunk.

      It is not clear to me that Lakoff is promoting that idea:

      For example, considering his analogy, he wouldn’t say that smoking causes “all” the damage from cancer.

      He also says this:

      A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism.

      In other words, multiple causes means not all the damage from Sandy was caused by climate change.


    • R. Gates and Joshua,

      It’s hard for me to reconcile the words Joshua quoted with the lead-in to the piece (as presented herein):

      Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

      In all of the above examples Lakoff gives, removing the so-called systemic cause will completely remove all of the effect, whatever the other factors (well, almost. Absolutely for HIV and pregnancy, almost absolutely for black lung, and I would guess very strongly for smoking and driving drunk).

      I think it’s a red herring, and rises to the level of “bunk” to extend the reasoning to GW and Sandy. It stretches the metaphor in 3 important ways that I can think of:

      1) The fractional contribution of GW/AGW to ANY of the claimed effects; see heat waves.
      2) The uncertainty in the attribution of storms to AGW, even compared to heat waves etc.
      3) The ability of the quantity “impact of Sandy” to be broken down into wind and rain, storm surge (and that respectively due to sea level rise (itself at least partly natural), the aforementioned wind, low pressure, lunar tide)) etc. etc. Again, compared to the above examples, analytically very different.

      This may appear to be a climate fanatic’s argument, but I really think the facts predominantly oppose Lakoff’s conclusion in all but the most impressionistic reading.

    • To be more blunt, if we could say that AGW caused the impacts of Sandy to be 10% +/- 5% (I realize some would say higher), was it a systemic cause? I say no. Or is a systemic cause something which is a partial cause without a defined probability? I definitely think that’s the wrong way to use the term & frame an argument.

    • Bill -

      To be more blunt, if we could say that AGW caused the impacts of Sandy to be 10% +/- 5% (I realize some would say higher), was it a systemic cause? I say no. Or is a systemic cause something which is a partial cause without a defined probability? I definitely think that’s the wrong way to use the term & frame an argument.

      Points taken. It does seem that his argument, particularly as you describe his use of analogies, would require a relatively high degree of systemic causation — most likely higher than it seems is argued by those who believe that there is a link between ACO2 and the risks generally associated with increased severe weather averaged out within our lifespans.

      One thing that I wonder about is whether the question of systemic causation takes on a different shape contingent on whether you’re looking at a specific weather event or the entire climate “system.” If you think that warmer waters or a blocking front directed this specific storm to hit the US when with a certain degree of probability that it would not have otherwise, and (if you believe that) it is a given that ACO2 warmed water/melted Arctic ice enough to change that probability – then the question of systemic risk looks a bit different than if you’re looking at some abstracted probability across the entire climate system.

    • Joshua, above (if I got it right) you say “”One thing that I wonder about is whether the question of systemic causation takes on a different shape contingent on whether you’re looking at a specific weather event or the entire climate “system.” If you think that warmer waters or a blocking front directed this specific storm to hit the US when with a certain degree of probability that it would not have otherwise, and (if you believe that) it is a given that ACO2 warmed water/melted Arctic ice enough to change that probability – then the question of systemic risk looks a bit different than if you’re looking at some abstracted probability across the entire climate system.”” That IS the problem: systemic means it is across the system. If you can say it blocked a front that means you have shown causation, and don’t need to discuss the meaning of systemic. I am afraid I agree with the critics, this postulation is worthless. It is also the method certain people use to “prove” the banning of DDT caused millions of deaths. If it is true for … then it is true for …. as well. That is why I called it rhetorical. It fails a common methodology test of definition and coherence.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


      I actually agree with the general logic you’ve presented. It becomes very hard to begin to dissect out one element from a system of interrelated factors and sometimes it is appropriate to do so and sometimes it is not. Sometimes one additional factor reaching some threshold tips the whole system and sometimes this is not the case. But a systemic approach to climate, looking at interrelated factors, teleconnections, feedbacks, etc. seems to be a promising way forward, and indeed, is the direction much of climate science has been headed for quite some time. Discovering the relative contribution of each different factor is the hard part and then producing probabilities based on changes to those factors is even harder. It becomes a n-body problem and of course chaotic in nature. Thus, I am always in favor of looking both at the paleoclimate data to find close analogues to todays climate system, and combine that with the dynamics discovered through various climate models. This discovery of dynamics, not observable directly because they involve complex relationships, but displayed by the models and then proven through looking back at actual data, is to me the most valuable aspect of the climate models.

    • Joshua,

      Also, increasing the regional specificity also beings the internal variability unknowns into greater play, increasing the uncertainty even regarding the sign. Are there AGW factors which might act to mitigate the impact of Sandy compared to “otherwise, with internal variability?” I don’t know. Maybe.

    • Joshua,

      ….I forgot to add because a lot of the internal variability is near the locations we’re talking about. maybe because the Atlantic is the location of most of the variability or most of our historical data. don’t know.

      R. Gates – I agree with your last comment.

    • R. Gates,

      One more thing, as I know you know, chaos /= total randomness. Depending on the degree of chaos, probability ranges become more or less meaningful. Something like the timing of Sandy w/r/t the northern storm front – pretty much random I guess, unless it can be shown that the cold front was attributable to ice melt. Even then, the timing related to the formation of a tropical hurricane??

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      Bill C,

      Not sure of your expression in your post Chaos /= randomness. Certainly chaotic systems are not random at all but guided by deterministic laws– they are n-body problems that are complex and not strictly predictable. But not being predictable doesn’t mean random as you know (but so many people fail to grasp).

      Superstorm Sandy was created by (actually an expression of) the complete state of the full planetary climate system at the time. Everything I listed before (upper level winds, ocean cycles, greenhouse gas concentration, ocean heat content, etc) and many more factors went into creating (or expressing) the hybrid superstorm Sandy. What the best science will do going forward is to look at the complete system and uncover the various relationships and elements and how they work together to bring about Sandy. Undoubtedly greenhouse gas concentrations played a role that is more than zero…i.e. Hurricane Sandy would not have existed at all if there were no greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, but how much a difference a concentration of 400 ppm of CO2 made (and the higher concentrations in methane and N2O that we’ve seen) is to be determined by continued research.

    • R. Gates,

      Sandy had not been exactly what is was with less warming, but neither would any of the other storms and some storms might have developed that now didn’t. It’s absolutely false to conclude as you do that Sandy alone provides any significant evidence on a climate that makes storm damage worse that with less warming. This is really fundamental for all inference from single events.

      Sandy is certainly an example on what tropical storms can cause. It’s a reminder that they may hit New York, but it alone is not much more.

    • The Skeptical Warmist

      Pekka said:

      “It’s absolutely false to conclude as you do that Sandy alone provides any significant evidence on a climate that makes storm damage worse that with less warming. ”

      As I never made that claim, and in fact, have argued against claiming that “Sandy alone” provides proof of anything, I think your comments are misplaced.

    • Bill -

      Also, increasing the regional specificity also beings the internal variability unknowns into greater play, increasing the uncertainty even regarding the sign. Are there AGW factors which might act to mitigate the impact of Sandy compared to “otherwise, with internal variability?” I don’t know. Maybe.

      Another good point – one that relates to Pekka’s comment

      and also John Pittman’s comment.

      The logic of counterfactuals – trying to argue what would have happened had things been different – is messy and I’d say magnifies the likelihood of confirmation bias. I need to think this one through more. Thanks for the convo.

  11. systemic causation = hypothesized causation when there is no empirical evidence

    Sayin’ it doesn’t make it so, Lakoff.

    And that’s not science – it’s voodoo.


  12. If the question is did GW increase the probability of Sandy’s occurrence versus decreasing it or leaving it unchanged then the simple answer is we do not know. The question may not even make sense, nor is it new.

    If that is not the question then the concept of systemic causation is probably too vague to be meaningful. One cannot answer a question when the concept used to pose it is ill defined. This is the basic principle of analytic philosophy.

  13. Lakoff falls into the logic trap of comparing the AGW/Sandy causation with smoking and respiratory disease or HIV/AIDS.

    The former is not supported by empirical scientific evidence (Feynman); the latter two have been confirmed with countless clinical studies.

    Shame on him for trying such an idiotic comparison.

    But even bigger shame ion anyone dumb enough to fall for it.


    • Actually it is neither a logical trap nor idiotic. Many CAGW believers believe that GW is occurring, that it is due to humans and that it will cause more hurricanes. Lackoff is among them. This is an unconfirmed empirical conjecture, neither more nor less. It is just an old claim with a fancy new title.

    • David Wojick

      What Lakoff (and some others) may believe is irrelevant to my point.

      Lakoff equated the “systemic causation” between AGW/Sandy and HIV/AIDS or smoking/respiratory disease.

      This analogy is flawed, because the latter two are supported by empirical data from countless clinical studies, etc. while the former is NOT supported by empirical data (Feynman).

      Ergo his analogy falls into a logic trap (and is “idiotic”). (My point.)

      And anyone who is stupid enough to fall for this sort of illogic is even more “idiotic”, quite regardless of whether or not they “believe” in the CAGW premise.


    • while the former is NOT supported by empirical data ??

      You’ve obviously not read Dr Curry’s papers on the link between elevated SSTs and increased hurricane intensity.

  14. Lubos Motl further observes the illogicalness of a “systemic cause”:

    Unless you believe in astrology and similar things, you will surely agree that it’s not in the power of CO2 or any other indirect hypothetical causes to adjust some “highly internal” and “seemingly random” characteristics of tropical storms such as the population of the city that the storms target. ;-)

    So the fact that Sandy managed to flood some tunnels in the New York subway system, among dozens of related achievements, is pretty clearly a coincidence that can’t be explained by any well-defined long-term “cause”, not even a “systemic cause”.

  15. Try the magic word in a sentence, eg. “Obama is at fault for the economy. I can’t explain how any of his policies or leadership are causing the stagnation observed, but – SYSTEMICALLY it is all his fault.”

    Yeah Science! And thank you Mr Lakoff from saving me from those who might try to use weasel confuse me.

  16. Systematic causation of climate ‘change,’
    (Change from hot to cold or vice vera,)
    You can’t test it but you may infer,
    Holistically, mysteriously, that – it – is -so,
    You can’t falsify it, you hafta trust that we ‘know.’

    Say, science transmuting into something rich and strange.

  17. Well one might wonder if the need for systemic attribution of everything bad with CAGW is related to the need to keep the research grants and big green funding going….

  18. I suppose since the average global near surface temperature has failed to increase for the last 16 years then ‘alarmists’ will clutch at any pathetic straw.

    North Sea flood of 1953 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    A similar set of unfortunate events led to a similar disaster in Norfolk 1953.
    Using the same rabbit brained logic, the causation theory says the 1953 disaster was due to the lower fraction of CO2 in the atmosphere all those years ago.
    The ‘alarmists’ have abandoned any claim to operate within the framework of science and are bare faced propagandists .

  19. Patrice talks quantum
    on a windy causation.
    Bell’s Hell, it’s enough!

  20. tsk! ‘versa’ as in ‘vice versa.’

  21. mwg +1

  22. I dunno, but it seems to me that with Lakoff’s, clever-boy approach one could just as easily substitute “witchcraft” for “global warming” and one would then be hard put to oppose a good post-Sandy, witch-burning catharsis when confronted with such “science”.

    Indeed, it was, as I recall, a form of “systemic causation” analysis that “scientific” socialism employed, once upon a time (actually quite a fewl “once upon a times”), with much fervor to ingenuously identify ever more exotic forms of “class enemy”–an analysis which, in turn, served to profitably ramp up the local hive’s slave-labor, gulag populations and justify an ever better staffed, more pervasive, and more lethally predatory cheka with which to pursue the hive’s revolutionary justice. In other words, we’re talkin’ lefty, open-checkbook, open-power-and-control science with Lakoff. Just saying…

    Lakoff’s approach may have value in epidemiology, employed with care, but given that the lefties have selected “global warming” as the lever by which to achieve their collectivist, reduced population, Orwellian, hellish vision of the “good-life” (the “good-life” for the hive-masters, not you and I)–I’d treat Lakoff’s latest smarty-pants, hive-toady, lickspittle-enabler brave-new-brainstorm with–let me put this gently–a good deal of caution.

    And let me guess–Lakoff thinks we need, for a start, carbon taxes, windmills, and solar panels galore and even more high-carbon, party-time, tax-payer rip-off enviro-confabs which could easily be video-conferenced at vast savings to the taxpayer and savings in C02-spew pollution, but won’t be. Why? Well, the answer is obvious–its because our betters, like Lakoff, deserve, doncha know, a carbon-piggie, blow-out, conspicuous-consumption lifestyle in keeping with their con-man, Philosopher King pretensions. But I’m just guessing and I could be wrong. What say you, Lakoff?

    • You’re not a fan then, I take it?

    • COM,

      Yr: “You’re not a fan, then, I take it.”

      Not quite sure what you have in mind with that last, COM.

      If you mean, do I suffer from a “smiley faces” obsessive/compulsive disorder, then the answer is no, I am not a “fan” in that sense.

      If, on the other hand, your inquiry seeks to determine if I have an interest in spotting and calling-out the latest twists and turns of the left’s ever-morphing, hydra-like, relentless scams and hustles, then yes, I am a hobbyist “fan” of that sort of thing. Red-baiting Josh calls it (though I think he means “watermelon-baiting”, but I know what he’s talkin’ about)–not being a clueless sucker for the good-comrades’ con-jobs and “crusher-crew”, “guerilla war” tactics, I call it. Might even want to give it a try, yourself, COM. I mean, like, screwing with the hive’s collectivist, perpetual-motion, gulags-a-go-go machinations would be, I recommend, an especially worthwhile employment of your time, COM, as indeed it would be for any free-man with a love of liberty.

      On the other hand, I know there are some, COM, who are shocked and appalled at the spectacle of the American peonage sassing-back at their politburo betters and demanding accountability for their puffed-up, totally-useless-in-a-natural-disaster-emergency, Philosopher Kings’ actions. And, anticipating your next question, COM, no, I’m not a “fan” of Europe’s on-going fling with lefty-style eco-feudalism or the half-baked, greenshirt, geek-ball, agit-prop-centric, hive-bozo imitation of the same that the left has been pushing here in America, lately.

      But, then, my ancestors left Europe because they’d had their fill of obsequious, fore-lock tugging deference to a creep-out bunch of cretinous, in-bred, grasping, hereditary aristocrats and their quisling, sell-out, tenured propagandists and enablers.

    • John DeFayette


      +1 or Like or whatever is the appropriate online response these days. The mere premise of this thread gives my freedom-craving soul the willies.

      Besides, stylistically, the good ol’ hyphen beats that idiotic smiley to a pulp.

    • Mike, you out did yourself with…. Gulags-a-go go.

    • mike, I would guess that ColdOldMan is English/British. That’s a typically understated English comment acknowledging your not-understated demolition of Lakoff. I suspect he agrees with you.

  23. What is the systemic cause of 16 years of no temperature rise?


  24. The models used by insurance companies have already been adjusted to reflect the supposed increase in hurricanes due to GW to date. Premium rates have been corresponding increased Note that the Munich Re comment says only that if hurricane frequency increases even more, then rates would have to go up even more.

  25. And now we take you back to the invisible and incredibly dangerous gas CO2…

    as well as the pink agenda of what is: Left.

  26. If the courts start swallowing Lakoff’s screwy notions of “systemic causation”, we’ve got a class-action-lawyer’s-paradise in the works:

    3 million NY/NJ residents who had major home damage sue Exxon-Mobil for a total of $300 billion for causing the “global warming” that caused Sandy to damage their homes and for the mental anguish plus psychological trauma that they suffered as a result

    (And the lawyers get a 40% cut).



    • Alarmism yet again, eh Max?

      Oh. Wait. I forgot. Alarmism isn’t alarmism when you’re being alarmist.

    • alarmism would refer to an existential threat. You continue to misrepresent your opponents Joshua. Charity son.

    • Josh,

      If you don’t believe in the willingness of trial lawyers to go after deep pockets, then I suggest you expand your boundries.

      It is interesting to note that a few years ago when some big cities, ploiticiasns and the gun control proponents tried to achieve their aims through the back door by holding manufacturers responsible for damages, the strategy petered out when trial lawyers quickly jumped ship. All it took was one look at the income sheet for the major gun makers for them to realize there was no money in it.

    • tim –

      Of course trial lawyers go after deep pockets.

      My position is that we have a fairly good balance in this country. For all the hand-wringing about how litigious this society is, in fact the outrageous payouts for things like pain and suffering are fairly reasonable in context. Having traveled extensively and lived in other countries, some of them w/o such a functional judicial system for protecting citizens, I appreciate the balance of our system despite its warts.

      For example:

      Max is an alarmist. The type who is likely to take one example and run with it, building an edifice of confirmation bias on a foundation of binary thinking. Take a look at his despair over the far-reaching ramifications of the scientists convicted in Italy. Take a look at the willingness of some “skeptics” to swallow hook, line, and sinker the meme about the woman who got burned by Micky D’s coffee.

      I am a big fan of lawyer jokes – but in balance I think that we benefit from our system even if I would fine tune the balance on one respect or the other.

      How about you?

    • Joshua @7.26 While I do not claim or believe that economic growth is the be-all and end-all prime objective of humanity, it does have some benefits: many studies have found that growth increases with the number of lawyers per capita (presumably reflecting systems providing certainty in contract, protection of property rights, etc), then beyond a certain point slows down, perhaps indicating “excessive litigiousness.” The US passed that inflection point years ago. I suspect that most Western European countries have also passed it, LDCs would be far from it.

    • Josh,

      I have several lawyers for friends, though none are trial lawyers. My youngest brother is an attorney. Up until recently he was a prosecutor, including a couple years as a lead US Attorney. Awhile back he provided a very good argument for why tort reform was a bad idea. So yes, I agree with you on us having a pretty good system. But then I also think we have the best Postal system in the world, even though people like to make jokes about it.

      Where I disagree with you is on your generalization over what climate “skeptics” think and on your characterization of Manaker as an “alarmist.” Personally I think you spend far too much time pushing your tribalism theme.

    • I think Exxon and all the oil companies should be proactive and stop selling fossil fuels to New Yorkers on the day the law suit is filed.

  27. I must say it seems to be a very odd theory that is at odds with reality.

    Hurricanes aren’t becoming more frequent even as CO2 levels rise. There has certainly been a huge upsurge in reportage of weather events but none of them are out of the experience of modern man we are just more aware. Even the statement that there are more of the “stronger” hurricanes is very dubious in light of the fact that we can see them from satellites and measure the ones that don’t make landfall.

    In my opinion this new theory is just another bottle of snake oil that seeks to attribute everything unpleasant weatherwise to man made CO2. It is surely outside of all bounds of probability that increasing atmospheric CO2 can only make the weather worse than “normal”. I can certainly understand that insurance companies like having a reason to increase premiums but the market, if left to itself, will quickly correct itself.

    As Son of Mulder quite rightly says if CO2 systemically causes bad weather it must also cause good weather and there is a lot more good than bad around 24 hr news cycles notwithstanding.

  28. Global warming systemically causes the warm oceans and open Arctic that systemically causes the snowfall that will systemically bring the next cooling. Global cooling systemically causes the cold oceans and closed Arctic that systemically turns off the moisture necessary for snowfall and allows the sun to systemically warm the earth and brings on the next warming. This has repeated, many times, over the past ten thousand years inside very tight temperature bounds.
    I don’t think it matters much if you use the word direct or if you use the word systemic. We are now in the warm part of the well bounded cycle and the snows have started. The snow falls now and the ice will advance later, after the ice packs and glaciers get heavy enough. The snowfall will stop while the ice advance is still in progress, giving the false impression that ice volume is still increasing. Now is the time of ice volume increase. Look at the actual data, before false corrections are made. Ice Volume is increasing and ocean levels are dropping.

  29. Interesting: a belief that humans caused Hurricane Sandy much in the same way as Leftist ideology represents a systemic divergence from the principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility and a systemic acceptance of behaviors outside traditional morals and ethics that prize honor, ingenuity, productivity and accountability.

  30. JC: “for more than a year, I have been collecting material on causation, I have been planning my next ‘series’ on this topic, analogous to the uncertainty series. ” I hope you have as foundationals Hume’s “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” and Kant’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” (or maybe “Critique of Pure Reason”…if you’re filled with self loathing and in a hurry to inflict pain on yourself by the reading of excruciating prose). These are foundational to virtually all discussion on the subject of causality. Short version: All discussion of causality must necessarily be preceded by an agreed upon epistemology. Otherwise, to win or influence an argument, all you need do is challenge the underlying premises… … …Like we do now. Hint: I’ve never found any cheese in this tunnel because despite the blinding brilliance of both Hume and Kant and the fact that I personally think Kant is the greater and more correct of the two, most people just ignore them both and proceed to say things based on premises that they assume as givens and that “the opposition” challenges. This devolves rapidly into “My facts/theories are better than your facts/theories.” And thus was born climate debate. Or: Don’t bother me with premises; it’s conclusions that will get me on NPR.

    • If it was about pure reason it wouldn’t be a Left vs. right issue now would it?

    • Kant’s Critique of Judgement is more appropriate as it lays the foundation for philosophy of science. Causality is one of the most difficult human concepts, still it does its job. The limits of understanding cannot be applied everywhere at once. Rather one must accept many things in order to question anything. It is like rebuilding a ship at sea without sinking. Sorry about the cheese. Better luck next time.

    • More to the point, “My facts/theories are better than your facts/theories.” is what we call science.

    • “My facts/theories are better than your facts/theories.” is what we call science.

      In science, the evidence collected doesn’t assert “better”. Politics asserts “better.” Science asserts, “this is what is.” If it doesn’t assert that, it’s not sceice.


    • Sorry, “science” there at the end.


    • I’m not being snarky here, just curious. Can you site a source for you statement re Critique of Judgement? Usually, that work is associated with esthetics. I’ve not seen it referenced in in relation to science. At first glance, I think I’d say that would be a bit of a stretch.

      If you find the time, thanks.

  31. Let us suppose that systemic causation means the cause in question changes the probability of the occurrence in question by making it more likely. No other definition has been offered that I can see. In that case systemic causation is something we think about all the time. For example I clean my car windshield before a long drive because I know a dirty windshield can contribute to driving accidents.

    But in Sandy’s case we know no such thing. Lackoff is simply repeating the old unconfirmed claim that hurricanes are getting worse due to AGW. Given that we do not even know that AGW is occurring, as opposed to natural GW, this cannot be known to be true. Beyond that we do not know that the modest GW that seems to have occurred has changed the probability of complex storms like Sandy.

    In short this is simply the BAU CAGW fallacy of false confidence in a scary story.

    • I thought that in spite of all his tortuous verbiage, it was the same wine in a new bottle. But then I tend to think in simplistic ways.

  32. Often is the case, that an otherwise intelligent person turns uncertainty into a meaningless waffle.

  33. At least we’re starting to talk about systems here. But the root cause of the impacts from Sandy was extreme population density with a just-in-time fuel system that was damaged in a number of ways. Our population in the US has doubled in the US over the past ~65 years. It’s that last doubling time that will get you, and we’re in it. Why can’t we see the essential energy that flows through the system? And energy in = energy out. The more economic growth we have in the system, for whatever reason, the more heat gets dumped. There is no escaping thermodynamics.

    “We thus arrive at the conclusion that any sort of perpetual motion is impossible. A continuous stream of fresh energy is necessary for the continuous working of any working system, whether animate or inanimate. Life is cyclic as regards the material substances consumed, and the same materials are used over and over again in metabolism. But as regards energy, it is unidirectional, and no continuous cyclic use of energy is even conceivable. If we have available energy, we may maintain life and produce every material requisite necessary. That is why the flow of energy should be the primary concern of economics” (Frederick Soddy, 1926, p. 56).

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      Iaato said:

      “But the root cause of the impacts from Sandy was extreme population density…”
      You’re missing the perspective of systemic causation. There was no “root” cause to the impacts from Sandy, or the storm itself, if by root we mean a single factor you can point to. There would have been no Sandy if sea surface temperatures and upper level winds and the state of planetary waves and the level of greenhouse gases and water vapor and ocean cycles, etc. were not what they were and thus, without Sandy, there would have been no impacts from Sandy. The devil is of course that all of these things are interrelated through complex feedbacks and teleconnections. It is unravelling this rather messy ball of tangled interconnectedness that is the core of what dedicated climate researchers are doing every day. Difficult but far from impossible to untangle…

    • John DeFayette

      My butterfly got out of its box a short while back. I fear a whole band of dedicated climate researchers is hot on my trail.

    • I heard on NPR this morning about some woman who found a monarch butterfly cocoon that was late in hatching and fearing the poor dear had missed the migration window, flew to Texas with it. My first thought was that some people have too much time and money on their hands. My second was that it would be funny as all get out to learn that the butterfly, upon hatching was eaten by a bird the next day.

    • Or flapped it’s wings and caused a major hurricane.

    • RG,

      If the question is “The damage caused …” then you can in fact perform root cause analysis and come up with cause (the storm) and contributing or amplifying factors.

      I believe there have been several studies which show that a primary cause for increasing damage in dollar amount is increased development and density.

      Take cell phone service. Every time a big storm hits and towers go down (or more likely sites lose power), people complain about loss of service. Yet in the not too distant past, this was not much of a problem. When everyone’s phone service was a landline, every a big storm had only a limited impact on service. Trees coming down into utility lines will take out electrical service, but the phone line will usually continue to function, even if lying on the ground. Now, our communications system is far more susceptible to disruption. It has nothing to do with climate.

  34. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    It’s a nice new name for a familiar concept: something whose presence changes the frequencies of specified outcomes. Giving it a name does not imply that CO2 affects the spatio-temoral distribution of hurricane intensities, which is the proposition of interest.

  35. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    nuts, another typo: “temporal” for “temoral” in the previous post.

  36. Now I remember you Joshua. You’re the guy who builds up castles of polemics in the air. For the love of me, I cannot fathom what you are blathering about and what generalizations I have done. I only know I spoke of helmeted cyclists and you replied with belted car passengers. A good example of what is wrong with your way of talking to people over the ‘net.

    • Just wait. Joshua will blame you for not understanding his confused thinking. it’s a precious game he plays. Not very effective at changing minds.. unless of course you start the conversation by assuming he is intelligent.. in that case he will definitely change your mind

    • omnologos

      We have this:

      For the love of me, I cannot fathom what … generalizations I have done.

      after this:

      To me it suggests that most if not all the people that scream on a subject are in fact totally clueless about it and just slaves of the zeitgeist.


    • Mmm, thinking of a new nom de net … would Zeitgest Zombie be better than Zeitgest Slave?

    • (I’ve been in more pain than usual for the last three months, tends to inspire frivolous rather than deep-and-meaningful posts. Hope the frivolity strikes the occasional chord.)

  37. More muddled thinking in service to propaganda and ‘the cause.’ Proximate and ultimate causes are elementary concepts, and certainly nothing new. In this case, the introduction of carcinogens into the lungs by smoking is not the ultimate cause of lung cancer, it is the proximate cause.

    All Lakoff does is to define cause by fiat. There is nothing rational to it. Begging the question in an insistent voice doesn’t make it better. Lakoff and those like him take their pronouncements on climate change to be an act of faith. When I was a child, I memorized these words:

    “I believe in God,
    the Father almighty,
    Creator of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died and was buried;
    he descended into hell;
    on the third day he rose again from the dead;
    he ascended into heaven,
    and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
    from there he will come to judge the living and the dead….”

    The Apostle’s Creed is a statement of faith. Lakoff’s ’cause’ is a similar act of faith. He accepts a premise – the certainty of AWG – on faith: therefore he must accept all that follows. I have no interest in such acts of faith.

    • George Lakoff “believes” that AGW is the “systemic cause” for Sandy, even though he has no empirical evidence (Feynman) to support his “belief”.

      That is “faith” (as opposed to “science”)

      “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

      Amen, George.


    • Blessed are those who seek truth for themselves rather than depending on untested authority. Which is why I gave up organised religion at age 13.

    • …but Dr. Curry likes it.


  38. George Lakoff

    There were hardly any hurricanes in 1997 – or in 2009

    Was the “systemic causation” for these quiet tropical cyclone years AGW?


  39. I like arguments presented as a duality, as this one: systemic or direct causality, because I can think of an exception. In this case, what popped into my head: abrupt climate change ala Tsonis. There is a confluence of oscillations leading to a regime change. One cannot predict which way the regime change will turn, if it changes at all.

    According to the duality, Direct: knowing all the oscillations involved, look for the mathematical relationship, voila, a prediction, true/false causality. Systemic: climatelogical regime change we can discern from the past has relevance for the future. Understanding the past gives us a predictive window to the future: causality.

    If I understand Lakoff’s article: as he uses the pejorative: climate change, i.e., catastrophic climate change due to man’s wonton disregard of the fragility of nature, we know some of the specifics and we can infer the rest because we can make it all fit together in our heads. And in particular, as decision makers really really want to know which way the wind is blowing, its ok to use our mind’s conjecture to nudge them in the right directions. Does anyone hear a familiar theme in this drama?

    As a child, then watching my children, then helping my grandchildren build sand castles on the shore, I have learned through patient observation that the castle will be swept away by the waves. No amount of boarding and damming will protect a structure built of sand close to the shore. Don’t do it. If someone insists, don’t insure it. When it is gone, wipe the eye of the child, don’t go into a long existential explanation of the impermanence of life, move onto something else, like some grapes or a cracker.

    Adapt to the immediate reality with the best engineering practice you currently know. Set aside funds to modify the original as more information becomes available. Be comfortable with saying “I don’t currently know”. Don’t look for permanent, optimal, solutions, I don’t think they exist.

    My onion on duality and sand castles.

  40. My first thought was that Lakoff’s writing is like that of a 10 year old. But then I looked him up and discovered he was a professor of linguistics. Worse cognitive linguistics; when he clearly demonstrates no cognitive ability whatsoever! It’s very easy to just have a gut feeling or hunch and then ignore any real world evidence that proves your hunch wrong but professors should be beyond that kind of simplistic thinking you’d hope.

    For some time now I’ve been feeling that you get academic qualifications in the US just by dint of being able to pay the extraordinary fees. Yet one more example of the dumbing down of academia…

    • On the contrary coming up with catchy new language that says nothing new seems the epitome of cognitive linguistics. A career in advertising beckons.

    • I have learned to be highly skeptical of any speciality with ‘cognitive’ in front of it. It tends to mean – we just make stuff up.

      Professor Stephan Lewandowsky’s speciality is ‘cognitive psychology’.

      Others have said it well above, but I must lend my support. There is nothing new about multifactorial causation and its analysis. Very often, it is not that hard to come up with a list of the most important factors for any event. But when it comes to weighting them, or using them for predictive purposes, there is zero consensus for any individual event, and not much more for multiple similar events.

      People are still arguing about the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire and how it applies to the modern world. It will never be definitively settled. A lot of the same issues apply in epidemiology, and especially in climate science.

      As an undergraduate student essay, I would give it a C.

    • Gee Joanna, and here I am a cognitive scientist. Thinking does exist, so it can be studied. Have you read my little textbook?

      Understanding is poorly understood so there is a lot of confusion about it. Still we must try.

    • Apologies, David W. – yes I have read your work, and it is one of the exceptions to my generalisation. It must be trying to work in a field inhabited by so many mediocrities and charlatans!

    • Thanks Johanna, but I prefer to think that it is mostly just confusion. When we do not understand what we are talking about a wide range of views is possible. We are in somebody’s Middle Ages. They will understand what we do not.

      By analogy back in our Middle Ages there were great debates over something called the quantity of motion. Once that got sorted out it became what we now call dynamics. The science of thought awaits us.

  41. thisisnotgoodtogo

    Lakoff should read up on the fight over the gene.
    From a factor to an unseen gene to a seen protein product or Lakofff’s direct cause to “a gene is whatever does whatever we are talking about”

    That’s where Lakoff goes. when he meets the anomalies.
    Lakoff nonsense brings one to say that no one gene can be the cause of a wrinkled pea.
    The question is really can one gene can be a direct cause of wrinkling in peas. Not cause of wrinkled pea.

  42. This is basically asking us to suspend the requirements for a plausible chain of causation because it is complicated. The very same argument could be made for why GW didn’t cause the Sandy. Or why GW prevented more hurricanes in the past years. It amounts to ‘I don’t understand it, but I’m still sure of my position’. Show us the math

    Also, second and third order effects are nothing new to science. They are really the cornerstone of most of them, so not sure why this needs a fancy new word.

  43. Obviously, the proponents of CAGW are getting REALLY desperate. Everything is going wrong for them. Politicians are either neglecting CAGW, or taking steps to ensure that their countries go on emitting as much CO2 as necessary to keep their economies expanding. The empirical data tends to show that CAGW is a hoax.

    So here we have the raising of a completely phoney issue, in the hope that they can postone the evil(happy) day when CAGW is proven to be false, and keep the money gravy train running for a few more years.

    • I agree, Jim. Climategate was a wake-up call to the scientific community.

      A great deal is at stake for the prestigious scientific organizations, research institutions, once-respected journals and recent Nobel Prize winners who promoted government propaganda as “settled science.”

      Clearly the problem will not be solved from the top down. Today we must each decide if we will individually pass along

      a.) Truth revealed by unbiased experimental observations, or
      b.) Consensus stories fabricated by cherry picking data.

      Scientists failed to study George Orwell’s warnings on the consequences of joining a consensus crowd:

      With deep regrets,
      - Oliver K. Manuel
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo

    • What I see repeatedly on MSM is their belief that sea level rise has been causing all sorts of problems to date without ever citing the trend line per NOAA or any other authoritative source that, in fact, it has been increasing only 2.7 mm per year for the last few decades. Now, I recognize the models forecast higher rates but based on observational data, what has been happening is just not that dramatic. The biggest frustration is that no one in the MSM ever challenges their assumptions nor do they refer to actual amounts of observed sea level rise.

    • The Australian being an honourable exception, which, although in its editorial line it accepts AGW and the need for emissions reductions, runs news stories and columns about contrary findings, e.g. on Australia’s limited sea level rise, with declines in some parts of our lengthy coastline. (It also ran more, and better argued, letters debunking AGW as a cause of Sandy than blaming it.)

    • Denis Adams,

      The MSM is not there to educate the public or tell the truth. They are businesses that are there to make profits and pay dividends to share holders. If the public love scaremongering and propaganda and that sells, then of course they will oblige. The problem is with us, not the MSM or its editors.

      Then of course we have the government owned propaganda agencies – like ABC (Australia), BBC (UK) and Pravda (Russia). Their purpose is to keep Left wing governments in power.

  44. Let’s say it out loud, Western academia and the anti-Americanism of the UN and dead and dying Old Europe are the systemic causation underlying global warming. For instance, outside the West there are no fears about runaway global warming, people do not look to secular, socialist schoolteachers as saviors of the world and climatology is likened to the ancient science of astrology.

    • Potsdam University is not a Western academia?

      The beginning of the 21st century in the Western world is on tract to accomplish nothing of value to the goal of uplifting humanity. No one outside Western civilization is paying much attention anymore to what happens in the halls of the U.S. Congress. America remains in denial about the squandering of riches, the loss of opportunity and individual freedom and the peril that all humanity faces as Western governments inflate their currencies to continue paying for the promises that politicians make and taxpayers can’t afford to keep.

    • the loss of opportunity and individual freedom

      Indeed, every day I wake up and wonder how I’m going to survive another day in this Gulag under the cruel thumb of tyrants.

    • The people who reject the scientific method in science are the same people who reject free enterprise in economics — 47%’rs –i.e., moochers vs. the productive.

      Many feel it is an important public service to inform people about those things they are told that are not completely true. For example, does the Left really believe in sustainability? How about a sustainable economy where the productive do not have to appoligize for succeeding at providing value to society?

      And, how about fear of global warming? The truth is, so long as the outsiders are less than 50% the Left still cannot rewrite history and those who seek the truth will know communism is, The Hunger Games: an abject failure that has been the sower of so many millions of graves. The only thing you can do to save dead and dying Old Europe this time is to help them help themselves by turning your back on the failed course they took.

    • 47%’rs –i.e., moochers

      Do you have any what % of that “47%” are disabled, seniors, and the working poor?

      Stay classy, Wagathon, stay classy.

    • The abandonment of the scientific method by the global warming alarmists creates an entirely new problem for them now. They have become so disconnected with reality, and so disconnected from guiding principles — from the goals of individual liberty and free enterprise to Judeo/Christian ethics of honesty and personal responsibility — and, so paralyzed by self-defeating nihilism, that they are desperate to find a theology that will provide future meaning. And, to that end, they have dreamed up the illusion that their feeding off of the productive like government-funded gadflies provides a worthwhile service to society.

    • Describing the situation as socialists pushing theories akin to astrology is one thing – but calling them secularists is just below the belt, Waggy.

    • What else can you call AGW True Believers when they don’t even make good atheists?

    • Went right over your head, didn’t it? I was being sarcastic. I was making fun of your notion that being a secularist is some kind of insult.

    • Is the Church of Warmanism still looking for witches to burn?

  45. ……..There came the huricane….
    Everybody along the coast from Boston, all the way down to Panama, knows about the annual Huracan-season each
    successive year and has his triplay-boards handy and ready in the basement to protect his windows….
    This is the real life in the US….Now there comes the media….interviewing
    not the one, who is prepared by history, but interviewing the stupid,
    the ignorant, the down and out, who is incapable to spell “Hurican”
    and whining about climate change……
    …….If you live in volcano country…. get your shovels ready…..if you live
    in huracan country, be prepared to pull up your pants above your
    knees…..This is the normality of life….
    All this Sandy whining about the ignorant and unprepared makes one

  46. Lakoff seems to be eating correlation with causation, which is both absurd and dangerous as many commentators have noted above.

  47. Utterances from the Gaian Prophet Lovelock

    We’ve lost our fear of hellfire, but put climate change in its place

    “Billions will die,” says Lovelock, who tells us that he is not normally a gloomy type. Human civilisation will be reduced to a “broken rabble ruled by brutal warlords”, and the plague-ridden remainder of the species will flee the cracked and broken earth to the Arctic, the last temperate spot, where a few breeding couples will survive.

    But the more one listens to sacerdotal figures such as Lovelock, and the more one studies public reactions to his prophecies, the clearer it is that we are not just dealing with science (though science is a large part of it); this is partly a religious phenomenon.
    Humanity has largely lost its fear of hellfire, and yet we still hunger for a structure, a point, an eschatology, a moral counterbalance to our growing prosperity. All that is brilliantly supplied by climate change. Like all the best religions, fear of climate change satisfies our need for guilt, and self-disgust, and that eternal human sense that technological progress must be punished by the gods.
    And the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful.

    James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

    One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is “modern democracy”, he added. “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

    Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change” Lovelock

    James Lovelock knows of what he speaks: personal experience allows him to say that a lot of humans aren’t that bright.
    But Lovelock forgets that while there are many—half!—who are below average on the IQ scale, it takes an academic to say something really stupid.

    Hardtalk – James Lovelock – Population reduction (max 1 billion)

  48. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.
    Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of pregnancies, unwanted and wanted.

  49. Willis Eschenbach

    Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

    Let’s unpick that one a bit, shall we? He is claiming that “systemic causation”, whatever that means, is familiar to us. He gives four examples.

    One is smoking being a “systemic cause” of cancer. In this, he seems to be referring to the idea that if you smoke, the odds of you getting cancer go up. Fine so far.

    Then he says that HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is a “systemic cause” of AIDS … but that is entirely different than smoking and cancer. The virus is a direct cause of AIDS, in that you cannot get AIDS without HIV. In this respect it is very different from smoking and cancer … yet he says both are “systemic causation”.

    His third example is driving while drunk and traffic accidents. This one is the same as the tobacco and cancer argument. Smoking significantly increases the chances of cancer, and drinking and driving significantly increases the chances of traffic accidents. However, both traffic accidents and cancer occur without drinking or smoking.

    Finally, he says that sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies. Again, this seems to me to be a very direct cause, since pregnancies don’t happen without sex. You can get cancer without tobacco use, but you can’t get an unwanted pregnancy without sex, “protected” or not. So this example is like the HIV example. It is an example of more direct causation than the other two, tobacco/cancer and drunk-driving/crashes.

    So I would say that Lakoff has failed in a fundamental fashion, because he has given contradictory examples for what he defines as “systemic causation”. I suspect that what he is referring to as “systemic causation” is the “increase the chances of, but can happen without” argument of tobacco use and of drunk driving, rather than the “can’t happen without it” examples of HIV/AIDS and of sex/pregnancy.

    But even if we overlook that, what are we to make of this quote from Lakoff?

    We can dance around the issue all we want, but climate change was the storm’s systemic cause.

    Given what I think I understand of his point of view, I could see him saying that climate change was one of the hundreds of “systemic causes” of the storm. He couldn’t prove it, but he could at least assert it.

    But to say it was “the storm’s systemic cause” clearly implies that warming was the one and only, or at least the overwhelmingly dominant, systemic cause … and he can’t assert that, that’s misleading at root and branch. He has absolutely no evidence for that claim, and there is lots of evidence that despite the warming, there has been no significant increase in extreme weather events. In particular, despite whatever warming occurred since 1950 or so, hurricanes are at an long-time lull, with very few of them.

    The link between drinking and crashes is pretty self-evident. The same was not true for tobacco and cancer. It had to be demonstrated by the use of statistics. People showed that the rate of cancer was higher in smokers than in non-smokers.

    But no such statistical evidence exists for the the purported role of warming in hurricane formation.

    To summarize:

    1. The claim that Lakoff makes, that warming is the systemic cause of Sandy, misses the point of “systemic”. “Systemic” means that there is no “the cause”.

    2. There is no statistical evidence that global warming is even a systemic cause of big storms. It may be one, but there is no evidence that it is one, and there is evidence that warming is not a systemic cause of increases in number or size of storms. Despite the warming since 1950, there is a decided lack of increase in all types of extreme weather events.


    PS—if “climate change” is the problem as he says, why not just stop the climate from changing?

    • Willis,

      These days making the claim is all that matters. You do not need facts or reason. Otherwise people like Bill McKibben (who will be in Portland OR this week), would not be taken seriously.

    • John DeFayette

      Willis, please show some respect for the writings of a professor of cognitive linguistics. Why, the way you describe it, the essay seems more like a dirty dishrag than a logical treatise.

      It’s days like today that I feel like keeping my kids out of college altogether.

    • It is days like today that I feel the same way. My student teaching daughter just found out her major university teachers program may lose its accreditation just 2 months before her graduation.

    • John DeFayette

      Uh-oh, he/she must have been teaching AGW denial to merit that sort of treatment.

    • Strictly speaking, it is the climate itself that was the ‘systemic cause’ of Hurricane Sandy, and is and was the cause of every other hurricane.

      In order for “recent changes in world/regional climate” to be the systemic cause of Sandy, there would need to be evidence that past similar storms, and there have been past similar storms, were proceeded by similar changes.

      Lakoff’s logic is more than just faulty, it is fallacious, and has no basis in any of the realities that I am familiar with.

      PS: The logical train that smoking is the or a systemic cause of cancer itself is also fallacious. Smoking is just one of the things that can increase one’s chance of getting lung cancer. It does happen to be one that individuals can easily avoid. It has no special, magical or secret ‘systemic’ method of causing cancer.

    • Kip said:

      “The logical train that smoking is the or a systemic cause of cancer itself is also fallacious.”


      No, it’s actually a very solid logical train that, through careful years of research we began to understand what all those nasty carcinogens in smoke were doing to the cells of your lungs, esophagus, etc. and how the continual infusion of those cells by the carcinogens could lead to some of the cells going haywire and becoming cancerous.

      Certainly smoking is a systemic cause of cancer.

    • Excellent deconstruction of the Lakoff “systemic cause” premise.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo

      Willis, thanks for going through Lakoff’s examples and showing what kind of work this is.

      When I suggest he shold have studied the gene wars, I meant he coulda bin a contendah.
      Look at Richard Dawkins sail with it
      [quote]. What I have now done is to define the gene in such a way that I cannot really help being right![/quote]

      ‘cuase it’s whatever does whatever he is talking about.

      Lakoff’s story aint got no class.

  50. ["George Lakoff has just thrown a big can of worms into the global warming debate:"]

    Crikey, how insignificant would a ‘small’ can of worms be?

    • More like a “big puff of smoke” and some arm waving.

      If Lakoff wants to abandon both logic and Science he should go whole hog and blame Gaia/Allah/A Vengeful God for Sandy. There is just a much evidence for the super natural explanation as there is for AGW being the culprit. And, the great advantage of the supernatural is that it can explain the rather nasty timing of the events’ coinciding with the higher tides of the full moon. Not even systemic causality can quite manage to get its metaphorical arms around that little kicker.

  51. Svend Ferdinandsen

    Is’n it a bit funny, that it is only catastrophes that are linked to AGW?
    Why is the good weather never linked to AGW. It could be good weather for vacation or for the farmers or whatever. Good weather is not the same for all, but catastrophic weather in the same way only affects few. Many had fine weather while Sandy was active.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo

      A good rainfall turns monstrous to some increasing degree eery time a leaf of grass be bent

    • That’s because nature good, humans bad. Until of course you realize that humans are nature, then who ya gonna blame? Time to call in the Anthropocene Management Team!

    • David Springer

      I linked AGW to good weather on this blog just a few days ago. That was just the most recent time. I’ve always been of the position that whatever 20th century warming is actually anthropogenic CO2 it’s concentrated right where people want and need longer growing seasons. In this most recent instance the response was to a guest article by Professor Shepherd at Georgia Tech who, among other boners, maintained that AGW reduced grain yields in the US which is BS. Grain yields fall in the US when it’s cooler not warmer and the data is readily available to show it, which I did.

  52. Jet aircraft cause atmospheric warming and hurricanes. Between all the “abnormal” CO2 and heat they dump in the atmosphere, plus the additional wind energy they generate, it’s fairly obvious the systemic cause and why nobody really wants to research the truth…..

  53. Berényi Péter

    Utter rubbish, at least the part on QM. Basic eqations of QM are in fact completely deterministic. They are, really, there is no probability involved whatsoever. Temporal evolution of the wave function (a complex valued function over a multi-dimensional space) is absolutely unique.

    Probability only comes about with measurement, when this object interacts with macroscopic objects called instruments whose detailed quantum state is of course unknown.

    • David Springer


    • Chief Hydrologist

      The ‘wave function—initially in a superposition of several different possible eigenstates—appears to reduce to a single one of those states after interaction with an observer.’ The wave function propagates the possible eigenstates – essentially photon probability densities – through time until the wave function collapses on observation.

  54. Very enjoyable video on stuff about prediction and uncertainty that you all know, but fun to watch,none the less:

  55. For some hints on the way forward for climate science, and science in general, I propose two sources:

    the new paper by Markonis and Koutsoyiannis (see for a summary and discussion, for a preprint

    Stephen Wolfram’s book, A New Kind of Science.

  56. WTF is a linguist’s uninformed technical opinion of a physical science issue doing on this blog?

    Fecrisakes Curry.

  57. Thanx Prof Curry. I haven’t had that good of a belly laugh for a couple of months now. The lack of logical progression by Lack-of was hysterical!

    Paraphrase – “since there is no justifiable scientific way to attribute AGW to Sandy, then let’s make some BS up and see if people swallow it.”

    Complete fail!

    • Seems like an attempt to make “ad ignorantum” respectable. “Somepin’s gots ta be doin’ it, so jest call it ‘systemic’ an’ wave yer hands a bunch a times!”

  58. Tha Shaman’s Prayer:
    Repeat after me …

    Gaia is great, pesky humans are not.
    Go not forth and multiply … for ye
    Are a scourge upon the earth.
    Walk lightly upon Gaia, take her
    Upon your scraggy knees, eschew
    Unseemly hubris and attainments, bold
    Science, Engineering, the Arts and Debate.
    Eat only of nuts and dress in sack cloth
    For Gaia’s sake, that ye be not a scourge
    Upon the earth. Amen.

  59. Progressive’s inablility to demonstrate direct caustion is the systemic cause of their grasping for an amorphous term like systemic causation.

  60. Judith,

    I trust it is obvious that Patrice Ayme is a crack-pot.

    I have a Ph.D. in elementary-particle physics (Stanford, 1983), I know quantum mechanics well, and QM is indeed very strange. But it has nothing to do with the points Ayme tries to draw (e.g., implying that QM leads to “Ultimately there are no causes, but for waves interfering: that image applies extremely well to hurricanes. In particular Atlantic hurricanes originate as the spawning of easterly waves”)..

    To give another example, here, is Ayme’s bizarre attempt to predict the effects of global warming by (mis)using the equipartition theorem: . (To anyone who wants to know how he is misusing it, I will only say: go to the trouble to learn the equipartition theorem, then do the relevant numerical calculations and you will see.)

    I have not been able to find out from a brief googling what Ayme’s background is, so I do not know if he has a real science background that he is using to deceive people or if he is simply a scientific illiterate who actually believes his own nonsense. But, at least when he appeals to physics, he is indeed spouting bizarre nonsense.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • I agree fully that bringing in QM like that is totally unwarranted (my PhD thesis is also from particle physics and I have lectured several courses of QM at various levels before switching to energy related research and systems analysis).

  61. Lakoff is just another example that left-wing political thought is the systemic cause of brain atrophy. The evidence is overwhelming and, using Lakoffian principles of logic, it is impossible for anyone to prove me wrong.

  62. The same argument would apply to ultra right wing politics and climate change denialism.

    The one isn’t a direct consequence of the other but there is a systematic link.

  63. This is completely insane. We appear unable to prove that x causes y, so the problem must be the concept of causation. Right. We seem to be unable to prove that standing on our heads every day will save the world from being eaten by a giant hedgehog, but we know that to be true, therefore the problem must be the concept of causation, and so what everyone needs to understand is that causationx is at work here, and that really it is working.

    You see what the argument depends on? The use of causationx in the same sense as causation, while pretending that it is being used in a different sense.

    Where Oh Where is Bertrand Russell now that we really need him?

  64. thisisnotgoodtogo

    Did Lakoff takeoff Torok ?

    0445> Torok/CSIRO:
    [...] idea of looking at the implications of climate change for what he termed
    “global icons” [...] One of these suggested icons was the Great Barrier Reef [...]
    It also became apparent that there was always a local “reason” for the
    destruction – cyclones, starfish, fertilizers [...] A perception of an
    “unchanging” environment leads people to generate local explanations for coral
    loss based on transient phenomena, while not acknowledging the possibility of
    systematic damage from long-term climatic/environmental change [...] Such a
    project could do a lot to raise awareness of threats to the reef from climate

  65. For some reason I’m reminded of Chris Matthews getting a thrill up his leg in response to Barack Obama speaking. Was not the cause of this phenomenon entirely systemic?

  66. Different people discern different “systemic causes”.
    For example: one mullah in Iran said that Sandy was a punishment for the US’s meddling in ME affairs, and especially for imposing sanctions on Iran.
    So, here we have another candidate for “systemic cause”.
    How do you determine which is more “systemic” ?

  67. Why do I now feel the strong urge to apply for a research grant to study “butterfly wing-flapping as systemic cause of hurricanes”?

  68. So. Earth warmed a slight degree. Most likely not entirely due to GHG’s, but let us go with the argument. However, perfect storms have occurred before. So, how much of it was actually due to CO2 increase and how much of it was “natural”?

    In other words, compared to what happened how safe would we have been *without* that slight degree warming?

  69. Can of worms? Substitute “cultural” for “systemic” causation and you know where this can of worms is going. Excess Co2 causes unpredictable extreme global warming events. Modern capitalistic cultures (male dominated predatory profit driven production ) produces excess C02. QED: Al Gore’s current individualistic ego driven culture must change (say to a nurturing Hillary dominated state based tribal culture to promote from each tribe or identity group according to their ability to each tribe according to their needs) in order to stop culturally caused extreme global warming events. Al and Hillary reorganizing the world into sleepy little electronic villages while making millions is only icing on the climate change cake. I concede that traditional Muslim societies do not have a drunk driving problem while Muslims visiting western countries have been known to get drunk and drive after leaving their rather draconian cultural prohibitions behind, but in that case it’s not at all clear to me which culture “caused” that particular incidence of Scotch induced mind altered states and subsequent drunk driving. The bar tender didn’t put a gun to Mohammed’s head to get him to chose to drink Scotch while proficiency in navigating the desert is not directly translatable to driving a Porsche drunk in San Francisco. I suspect Mohammed’s choice to get drunk and drive was in his nature and the girl’s pants he was trying to get into and had nothing to do with the local weather or the moon’s phase. But if underdevelopment and stagnation is the favored authoritarian social economic model for preventing excess co2 production, than the current traditional theocratic tribal Muslim culture is the way to go.

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