The Public Trust Doctrine: Climate Magic?

Guest Contributor —  March 6, 2014 — 93 Comments

[The following is a guest post by Zay Eleanor Watersong. Zay Eleanor Watersong is a teacher in the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, community organizer, and law student.  She got her start in Reclaiming with the Ithaca Reclaiming Collective and the Pagan Cluster, sharing priestessing roles in Pagan circles internationally and Reclaiming circles nationwide since 2003.]

“Anthro-arrogance is not an option,” stated one of the law student organizers for the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon in Eugene as they opened the conference on February 27.  “This conference, this planet, expects action.”


University of Oregon students took this to heart and continued a long history of protest at the conference with a 100-person walkout shortly thereafter during one of the keynote addresses, protesting the speaker’s anti-transgender stance.  It was an interesting echo of the controversy at PantheaCon in 2012.  Hopefully PIELC too will learn from the experience.

photo (1)This conference, now in its 32nd year, has a long history of bringing together legal scholars, lawyers, activists and organizers to discuss the pressing issues of the day and weave synergistic relationships to address them. It brings together so many who are working at the leading edge, whether in blockades or in the courtroom, to protect the earth which we hold sacred.  There is a deep magic in being able to see the web of laws and policies that hold the current system in place, and seeing the points where if we push just a little bit, things can shift.  Practicing law and practicing spellwork are not that different.

This year’s theme was “Running In to Running Out”.  It could be easy to come away depressed by power of the oil and gas industry, which is extracting resources as fast as it can and using more and more extreme ways to do so, with absolutely no consideration for the impacts on the environment, and very little reigning in by the government.  In fact, it turns out this industry is exempt from most of our environmental laws. And as former NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen explained, if the oil and gas industry is allowed to extract and burn all that they wish to, we are looking at a 6° C increase in global temperature, blowing past the 2* C limit that scientists and governments worldwide have agreed is the absolute upper limit to prevent catastrophic climate change.  What was that we were saying about anthro-arrogance?

There is no doubt we are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, put the current situation into perspective with a baseball analogy: “A player taking steroids increases the chances of more and bigger home runs.  You can’t point to any one home run as caused by steroids but overall, you know where the credit lies.  The climate is on steroids now.”  The weather is getting more extreme, more frequently.

"Outlaw party" during PIELC.

“Outlaw party” during PIELC.

Yet, the conference was a testament to the deep hope and commitment to action of the environmental movement.  The camaraderie and energy was palpable at the “Outlaw Party” thrown on the outskirts of Eugene by the Cascadia Forest Defense, where anarchists, organizers, and lawyers alike danced our love of the earth in the mud and rain to excellent bluegrass and let our primal nature run free around a rather spectacular effigy.  As the Pagan Cluster and Free Cascadia Witchcamp know, a little bit of ritual goes a long way towards feeding the soul and avoiding activist burnout.  These direct action activists -such as the 398 arrested at the White House on Saturday protesting the Keystone XL pipeline- who put their bodies and freedom on the line to make a statement about the failure of the administrative process deserve our thanks, and our spiritual support.

Just as important are the lawyers, advocates, and citizens that watchdog the bureaucracy, read and digest long tomes of environmental impact statements, and spend their days paperwrenching with public comments and lawsuits.  Theirs is an effort of endurance, particularly when environmental laws no longer protect the environment.

Mary Christina Wood

Mary Christina Wood

“At every level, agencies have turned environmental law inside out,” explained Mary Christina Wood, professor at the University of Oregon and author of the new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.  Her keynote address Saturday evening followed Dr. Hansen’s dire predictions and painted a visionary method for the profound legal paradigm shift needs to happen.

“We’ve been running around putting out all these fires,” Wood explained, “but what if we can stop the pyromaniac?”  Wood is one of many legal scholars around the country re-invigorating an ancient judicial concept known as the Public Trust Doctrine.

It’s a basic idea: that there are certain natural resources that are so important for society as a whole that the government has a responsibility to protect those resources for everyone’s use.  The key case that brought this doctrine from ancient Roman law and English common law into U.S. Federal law is Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Illinois (1892), where the courts determined that the shoreline of Lake Michigan was held in public trust by the states and could not be given to a private railroad corporation.

A more recent case was Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2013) where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that legislation removing many regulatory hurdles for the fracking industry violated the public trust doctrine, which Pennsylvania voters amended into their constitution in 1971.

Wood and others are taking the public trust doctrine one step further, with atmospheric trust litigation, arguing that the atmosphere itself is one of those resources that must be maintained for us all.   Youth are filing lawsuits in every state, to hold the states and federal government responsible under the public trust doctrine for developing carbon recovery plans to meet the 6% annual reduction in carbon emissions that scientists agree is necessary to stabilize the atmosphere.  They’ve put together a wonderful video explaining the idea.

Is it a coincidence that so many of us have heard the call of Goddess at the same time that the earth, air, and waters that we honor are so threatened?  Gaia is calling us to action.  Our descendants are calling us to action.  What has been done in your state?  Does your state constitution include the public trust doctrine?  Do you have children who want to be part of the fight for their future?  When it seems like government at every level is failing us, and failing the climate, the positive action of the people working on atmospheric trust litigation is truly a breath of fresh air.

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Guest Contributor


  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    This: “There is a deep magic in being able to see the web of laws and policies that hold the current system in place, and seeing the points where if we push just a little bit, things can shift. Practicing law and practicing spellwork are not that different.”

  • NeoWayland

    I know I’m painting a target on myself.

    I have two major issues with climate change activists.

    First, the models haven’t successfully predicted anything. If they were accurate, I should be able to take weather readings from the last ten or twenty years, feed them into the models and successfully predict climate trends for the next year. That hasn’t happened.

    Second, the climate change “movement” has co-opted and subverted the environmental movement to the point where “dealing” with climate change takes ultimate priority over any environmental concern you can name. Overuse of water in the Western US? Climate change. Dangerous industrial emissions in Mississippi? Deal with the greenhouse gases first. Urban raccoon population explosion worldwide? Those poor polar bears and the shrinking ice!

    There’s another issue that I don’t talk about much, but which we should think about. “Climate change” is losing it’s credibility with the public, and it’s dragging the environmental movement down with it.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      In Oregon, where this conference was held, 90% of our old-growth forests have been leveled over the past century, which has nearly destroyed the forest ecosystem and has led to both the Northern Spotted Owl and the Red Tree Vole being cited as threatened species by the federal government. Such destruction also is a contributor to “climate change”. Many of the speakers and attendees of this conference are forest defenders themselves, people who literally risk their lives and put aside their livelihoods in order to protect this disappearing resource, and those who live in this region have been experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand through weather patterns.

      Eugene, where this conference was held, was literally the timber capital of the entire world throughout most of the 20th Century. Perhaps when you watch such devastation before your very eyes, it becomes “real” in a way that perhaps it hasn’t in the part of the world you inhabit. I’m not sure what “public” you feel that “climate change” is losing its credibility with, but I can tell you that the “public” who lives here is more concerned with these issues than ever.

      • NeoWayland

        I’m not disputing that there are serious environmental issues. My second point was that “climate change” activists have taken control of all efforts against ALL environmental problems. That has happened so much that we’re not even allowed to discuss those other issues unless we first acknowledge climate change and give our efforts there first.

        What’s more, there are young adults today who literally do not know anything else.

        That is scary.

        • Aine

          Wow, my work in environmental activism must have been some weird dream, since most everyone was focused on a specific thing they wanted to do, but also cared about climate change since it affects the climate which effects all of us. I guess caring about big stuff means it has ‘taken over’?

          • Charles Cosimano

            I know that if you mention “climate change” around here you will get, “When?”

          • Obsidia

            Whether one believes in Climate Change or not, what’s wrong with learning to use technology to work WITH (rather than against) Nature? Choose what you are passionate about, and become its voice!

          • NeoWayland

            Offhand, I can’t think of one conversation on environmental problems I’ve had in the last ten years or so where we didn’t have to acknowledge climate change as THE paramount problem. If you’ll excuse the religious reference, one GOD above all others. And no effort or money could be spent on a singular effort without a cut going to “climate change.”

            And if you dared to speak out, why, you were the Heretic.

          • Genexs

            Your Koch Brotheresque climate change denial is growing tiresome.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          I disagree with that. I’ve been working within the environmental movement for over a decade now, and we don’t focus on climate change above all else. We focus on what’s going in front of us, namely the extraction of finite reasons. I think you’re painting the movement with a very broad brush, and in that you’re putting forth inaccuracies.

          • NeoWayland

            It may be because I am looking for red bicycles, I see more red bicycles than there actually are.

            I don’t think so though.

          • Genexs

            Yeah, I’ve worked on a few myself, and my experience dovetails with yours (and the other environmentalists and activists who’ve posted here). This character’s trolling would be ok if it was at least funny or original.

    • Eran Rathan

      NeoWayland writes:
      “First, the models haven’t successfully predicted anything. If they were accurate, I should be able to take weather readings from the last ten or twenty years, feed them into the models and successfully predict climate trends for the next year. That hasn’t happened.”

      You are wrong, on multiple levels. Firstly, 10-20 years is insignificant as far as climate trends are concerned. And before you complain about only about a hundred years of actual data, I’ll point out that you are wrong on that as well – there is an observatory in Italy that has been taking weather readings daily since the mid 1700′s. Secondly, we have indirect data via tree growth rings, sedimentation layers, ice cores (specifically atmospheric O16/O18 ratios), pollen counts, and peat levels that correlate very closely with observed temperatures – those indirect temperature records exist for the past 3 million years, give or take. Thirdly, climate effects due to anthropogenic activity has been successful predicted and is easily observable – look at the urban heat island effect; look at the reduction in Arctic summer & winter ice coverage; look at the reduction in the North Atlantic Downwelling, all of which were predicted in the 1970s-1990s and are happening.

      If you are going to argue against something, please at the very least educate yourself on what you are arguing against.

      • NeoWayland

        I did not mention the data on purpose, although there is a lot to dispute. I’d rather not get into that sticky mess here just much of the data can’t be independently verified.

        I specifically mentioned the models which have been (incorrectly) used to predict what will happen in ten, twenty, or thirty years.

        If the models were accurate, they could predict trends with just a decade or so of data. Just like some of the gloomsayers do. But the models aren’t accurate, and neither are the predictions. The problem is not the temperature, it’s in the carbon dioxide “cascade” effect.

        I could have a spreadsheet that says if I deposit 23 cents today, I could have $73,000 dollars by the end of next week. The math could be perfectly valid, but unless the assumptions reflect reality, I won’t have anything more than 23 cents.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          If the models were accurate, they could predict trends with just a decade or so of data.Not so. A large volcanic eruption can mull surface temp vs CO2 correlation for years with a plume blocking sunlight. Just for example. The decade-of-data argument is a fallacious diversion.

          • NeoWayland

            If the volcanos were a new event yes. Since volcanos have been erupting nearly since the Earth began, they should already be part of the models.

            The decade of data is only marginally worse than the century or so of human influence that is usually cited. And it’s much better than the predictions of human activity that are usually fed in to show that we have only x number of years left before it’s “too late.”

            I’d still like to see a baseline of 10,000 years or so.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Re: volcanoes. They’ve always been a data point. I can’t remember where I learned this (I’ve been following the literature of geology’s journey into plate tectonics since its infancy as “continental drift”), but volcanoes are rejected from the prediction models because they themselves cannot be predicted to a sufficient level of accuracy.

            Their effects on climate have been closely analyzed. They are cited as part of the margin of error analysis. Until vulcanologists announce a reliable prediction methodology for eruptions, that’s where they’ll stay.

          • Franklin_Evans

            The baseline exists. It has yet to pass muster under the methodological requirements. The data collectors themselves question the reliability of their sources.

          • Eran Rathan

            Re: Baseline data.

            We have baseline data, of over 3 million years (as I stated in my first post above). And there are very very few scientists who would argue that the data is not correct – where they begin to argue is which model to use.

            Those models are constantly being refined – however, long term trends are not hard to spot.

          • NeoWayland

            Pardon, but what we have is selected baseline data with massive interpretations and extrapolations. We are reasonably sure it’s accurate. And I’ll agree with that as long as it is the raw data we’re talking about, and not the heavily “edited” versions put out by certain scientists.

            But data does not equal models, Somebody has to make the spreadsheet.

            We don’t have accurate models.

          • Eran Rathan

            You keep stating that, but you also have stated that you are not a scientist – so which is it? Are you qualified to review any number of climatology papers or models, to state categorically that those models are ‘inaccurate’? What are you basing your review methodology on? Can you please post your qualifications and statistical analysis of those models (Chandler model, perhaps – Columbia University has a downloadable version, if you care at – granted, its a simplified one, but reasonably good for educational purposes).

          • NeoWayland

            Show me a model that works and we won’t need an analysis.

          • Eran Rathan

            “Show me a model that works and we won’t need an analysis.”

            You used those words, and I’m fairly certain you are aware of what they mean, but strung together like that they make no sense.

            Without analysis (i.e. verifying the model matches existing data, in other words, making sure your model is worth a damn), the models alone are useless. Let me reiterate: If you cannot analyze the model versus existing data, then any predictive value is meaningless.

            Once again, I advise you to download the Chandler model, above – its based on the previous NASA/Goddard model, its quite intuitive to use, and you can fiddle with the variables to your heart’s content.


            If you care, here is a paper from the head of the Columbia University project, regarding the newer model (GISS ModelE) and paleoclimate reconstruction of the Pliocene Warm Period, which is similar to what we are seeing now.

          • NeoWayland

            Up until now, I’ve not touched on this.

            There is a huge difference between the climate models and almost every other model you can name.

            There are people who are using the climate models to justify seizing insane amounts of power funded by an ever increasing revenue stream. And they demand that the models be treated as if “the science is settled.” That doesn’t usually happen in science.

            I’d rather not throw out accusations, but this stinks of a political coup.

            The models don’t work well, BUT we’re not supposed to question them, and by the way, we’re supposed to give up freedom and cash to solve a problem which may or may not exist, may or may not be a problem, may or may not be self-correcting, and which we may or may not actually be able to do anything about. That’s a lot of may or may nots for something that is “definitive.”

            Meanwhile, there are people who have made a lot of money capitalizing on the climate scare, all while claiming to act in the “greater good.”

          • Eran Rathan

            1. Can you name some folks who are “seizing insane amounts of power funded by an ever increasing revenue stream.” in the name of fighting climate change?

            2. “The models don’t work well,”

            Again, if you have a substantive rebuttal of, for example, the GISS models, please, point me to them. Otherwise, you are simply restating that they do not work – tell me why they don’t work, how they don’t work, etc.

            3. “…we’re supposed to give up freedom and cash to solve a problem which may or may not exist, may or may not be a problem,may or may not be self-correcting, and which we may or may not actually be able to do anything about.”

            If we do nothing, what happens? Maybe nothing, maybe things get really bad. OK, if we try to clean up our act, what happens? It costs some money, and we get a cleaner planet out of it. Why is this a bad thing exactly?

            Lets see now:

            A. Freedoms given up versus climate change: Freedom to pollute. Not seeing a downside to this.

            B. Cash: As of last year, it cost about $4 trillion dollars for the war in Iraq. It is estimated that worst case scenario, we would suffer a -4% reduction in GDP by 2050 by dealing with climate change… which would be about $640 billion – in other words, Iraq cost the US more than SIX TIMES AS MUCH as dealing with climate change, if the US decided to actual do something about it.

            C. “may or may not be a problem, and may or may not be self-correcting” – it is possible that it IS self-correcting… for example, we know that during the Pliocene CO2 levels were comparable to what they are now…. and at that time there were alligators and palm trees in the Arctic. However, as history shows, generally the correction slews hard in the other direction… Have you ever heard of the Younger Dryas Bond event? It is generally thought to have occurred when a large pulse of fresh meltwater entered the North Atlantic from the Laurentide Ice Sheet, causing drought, famine, and a whole host of other problems.


            D. “which we may or may not actually be able to do anything about” – that’s just it: WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Drive less. Carpool. Use renewable resources, etc.

            Edit for clarification.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Thank you for doing the heavy lifting.

          • NeoWayland

            1. You mean other than the UNFCCC itself? I would also at minimum add the EPA to that.

            2. There is of course the “climate gap.” It’s up to what, 17 years now? I agree, climate models shouldn’t be held to a year-by-year standard. Except that is exactly what most climate change activists did before the “gap.” There’s also the bit about increasing temperature on Mars.

            3. There is not an action we can take that will not have consequences and especially unintended consequences. Before we intervene in the climate, it would be nice if we knew what was the “right” temperature and humidity range. Can you tell me? I don’t know it, and I’d be very suspicious of anyone who said they did know it.

            A. Before you are so willing to give up freedom, remember the EPA now regulates carbon dioxide emissions. As in the stuff you breathe out. There’s also the bit about how the Copenhagen treaty tried to do away with free markets, which is probably a big reason why it failed.

            B. I’m not a big supporter of an active foreign policy. I’d argue that Iraq was a special case before they screwed it up along about Year 3, but that is a completely different argument.

            On the whole, I do not think government can be trusted to do the “right thing” and I think massive amounts of cash and power exaggerate that problem. One of the big reasons is the Somebody’s Else’s Problem Effect (named in honor of the late Douglas Adams). If it’s government’s “job,” then most people will not only ignore the issue but will expect government to bail them out no matter what happens. They won’t take responsibility, even if it’s in their back yard.

            C. Can you tell me what the temperature “should” be? The fact that we don’t know, and don’t know if it’s a bad or good change, or even how big the change might or might not be, and if it is self-regulating or not should give people pause. We don’t understand the climate or the weather. And yet we want to mess with the settings, assuming we could figure out how and what the settings were.

            D. I’ll tell you what I tell some of the more enthusiastic Christians I encounter who want to put prayer in public schools (or twenty other hot points). If you can’t convince someone without the force of law backing you up, you’re doing it wrong. Regulating someone for “their own good” hardly ever works.

          • Genexs

            Eran, you are doing a beautiful job, but you are arguing with a sock puppet. ;)

          • Franklin_Evans

            Show us a predictive model in any branch of science considered “working and accurate” that didn’t start out as flawed and in need of much development.

            Your attitude implies a serious avoidance of (if not disrespect for) the work any such model requires over a perod of months or years rather than days or weeks.

            So, the simple answer to your objection is: don’t hold your breath, and it might not happen in your lifetime. In the meantime, stop joggling the elbows of the people doing the work to provide that answer.

          • NeoWayland

            If it weren’t for the obvious political power grab, I’d keep my mouth shut and let the scientists bicker among themselves. But this is a very familiar pattern about ruling people, even if it is cloaked in the trappings of science.

            “Thou shalt not dissent.”

          • Franklin_Evans

            It’s always possible to dissent. Criticizing the use of science as a power-grabbing tool is not the same as criticizing the science. If I’ve given the impression that your dissent is unworthy, please believe me when I say I’m objecting to your criticizing the science in what I see as an invalid context.

            I do not support the political rhetoric. I brand it, as I’ve already written, under “lies, damn lies and statistics” until proven otherwise. I do have an accurate understanding of science and its methodology, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, and I don’t come by that on my own. One can (and must!) learn science isolated from its misuse and abuse, if only to better understand both of them and oppose them effectively.

            Don’t ever “keep your mouth shut,” the connotations of which I abhor. Do choose to remain silent, as that choice is one you can make and unmake as the situation needs.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I posted briefly and with poor phrasing: The data is correct, I’m echoing the position of some scientists that it is not necessarily a reliable support for prevailing theory. The competing models is where that debate takes place, not with the data collectors per se.

          • NeoWayland

            Still, the discussions I’ve seen on “climate change” tend to exclude things like the winter New York harbor froze over, or all those Frost Fairs that used to happen in Europe, or the Little Ice Age itself.

            I’m not disputing climate change. I don’t think we understand enough yet to make anything except the most general predictions.

            I admit I would be more convinced if the Weather Channel was more accurate with those 7 and 14 day predictions in their weather app…

          • Genexs

            Heh, here we go: conflation of the terms weather and climate.

        • Franklin_Evans

          There’s an implied lack of understanding in how you are making your point. The basic statement in science — specifically out of the scientific method — is something like “this is the best explanation we have, today, subject to what tomorrow might bring to confirm, change, falsify or debunk it.”

          Unless you (personal or general) are a climate scientist, witnessed the methodological requirements — including repetition and peer review — and/or can cite a competing model (also having met those same requirements) that performs better, you don’t have a leg to stand on with assertions of “accurate” or “inaccurate”.

          Specific to meteorology, reflected in how past data is gathered and analyzed (as Eran describes), predictions are expressed as probabilities because that’s the best they can do. When you see a forecast like “there’s a 60% chance of rain” the long version is “of all the days on record that had the predicted conditions, 60% of them had rain.”

          Climatology has it worse in this regard, because its predictions are for decades or centuries instead of days or weeks (or months) ahead. The methodology they use is the best they can come up with, and its failures are actually much more valuable than its successes, because it shows them where it needs to be refined or modified.

          • NeoWayland

            Now we get into the politics. I would encourage people to look for themselves. One of the touchstones of the political side of the “climate change” activist groups has been “thou shalt not dissent.”

            Granted, I’m not a scientist, but I’ve never seen any science where people aren’t allowed to question the “consensus.” And I have to admit that the first thing that ran through my head when I read about that “consensus” is the old advert line “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Dentene for their patients who chew gum.”

            I am not questioning climatology. I am questioning the models that climate change activists use to justify their agenda. Those are two very different things, and trusting one should not mean trusting the other, even if they use the same language.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Thank you. That’s a reasonable (and well-reasoned) clarification of your point.

          • Aine

            “Granted, I’m not a scientist…” Pardon me while I don’t really find what you’re putting into this conversation useful, then. I’d rather listen to, you know, scientists.

          • NeoWayland

            Absolutely you shouldn’t trust what I say just because I say it. To you I’m just words on a webpage. But you shouldn’t trust the scientists just because they are scientists. If they stand to profit with money, power, or prestige, they may not be telling the truth.

          • Obsidia

            “But you shouldn’t trust the scientists just because they are scientists. If they stand to profit with money, power, or prestige, they may not be telling the truth.” I worked with Scientists for 20 years….and I found that most of the ones that have an agenda are those who get their research money from fossil fuel companies and the like.

          • NeoWayland

            And if we can’t question the science, then will we be allowed to question the new regulations, taxes, and fees?

          • Obsidia

            We can question anything we want. We are citizens and we have that right. However, if a law is passed, we must obey it or pay the penalty. That seems obvious to me. We are a nation of laws. (Of course, in many many cases, Fossil Fuel companies have been caught flouting the law…..)

          • Obsidia

            BTW, you might want to check out the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report; they are working on a new one, too. When I was working with the Scientists, my boss wanted me to check out all the Scientists on the IPCC; she wanted to discredit them because she was enamoured with Fossil Fuel. However, after I checked out hundreds of them, she realized that the Scientists were all valid reputable Scientists with good credentials, and she gave up.

          • NeoWayland

            What about the scientists that the IPCC decides to discredit?

          • Obsidia

            The IPCC doesn’t discredit anybody. Its THOUSANDS of volunteer Scientists simply review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio- economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. This is done so policy-makers can make good decisions.

          • NeoWayland


            Pardon, but it did happen. And it’s still happening. I think the most important question here is why?

          • kenofken

            Money and prestige in science? You’re either living someplace out of the U.S. or back in the peak of the Cold War and space race.

            Outside of a tiny circle of star players, most scientists in basic research don’t have a pot to piss in these days. Most of those I know with undergrad backgrounds in biology and chemistry, people who would have had solid careers a generation ago, are working in crappy contingent service jobs, if at all.

            PhDs command about 15 bucks an hour. The last postdoc I worked closely with this past summer just finally landed a full time faculty job four years after earning his doctorate, and he was among the smartest I’ve ever known. Many others spend their lives stringing together two or even three community college teaching gigs for about what a cab driver makes, with no benefits. Grant approval rates are at all time lows and will only get worse.

            If you know of some source that’s showering money and adulation upon scientists for just agreeing with the status quo consensus on climate change, let me know where. I’ll take a bench in that lab by the end of business tomorrow.

          • NeoWayland

            But this isn’t basic research.

            It’s not even everyone involved in climate science.

            They aren’t even very hard to spot.

          • Cat C-B

            Next up: why you shouldn’t immunize your child, because vaccination conspiracy theorists are as trustworthy as medical researchers.

            You know, because of all the money, power, and prestige the corrupt them. Big Pharma wants to give YOUR CHILD autism! I read it on the Internet!

          • NeoWayland

            “Behold the Heretic.”

          • Cat C-B

            (This comment deleted by the author, who finds that others have made her point more clearly.)

          • Genexs

            Aine, good one!

          • Franklin_Evans

            Consensus in science is the result of the methodological requirements, not the “vote” of the scientists involved. I certainly share your cynicism: when one sees such things in advertisements or journalists’ summaries, they should be governed by “lies, damn lies and statistics” until examined at the proper level of detail, which must include an accurate description of the margin of error and how it’s impact is reflected.

          • Eran Rathan

            Neo, I AM a scientist (granted, not working in geology currently, but my background is survey engineering and geology, with a focus on glaciology). As part of my undergraduate work at the University of Maine, we measured O16/O18 ratios in ice core samples taken from Antarctica, Canada, and Siberia.

            O16 and O18 are two isotopes of oxygen. There is a very close correlation between surface temperature and that ratio, which is well understood, mathematically rigorous, and correlates extremely closely with existing data.


            These measurements, when plotted against the various data I mentioned above, and actual weather measurements, match.

            Regarding volcanoes, those are statistical outliers – they do not happen with enough frequency nor consistency to be modeled. However, the ones that we do have data for, for example Mt. Tambor, have been well correllated.


            (please note that this eruption was the largest one in over 1,000 years)

            Regarding consensus – There is a reason why there is so little debate against the consensus: The evidence is pretty overwhelming. Are there arguments against the causes? Certainly. Are there arguments that the climate is changing? Not among any serious scientists.

          • NeoWayland

            Please look at your last paragraph again.

            Then go read what some of those dissenting scientists are saying. Then I encourage you to read about their other work. See if they were serious scientists before they dissented.

          • kenofken

            There’s plenty of room for dissent in science. In fact, it’s the only way science moves ahead and the main way way young scientists make a name for themselves and draw funding. The whole excitement of the game is in overturning paradigms and coming up with evidence that shows the world is nothing like we thought up until that point.

            The problem with most of the “dissent” on climate change is that it’s not credible dissent, and it’s not done by the normal procedures of science and evidence.

            It’s the whack-a-mole game played by conspiracy theorists and Young Earth Creationists and HIV deniers. They are very often people who have a political and/or financial investment in their conclusions, and they play hinky games with burdens of proof.

            They rarely, if ever, challenge the science on its own merits and on a level playing field and on apples-to-apples comparisons or sound statistical methods or study designs. They very often don’t publish in mainstream peer-reviewed journals. They often proclaim themselves authorities in fields way outside of their academic background (the creationism field is full to the brim of geologists and philosophers of science who somehow became experts in evolutionary biology).

            They employ the conspiracy theory standards of evidence in which any missing piece of data becomes iron-clad evidence that we can’t know anything at all and that their alternative theory must be true. They deliberately and grossly misrepresent the findings of the work they challenge.

            When you press them about why their science sucks and they don’t have any mainstream traction or original research, the inevitable answer is that “The Man” is suppressing their work and the real truth. Their account of reality demands a belief in a vast, airtight Illuminati-like conspiracy. We’re to believe that scientists, who previously never agreed on anything, are in perfect lock-step on this one issue and never break ranks or go off-script for fear of ….Al Gore?

            People have this idea that you can get absolute proof of a theory in science and until you reach that mythical threshold, the whole theory is just useless conjecture. That’s not how it works. Theories are just a model of reality. It has to be something that can be proved wrong by experiment, and then the best you can do is assemble evidence over time that supports the explanatory and predictive value of that theory, that model.

            Something might be discovered next week that would turn the whole thing on its ear, but until then, you go with the theory that has the best and most evidence to support it.

            I can’t prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt for all time that evolution is true and that our planet is older than 6,000 years. But I can say that hundreds of years of science looking at the problem from thousands of different directions all point to those things being true.

            So it is with climate change. What does the weight of evidence tell us? As a public policy matter and one that potentially involves the very existence of our species and societies in the balance, what does prudence suggest we ought to do? What’s the real cost/benefit of ignoring science that is probably correct in favor of believing something we wish was true and awaiting perfect knowledge, all while possibly crossing some point of no return?

          • NeoWayland

            If it were only about the science, I wouldn’t be saying anything. But the shoddy science is being used to justify the politics, and the politics are enormous.

            And since the rule is “thou shalt not dissent,” there’s an active movement to discredit any scientist who disagrees from the nutcases to the highly respected ones.

            Like all political movements (and some religions), a standard tactic is to point at the most extreme nutcases and claim that they are the norm.

            How many times have neopagans been subject to the exact same tactics?

          • kenofken

            When you dissent against a solid consensus in science, the burden is on you to meet a high standard of evidence. The work you produce to overturn big established ideas has to be extensive and repeatable and using sound methods. It’s an uphill walk by design, and science is adversarial and skeptical by nature.

            I spent some time working on a project that was a direct descendant of the Avery–MacLeod–McCarty work which proved that DNA, not protein, is the information molecule of genes. They went up against a big orthodoxy in the 30s and 40s, and rather than complaining about how the majority was out to get them, they spent 14 years or so producing a large quantity of excellent work which bore out when others tested it.

            The climate change dissenters have not risen to the challenge. There’s plenty of good disputes about this or that model, but nobody has done any serious convincing work calling the whole premise of human-caused climate change into question.

            Yes it’s true that money and politics corrupts science. But it never in the long run is able to keep truth down or prop up falsehoods. Over the long run, results talk and bullshit walks. Pagan though I am, I am not wedding to global warming as a matter of theology or doctrine. Nobody would be happier than me to discover it was all just a false alarm, but until I see big evidence for that big idea, I’m going with what the best information tells us, flawed and politically worm-ridden as it is.

          • NeoWayland

            Two points here that I’d really like to address. It’s not that the “dissenters” haven’t “risen” to the occasion, it’s that they haven’t been peer reviewed because the major journals won’t take articles critical of climate change. This is important.

            Second, I question the models. Like many others, I specifically question the “positive feedback” or “carbon cascade” effect. Assuming that the data is correct (that’s a long story I won’t go into here), certain people point at the evidence of human caused warming and say “That proves the models!” without mentioning the second part, the sensitivity to additional carbon. It’s supposed to act as a multiplier or cascade and boost the impact of human action. But no one has proved it.

          • Baruch Dreamsalker

            “this is the best explanation we have, today, subject to what tomorrow might bring to confirm, change, falsify or debunk it.”I’ve been known to sputter and struggle for paragraphs, trying to explain this to people who don’t know it.

          • Franklin_Evans

            We are in good company on this. I was ready to defenestrate the whole thing until a working (and very competent) scientist helped me to arrive at that pithy phrasing.

            Pass it on, feel free to rephrase it, and accept one suggestion: don’t get caught in the old habit. Express it once, and if the person doesn’t get it — or refuses to get it — leave them to the consequences of their ignorance.

            That last seems rather harsh, but it’s my blood pressure and I’m gonna protect it. :D

        • The_L1985

          “I specifically mentioned the models which have been (incorrectly) used to predict what will happen in ten, twenty, or thirty years.”

          You’re absolutely right, but they were wrong in the worst possible direction–the climate is changing faster than predicted, and more catastrophically.

          • NeoWayland

            Hmm, that’s a new one. I’d be interested in your source.

        • kenofken

          You could also argue that because even Stephen Hawking hasn’t figured out all of the subtleties of gravity that the whole idea is a crock and therefore you can walk off a 20-story balcony. But you would not be well served by such a presumption.

          • NeoWayland

            If it weren’t tied to titanic amounts of political power and money, it wouldn’t bother me one way or another.

    • Franklin_Evans

      I would not accept that you’re making yourself a target unless you put a chip on your shoulder like the one I see on the shoulders of those you criticize. My caution to you, respectfully offered, is to keep a conscious boundary between the science and its methodology, and the scientists who choose to use it to promote an agenda. It’s true that they speak and act unethically (as Alley alludes to here), but that just makes them human and prompts to doubt their commitment to methodology.

      Science is a process of discovery and explanation, not a repository of truth. In this it becomes a tool for the manipulation of others, just as religion or political ideology is used.

      • NeoWayland

        Many of the scientists are more interested in a political agenda than the science. And I don’t think I am going to say anything more here about that.

        • Eran Rathan

          [Citation Needed]

          Do you think that most physicists have a political agenda? What about chemists? Or sociologists? (well, ok, sociologists… ;-D ). But seriously, please think about why are climatologists are demonized as having an agenda when almost no other branch of science is… could it be because their findings damage the economic interests of some very wealthy people and their corporations? Just a thought.

          • NeoWayland

            >being silent<

        • kenofken

          The whole basis of denial of climate change seems to be “it can’t be true because some of its spokesmen are preachy sanctimonious pricks.”
          1)Many of them are and 2)what does that have to do with anything?

          There is no longer any serious scientific dissent to the big picture of climate change:That the planet is warming and that it is extremely likely that most of it is being caused by human activities releasing greenhouse gasses.

          No, it hasn’t played out exactly as we might have expected, and it’s absurd to expect that our developing understanding of this enormously complex process should be able to predict your local weather on the scale of one year.

          We do know that this warming unleashes a hell of a lot of additional energy on the planet’s surface. We also know that our entire way of life and ability to sustain our vast population has very little elasticity left in it for more and extreme storms, deserts where there didn’t use to be, crop failures.

          We don’t know that it will result in the exact doom and gloom scenarios some describe, or whether it will lead to universal warming, or cooling, or some mosaic.

          On the other hand, what about our current petroleum and mindless consumption trajectory seems even remotely wise or sustainable? The best-case scenario with what we’re doing is that the planet doesn’t kill us right away. That still leaves us with technologies which are dirtier, which push us toward increasingly totalitarian forms of government and economic instability, which stifle real innovation and which, for all that, will never be enough to maintain us over any real stretch of time.

          • NeoWayland

            And if it weren’t for the power and money at stake, it could play out exactly as most other science does.

            I know I’m asking a lot. But just for a moment, assume that there is something to my rants here.

            Who profits from a global climate scare? And how much?

          • kenofken

            What areas of science or for that matter human endeavors are free of money and politics? If you want to frame the climate change question in hard cash, what’s at stake is about $85 trillion per year. That’s the world GDP.

            All of that economic activity is at stake in the issue. The holders and controllers of the vast majority of that wealth, at present, are arrayed against doing anything serious about climate change.

            Sure there is money to be made on the climate scare side of the equation. The nascent wind and solar energy industries, carbon credit traders, environmental groups etc. You have these interests, and Western Europe and island nations which will be the first to disappear solidly on the side of fighting climate change. On the other side of the scale, you have the United States, China, India and a global hydrocarbon industry rich enough to buy entire nations and determined to wring every last bit of hundreds of trillions of dollars out of the ground without restriction.

          • NeoWayland

            Please tell me that you don’t believe the actions of the hydrocarbon industry justify the actions of the climate alarmists.

          • kenofken

            Inasmuch as burning of fossil fuel is essentially 100% responsible for the underlying problem, the climate alarmists have some rational basis for focusing upon them. To your core point, about money tainting science and politics, the petroleum industry has a hell of a lot more ready cash to sway things than does Greenpeace or Al Gore or the hippies chaining themselves to trees along pipeline routes. (They have more money than they let on too, but still).

            Where’s the line between “alarmism” and proper concern? That’s the $87 Trillion (and existential) question. The whole of the data suggests to me that most of us ought to be more alarmist and that the alarmists need to take it down a notch and focus on the true nature of the problem and quit making short-term predictions which are beyond the ability of current science to resolve accurately.

            One thing else worth considering about the hydrocarbon industry: They are no longer among the climate change dissenters. They dismissed the idea out of hand for a long time, but a handful of years ago, their scientists ran the numbers themselves and analyzed the work, and their reports generated a collective “oh shit!” moment in the boardrooms of BP, Shell etc.

            They now take human caused climate change quite seriously. Not because Al Gore muscled them into it but because they have a lot of assets at stake all over the world. Their planning now includes contingencies for the climate related problems they know are being unleased by the use of their core products!

    • Zay Eleanor Watersong

      Hi Neo,

      Two thoughts –

      1. I’d encourage you to read Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. They do a fantastic job of investigating and laying bare the forces behind those casting doubt on climate change – it turns out Big Oil has hired the same PR firm and scientists that Big Tobacco did. I understand your desire to avoid being manipulated by anyone. I would argue that you are successfully being manipulated by the oil and gas industry. You are entitled to your own doubts, but do make sure they are your own.

      2. I agree that we cannot drop everything and work only on climate change. I, like many, have felt overwhelmed by it and have focused on doing the things that I *could* do locally – stopping two new coal plants, advocating for the remediation of a local lake and river, and keeping fracking out of NY state. I was “thinking globally, acting locally” – and the impact of the coal and fracking work, which we have opposed on the basis of local pollution and community health impacts, is that we have that fewer sources of greenhouse gases adding to climate change.

      Climate change is such an big issue that it’s hard to know where to begin – which is part of the reason I wrote this article, because for myself, I finally figured out a place where I feel I can plug in and be more effective in the efforts to slow climate change.

      And while I chose to focus on the climate change issues addressed at the conference, there were many, many side panels addressing the work of addressing ongoing issues of water quality, animal rights, air quality, environmental justice, land use, etc.

      My point is, it matters less which level people get involved with, and more that they are involved. People do have lives to live, jobs to hold down… but it is also our responsibility to speak for the earth, which does not have its own voice, or rights, in our current legal system. Why waste our energy arguing about what is the most pressing issue, when we can be mutually supportive at all levels? As environmental and social justice campaigns throughout history have shown us, there is rarely one “right” way of creating change – it takes many different campaigns, tactics, and movements, from the street activists to the citizens petitioning their congresspeople, to win. It is only when we remain silent and wait for others to take care of the issues for us that we are neglecting our responsibilities.

      I’m curious… what are the issues that you work on? We have heard your stance on climate change, but you have not taken the opportunity to tell us the environmental work that you focus on. What are you passionate about?

      • NeoWayland

        I’ve added the book to my list, but it will be a while. Never enough time to read.

        I’ve pretty much given up working with Pagans on environmental issues. It never goes well. This is the one topic that pretty much guarantees that I’ll be a perpetual outsider. But I could not honorably do anything else.

        I will say that instead of creating massive unchecked government bureaucracies, we could just plant some trees. Arizona’s Arbor Day just happens to be near Beltane, and every year I find a spot to plant a tree. I spend much of the rest of the year looking for a spot for the next one.

  • Alley Valkyrie

    Thanks for this write-up. I didn’t attend PIELC for the first time in seven years in protest of Lierre Keith’s appearance, and while I stand by that decision, there were obviously some important panels and talks that I wished I could have attended. Glad to see a post about the conference here.

    I wish I could say that PIELC learned the same lessons as were learned at PantheaCon a few years back, but sadly that does not seem to be the case. Lierre Keith’s transphobia makes Z. Budapest seem tame by comparison, and the organizers of this conference created a space that trans activists did not feel safe in by inviting Keith as well as having several panels hosted by DGR activists. DGR’s cultish toxicity has wreaked havoc upon the radical environmental movement, and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. One only needs to read the comments on the link you posted about the walk-out to see how deeply such views have entrenched themselves amongst those who claim to be both “feminists” and “environmentalists”.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    This boils down to a very, very simple question:

    What do you value more, the economy or the ecosystem?

    If you are struggling with that question, please hold your breath whilst counting the grains of sand on your nearest beach.

    • NeoWayland

      Are they mutually exclusive?

      • kenofken

        I would argue they’re utterly inseparable, so that the problem should not be framed in terms of altruism vs greed nor even in the love of nature we pagans tend to trade in.

        If we look at the economic end of the problem over any reasonable time scale, we see that our current “drill baby drill” strategy is stupid and self defeating.

        We cling to petroleum because we don’t want to burden our economies with the costs of retooling to something else. Petroleum looks like easy money. Problem is, it’s a false economy. It’s never been cheap and its only going to get far, far more expensive with every passing year. We have bankrupted our country fighting wars over oil, to the point that don’t even have the option of fielding imperial armies anymore.

        These weren’t simply wars to maintain supplies. Modern terrorism is entirely the product of the corruption and staggering inequalities that resource extraction economies always produce in their host countries. There is an inverse correlation between extraction economies and participatory democracy. Look at the Middle East, or Russia, or Africa, or….West Virginia. Many more Americans will come to know this reality firsthand now that fracking can make everyone’s backyard oil and gas country.

        The endless crises produced by the warped geopolitics of petroleum produces tremendous cost instabilities, so businesses don’t invest, or hire, or pay a living wage. Our standard of living is about half of what it was for our parents, and it will be worse for our children.

        Whatever money we thing we’re making in oil or saving from carbon tax is going to be spent increasingly on rebuilding coastal areas shattered by storms every other year, refugees, food prices, heating, cooling, you name it.

        Whether you lead with your heart or your wallet, ignoring climate change is a poor bet.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          It’s not just about fossil fuels, though.

          The climate is shifting, nothing anyone can do will change that. Sure, mitigation might slow things by a decade or two, but climate’s gonna change.

          What about population? The higher a population, the more resources are required.

          What about technology levels? The more “advanced” a society is, generally, the bigger ecological footprint it has.

          I will agree, economy and ecosystem are technically inseparable, but in opposition.

        • NeoWayland

          Please don’t assume that I support big oil or even small oil.

          One of the ideas I like toying with is refrigerator sized self-contained sealed nuclear reactors. Now hear me out for just a moment. Imagine one of these reactors linked to a flywheel and put on a semi-truck. The reactor would put out a constant output, most of the excess would be stored in the flywheel. At night, they’d pull into a truck stop that would pay them for the extra electricity. The truck stop would turn around and sell the electricity back to the power grid.

          Now imagine an emergency, flood, earthquake, whatever. You park a few of these semi-trucks around and you have a constant stable source of power.

          Just something I like to think about sometimes.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        In current societal models, yes.

        • NeoWayland

          Now that’s a talk I’d love to have.

  • NeoWayland

    Well folks, I don’t want to derail things more than I have already. Talk about unintended consequences, I never intended for this to go this far.

    I do believe that the things climate change activists demand will hurt the planet and ecosystem much more than the alternatives. I believe the threat to human freedom is even bigger. So how could I not speak when the topic comes up?

    And now if you’ll excuse me, I should change and make some tea before greeting the sunrise.

    • Gus diZerega

      I am getting into this late- but a cursory read suggests I can add two points of value.

      First is the issue of science and global warming. There is no debate any more within the scientific community, and anyone saying there is is at best uninformed. Scientific American points out that from Nov 2012 to Dec 2013
      there were 2258 peer reviewed articles on climate change authored by 9136 authors. (Some had multiple authors.)

      ONE author rejected global warming.

      To argue that science is corrupted by money but think tanks funding deniers have not beggars the imagination. To argue that petroleum and coal industries are no more motivated by money than scientists are buggers it.

      Second, freedom is not at risk at all. For example, a gradually rising carbon tax would have the same economic effect as a gradual decline of the availability of oil and coals. It would be used more efficiently and new substitutes would be added. Solar power is already competitive in many areas and this would speed it up. The effect would be no different than many market phenomena that happen every day.

      The tax could be made revenue neutral if desired, lowering Social Security taxes on businesses so that labor becomes cheaper with no loss of wages or workers’ well being.

      Finally, as we become less dependent on oil much of the reason for our involvement in unpleasant parts of the world, and for our overly large military would disappear. Areas dominated by rigid Muslim dictatorships would lose much of their income and influence. That would be a net increase in freedom for us and the rest of the world.

      • NeoWayland

        Ah, there lies a tale. Again, the question is why must the scientists who dissent be discredited?

        Freedom is always at risk when you talk taxes, law, and regulation. Especially if it’s “for your own good.”

        • Gus diZerega

          I guess I will take Scientific American over Tea Party in Congress. It is now 6 years after they said the consensus “collapsed,” and the published papers do not reflect it.

          Scientists who buck the mainstream are always discredited. Always. Sometimes they are later shown to be right and get fame and occasionally a Nobel for it. More often they are shown to have been dead-enders. However, non-scientists are simply stupid to argue that wherever mainstream science is, if they dislike the conclusions the scientists must be wrong.

          As to your rhetoric about ‘freedom’ – do you really believe the libertarian spouting of slogans takes the place of analysis? ‘Freedom” is never defined and if you ever tried you would see that laws and regulations help secure some kinds of freedom – like breatheable air – at the cost of others – like poisoning that air. Libertarianism, like Marxism, sounds wonderful and works in a small number of important cases, like civil liberties. But there is no need to accept the bankrupt ideology of libertarianism to support civil liberties. And in other areas libertarianism leads to what most people would call the destruction of freedoms that matter.

          I have published on this and for some time sent copies of the essay to any libertarian that wanted one to see if they could rebut it. The silence has been as I expected. Now you need to actually buy the book or borrow it from a (gasp) public library. Read it in Georgia Kelly (ed.) Uncivil Liberties: Deconstructing Libertarianism, 2013.

          But most libertarians will pay as much attention to informed critiques of their faith as fundamentalists pay attention to the discoveries of geology and evolutionary biology, and for the same basic reasons.

          • Gus diZerega

            I just checked the BBC and found yet one more piece of evidence that global warming is global and substantial.

            But like fundamentalist Christians, for deniers it seems no amount of facts will matter. A snowstorm in the winter time disproves it.

          • Obsidia

            Mr. NeoWayland got me frustrated. Yet, he did demonstrate many of the strategies used by Climate Change Deniers for us (while also doing a good “poor me” control drama.) So I thank him. I did find this page, which I found pretty cool:


          • NeoWayland

            So much for high speed internet. Sorry for the delay.


            No, not “poor me.” I oppose power through victimhood.

            I just distrust the motives of people who demand power over “for your own good.”

            Next time I won’t mention why I do it.

          • NeoWayland

            There’s a line I love to tell Christians about Julian. By their own standards, Julian was literally a saint, just not for Christianity. Politics strikes again.

            I know you’ve written about libertarianism. I’ve read some of your essays. I disagree with them, but yes, I’ve read them. Your name is one reason why I decided to come back to this thread.

            I’m not a saint, I never claimed to be. But certain of the most active of the climate change scientists are not doing it for the greater good of humanity even as they cash in on the good feelings. All through this thread I’ve never praised the climate dissenters, I’ve just disagreed with the prevailing model and asked why dissenting scientists must be discredited. I never mentioned the Tea Party, Fox News, or the more conservative critics here. I’ve never used that as a justification. Aside from some bits about freedom, I haven’t cited libertarianism on this thread.

            If the sole reason not to consider dissent because it is dissent, well, that says more about the prevailing dogma than the dissenters.

            I see it as another manifestation of Power With versus Power Over. As I said above, if you can’t convince someone without the force of law backing you up, you’re doing it wrong.

    • Genexs

      Oh, come on! You did a beautiful job of derailing the thread. “Confusing” weather and climate, what scientists do vs politicians, and such Denier gems as, “there’s no consensus”, “CO2 is not a pollutant”… a pretty good distillation of all the popular anti-science factoids that circulate 24/7 in Manchurian Candidate fashion in Conservo-pundit land.