Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Donald Trump: the Evil Monster

Sorry about this a little rant of mine. And sorry also for the click-baiting title. I promise that from now on I won't publish more posts about Trump (not too many, at least) (Image source)

When I publish something about Donald Trump, I usually face criticism. People tell me that they don't expect posts about Trump in this blog -- it is off topic. And comparing Trump to Emperor Hadrian - as I did - seems to make some people angry. Maybe they are right, but I suspect that they say so in part because I am not usually describing Trump an evil monster (apart from the title of this post, to be intended as a clickbaiter!).

To tell you frankly, I find Trump not a monster, and not evil, either. He is a fascinating phenomenon, the result of factors well worth trying to understand. No matter how outrageous, nasty, politically incorrect, insulting, sexist, racist, and more, Trump is successful. And there are reasons for this success. Look at what he said about climate change.

From "The Independent."
"There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records. They’re at a record level.”

If you read this blog, you are probably the kind of person who knows that what Trump says is completely wrong. But think of any discussion you could have with some "normal" person, not a scientist. These are exactly the arguments that you would face. And you would have a hard time in convincing them that these statements conflict with facts.

That's the way the discussion is - it is not science, it is politics. And politics has different rules: it is not based on facts but on trust. You can't convince people that climate change is real with facts. You can only convince them if they trust you. And those people who mistrust science will never be convinced.

Trump, instead, follows the rules of politics: he puts himself in the role of the ordinary guy who is not a scientist. And he speaks the way an ordinary guy would speak. He gains trust because he speaks like the people he speaks to. That's why he is successful.

We'll never win this battle if we don't understand this point. Not that scientists can (nor should) transform themselves into politicians, but we need to rebuild the trust in science. That can be done, but it takes time and effort and, in particular, recognizing that if this trust was lost is, in large part, our fault (I mean, of the scientists).

Maybe this man is a genius, maybe an evil genius, maybe a numbskull who found himself by chance in the right place at the right time. I have no idea. But, as I said, he is an (evil) genius. We'll see how this story evolves.


  1. Trump's election is a reaction to the fact that people sense that "business as usual" is taking us over a cliff. Can he change that? No.

    Most people are not aware of the nature of the world. But among "most people" I would include all the happy talkers who expect us to cooperate our way out of this mess. We are already in overshoot and as that becomes more obvious then more and more nations and people are going to begin taking care of themselves first.

    Go back and read Garret Hardin's essay again. It may have been written before the "green revolution" enabled us to feed billions more people (and get farther into overshoot), but the sentiment is one that many people understand. Like it or not.

    another fred

  2. When people just repeat the same argument over and over, and ask them to give me the source of it. Then we can talk about sources. Then about what it really says. And finally, most of the time, i discover people are angry with politics, and they would like chaos, cause they dont like the world they live in. But most of these angry people need us to listen to them. Not answering, not giving solution, but giving them an ear, so they feel considered. Then maybe we can give them advice. But they won't hear you until you listened to them carefully first.

  3. Totally correct, Ugo.
    Trump is brilliant at what he does.
    As are Fox News,the Koch brothers, etc.
    A right-wing PR guy said that the left/enviros *preach*, whereas he tries to understand what motivates the audience and responds to it.
    Interestingly, there have been reports that at least some of the right-wing strategists studied Antonio Gramsci.

  4. Ugo:

    I can't at all blame you for not being able to stand the man.

    He is a dickweed.

    But, truthfully, he isn't all that competent and really won't be able to get anything done.

    What has always worried me is "What Comes Next".


  5. What you wrote about science and trust is leading (IMHO) to a deeper truth: we are depending on trust in other people almost everywhere. The stone age man could see the traces of the deer by himself, but the world has become so complex, that nobody can check everything by himself. Even the scientists themselves need trust. You use measurement devices, that somebody else built, with detail knowledge behind it, that you could understand in theory, but won't have time to in practice.
    So given that you just can't come by without trust, if there are conflicting statements, the question arises: whom do I trust, A or B? And if you look into it, it is not as simple and straightforward as you think. It is basically a guts feeling, informed by your previous knowledge and experiences. To just follow the majority without check is questionable, because there is this phenomenon of group think. You cannot be sure to avoid error, you can only check and recheck for plausibility and lack of contradiction to reduce the probability of error.
    One important means to create trust in you is to invest real toil and money in what you stand for - and communicate it. We can spend real money to make our houses use zero energy - or next to, we can use bicycles and railway instead of cars and airplanes. We can offset part or all of our emissions via certain web-portals by financing climate saving projects elsewhere. And so on and so forth.

  6. No, he is exactly right. We are heading towards a new solar minimum, a period with low TSI, low Solar Wind Speed and very few sunspots. The modern warming era is over. We all would be lucky, when there only will be conditions in 2030 like in the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century, and not much colder.

    But a starting of a new ice age is very likely if you look to the data of the sun.

    Sorry, but YOU are completely wrong with this topic. Much colder and harsher climate is expected for the next 20 years, at least. It always the sun which makes climate on earth, but earth's climate does not effect the climate on the sun. That's a tiny but important difference most people do not understand. Even you, it seems.

    1. You know, Anonymous, reading comments like yours I have this feeling that having chosen the name of "Cassandra" for this blog was so much appropriate that I am almost scared.

  7. For "another Fred"

    I followed the link to Hardin's very interesting article.

    Hardin is a brilliant thinker, but he uses the word "Commons" in a totally wrong sense.

    And the real "tragedy of the Commons" is Hardin's wrong use of the word "Commons".

    The "Commons" of ancient England were places where a community kept strict control on individual behaviour, and ensured that nobody overused a "common" good. The "Commons" were vital until the State decided to eliminate them and turn them into "private" property.

    Hardin actually meant a "noman's land", typical of modern public (i.e. state-controlled) spaces: think of public parks where people throw rubbish around and get away with it. And here Hardin was spot on.

    Misuse of the word "Commons" by Hardin (who otherwise had very true things to say) has led to the demonisation of the most realistic solution to the very problems he poses: a small community of people taking responsibility for a shared area or activity.

    1. "Misuse of the word "Commons" by Hardin (who otherwise had very true things to say) has led to the demonisation of the most realistic solution to the very problems he poses: a small community of people taking responsibility for a shared area or activity."

      The issue of Hardin's use of "Commons" has been hashed over and is not really germane to the topic. Hardin was expecting something along the line of ecological collapse and starvation which was not my point.

      My point specifically was that there is a sense among a large segment of the population that things are going wrong and that prompts them to want to draw back from "globalization" (in scare quotes because the word lacks precise definition and means very different things to different people), and rely more on nationalist "solutions" to our problems.

      This is arguably also true of Hardin's approach as he was proposing that large scale solutions could not work and the US and the developed world in general needed to conduct something of a triage.

      Like other terms, "small community" means different things to different people, but it is obvious that neither Hardin, Trump, nor Trump voters take it to mean the whole world.

      another fred

    2. It is a long story and you are both right. Sometimes, things go exactly as Hardin said; we have been modeling the collapse of fisheries and they follow exactly the model proposed by Hardin. In other cases, societal control prevents the Harding mechanism from taking place. But it takes an effort and has a cost. It doesn't always work

    3. "It doesn't always work"

      No, and the greater problem is that we don't have a very good grip on one of the crucial components of the system we are trying to control - i.e. human behavior.

      Le Chatelier teaches us that a system under stress will react in a direction to relieve the stress.

      Some propose that the stress in the world is caused by malleable human behavior and the answer is to modify behavior to relieve the stress. Others argue that the attempts being made to modify behavior will fail as they begin from a poor understanding of human behavior and the limits to its malleability.

      I admit to being in the latter group and believe that the stress will only be relieved by reducing population. Attempts to reduce population, or see it spontaneously drop by the demographic transition, are very slow acting.

      Part of my professional career has been involved in investigating accidents in dynamic systems operating near their envelopes, and in designing some myself. When things go wrong it is most often a combination of a lack of complete understanding of the system with its potential behavior, and the introduction of some small variation, a spark, if you will.

      I believe that many of the attempts to modify behavior are actually raising stress in the system because of a lack of understanding of human nature. To me, people who are surprised by the election of Donald Trump are revealing their ignorance of human behavior.

      IMO, It will probably get worse, much, much worse.

      another fred

  8. Ugo
    Just a comment from a non-scientist who tries to follow science. A number of years ago James Hansen visited here in the winter. Normally, our winters are pretty mild. The day of his visit we had the coldest weather in decades. When asked about it, he said it was just a roll of the dice. Once every blue moon somebody gets dealt a royal flush, and once every hundred years it gets really cold. He criticized those who were beginning to use the phrase 'climate change', and insisted it was all about 'global warming' with a normal distribution around an upward trend.

    Ever since his visit we have set records for bizarre weather in the winter. November and December were really cold, then it got really warm and my fruit trees blossomed, and then it got down to minus 17 C. Water pipes broke. My fig trees have suffered enormously.

    Now, of course, serious scientists are looking for explanations for the erratic weather. Hansen's dismissal of what anyone who could step outside could experience first hand stuck with me as evidence that convincing the public was going to be a tall order.

    Don Stewart

    1. It is politics, and politics is not about facts: it is about "rhetorical points" So, stating "today it is snowing, where is global warming?" is a simple way to gain one RP. And if you answer by explaining why it is not relevant, you lose more RPs. It is part of the laws of the universe.

  9. I am actually curious about how anonymous came up with "it's gonna get cold". I don't like dismissing things or people out of hand until I have a look.

    OK, the sunspot number is going down. I'll give you that. But what makes warm and cold an the amount of energy put out by the sun. Best number I can find for this would be total solar irradiance (TSI). This seems to give a nice "energy" kind of number (Watts per Meter Squared or W/M2).

    So here is a historical chart.

    So, the data is reconstructed. But the techniques does appear to be pretty solid, so I don't think that you can dismiss it completely. I would say that the data shows that energy output variability is pretty damn low, let's give it a whole lot of credit where credit ain't due, and assign it a variability of 1%. That's 10x from what the dataset shows.

    Look anonymous, I think you need to come up with a little bit in the way of "chapter and verse". I got no problem with you saying things are getting colder. Hell, for that matter back in the stone age when I took my first meteorology 101 class at U of Utah in 1972, I remember my professor at the time was pretty convinced of that.

    I think that my Professor recanted later after he retired.

    1. "But what makes warm and cold an the amount of energy put out by the sun."

      Not to argue the point, as I have no opinion, but there are people who argue that the magnetic field, which may be more variable, has a large effect because of its effect on incoming radiation and cloud formation.

      The magnetic field is also involved in the variation of the appearance of sunspots which gives the correlation to sunspots without the TSI causation. You can find arguments on both sides of that, but it seems we don't really know how strong the effect is.

      We may learn a lot in the next 30 years or so.

      another fred

  10. Apart from people like anonymous, who will always grab the wrong end of the stick, improved trust in science would be helpful but I think the foundation for that is the cognitive ability to properly grasp the simple magnitude and proportion of the amount of energy pouring into the earth system day in/day out. This seems to be an ability lacking in scientists and lay people alike, though perhaps training in science assists in grasping physical magnitude and implications but not necessarily emotional apprehension of the significance. The appreciation of processes and significance of subtle workings is a step too far for most people and it is here that a sensible trust in science would greatly assist communication. In any case, physical scientists have the 'duty' to convey the extreme physical nature of our recent and near term future trajectory. Diversions of economic and social science thinking are (in my opinion) singularly disproportionate and secondary in the starkly physical reality we have generated and whose outworkings we must face.

    1. But scientists keep shooting themselves in various organs.

    2. Trusting science is vague and fraught with peril.

For example it doesn't take into account scientific errors of any kind. Take Carl Sagan's  nuclear winter, apparently now downgraded to nuclear autumn at best. Not that I'm looking forward to any nuclear season mind you.

      Nor does it take into account fraud such as William McBride of thalidomide fame and the subsequent debondox mess. This becomes even more of an issue when a large entity like a gouvernement or corporation starts handing out money in an attempt to influence results to conform to an ideology or business scheme.

Then there is groupthink. To simplify, we are a herd animal and we love getting along with our peers. I'm reminded of multiple examples at NASA that led to loss of life and two space shuttles. The shuttles themselves were an example of incoherent groupthink. Wings, re-usable engines, huge cargo bay doors, all wrapped in special heat ressistent tiles pushed into space with solid fuel boosters assembled from sections bolted to a huge fuel take. "It's going to be a cheap and reliable LEO workhorse, trust us!"

Closer to the present, we are in deep groupthink right now with solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars. It's not easy to see to the bottom of any of these things.

      I can see why so many trust religion and politicians as much or more than science. It's all rather indistinguishable from the point of view of most people.

Humm... now I'm thinking maybe I should turn this topic into a blog post of my own.

    3. "Trusting science is vague and fraught with peril."

      There is trust in science to FIND answers and trust in science to HAVE answers. At the outer fringe is the argued matter of unanswerable questions.

      When scientists pretend to have knowledge that they do not have they undermine the trust of non-scientists when their error is revealed. Part of this problem lies with the scientific press, which likes big ideas, and part lies with scientists who want to promote their own ideas (being human).

      I daringly predict we will continue to muck along this way, barring the SMOD, nuclear holocaust, or the like.

      another fred

  11. Ugo:

    OK...Bill Nye is an entertainer. I watched him on the local comedy show "Almost Live"" in Seattle in 87 through 91 (I also watched Kurt Cobain throw up off the stage at the Pioneer Room in Belltown during that time, but that is another story.

    Look Bill Nye is a comedian and an actor who took some science classes. When I talked to him the one time I talked to him, he appeared to be clever, but not at all solid in the fundamentals (Seattle was a smaller place then).

    Putting "Bill Nye the Science Guy" in the "Scientist" category is a huge mistake/

    1. Maybe, but try to look at this story with the eyes of a non-scientist. The effect will be the opposite of what we are trying to do: convince the public that we are compact in the support of climate science. With these shows, we give the impression of being a band of squeaking idiots

  12. ["Not that scientists can (nor should) transform themselves into politicians,..."]

    Actually, Ugo; they can -- and they should.

  13. I just wanted to stop by and offer my gratitude for this post and comment thread. It felt so good hearing from people who have thought deeply about the juggernaut of transition headed our way. Bless our cotton socks.

    I am in a science family and we don't trust most of what we know about. There is a lot of straight up incompetent science being published out there, sensors calibrated wrongly, circular formulas, and so on and so forth. This is one big reason there is not more of a retort from the community. The community has been beat to shit by funding cuts and the resulting rot in research that inevitably follows.

    As for communicating with the public, I have decided it is a bad idea. There's another reason Drumpf wins. But if I were to communicate with the public, I would stress things at a Drumpf level: WARM AIR HOLDS MORE WATER. All of our weather catastrophes are getting dramatically worse and more frequent, and that represents volatility and extremity. This shit is real. Oh, yeah, my gut also tells me that deep down most humans, even Drumpf supporters, know that our goose is cooked. I really worry about bright young people coping with this, as I imagine most of their parents will deny it or won't want to talk about it.

    See you on reddit!



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)