IPCC: A Damp Squib

Posted by Ben Pile on April 7, 2014
Apr 072014

David Rose has an article in the Sunday Mail yesterday, which I provided the research for. The top article is about the dispute between Bob Ward and Professor Richard Tol.

David Rose asked me to compare the WGII SPM with the chapters. I found a number of discrepancies, which are written up in the paper, and do much (in my view) to support Professor Tol’s claim that the report’s alarmist tone was largely groundless.

The IPCC have responded to the article. The statement takes issue with Tol, first, and then seems to address the discrepancies I have found… But doesn’t.

The Mail on Sunday also quotes some passages from the Working Group II Summary for Policymakers on migration and refugees, wars and conflicts, famine, and extreme weather, which it claims are “sexed up” from statements in the underlying report. In doing so it misleads the reader by distorting the carefully balanced language of the document.

Which document was written in ‘delicately balanced’ language — the SPM or the chapters? And how was this fragile balance ‘distorted’ by the article? The SPM’s language certainly wasn’t balanced. It was unequivocal in many cases. But the language in the chapters told a different story.

For instance, the Mail on Sunday quotes the Summary as saying climate change will ‘increase risks of violent conflicts’. In fact the Summary says that climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying factors such as poverty and economic shocks.

Here is what the article said:

WGII SPM, Page 20:

Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence). Multiple lines of evidence relate climate variability to these forms of conflict.

The SPM links to WGII Chapters 12.5, 13.2, and 19.4.

SPM chapter 12 is concerned with “human security”. Section 12.5 is concerned with “Climate change and Armed Conflict”. I found the chapter to be quite sober, in contrast to the SPM. For e.g.

There is a specific research field that explores the relationship between large-scale disruptions in climate and the collapse of past empires. Relationships are explored using statistical analysis and data derived from archaeological and other historical records. For example, the timing of the collapse of the Khmer empire in the Mekong basin in the early 15th century corresponds to an unusually severe prolonged drought (Buckley et al., 2010). DeMenocal (2001) summarizes evidence that suggests that major changes in weather patterns coincided with the collapse of several previously powerful civilizations, including the Anasazi, the Akkadian, Classic Maya, Mochica, and Tiwanaku empires. Other historical reference points of the interaction of climate with society emerge from analysis of the little Ice Age. Some studies show that the Little Ice Age in the mid 17th century was associated with more cases of political upheaval and warfare than in any other period (Parker 2008, Zhang et al., 2011), including in Europe (Tol and Wagner 2010), China (Brook 2010), and the Ottoman empire (White 2011b). These studies all show that climate change can exacerbate major political changes given certain social conditions, including a predominance of subsistence producers, conflict over territory, and autocratic systems of government with limited power in peripheral regions. The precise causal pathways that link these changes in climate to changes in civilizations are not well understood due to data limitations. Therefore, it should be noted that these findings from historical antecedents are not directly transferrable to the contemporary globalized world. The literature urges caution in concluding that mean future changes in climate will lead to large-scale political collapse (Butzer 2012).

That is an unequivocal statement of caution. And the measured tone continues:

Most of the research on the connections between climate change and armed conflict focuses on the connections between climate variability and intrastate conflicts in the modern era. For the most, part this research examines rainfall or temperature variability as proxies for the kinds of longer-term chances that might occur due to climate change. Several studies examine the relationship between short-term warming and armed conflict (Burke et al., 2009; Buhaug 2010; Koubi et al., 2012; Theisen et al., 2012; O’Loughlin et al., 2012). Some of these find a weak relationship, some find no relationship, and collectively the research does not conclude that there is a strong positive relationship between warming and armed conflict (Theisen et al., 2013).

Still the chapter is advising that we should be careful about linking climate change to armed conflict.

The large majority of studies focuses on Africa and use satellite-enhanced rainfall data collected since 1980. A global study by Hsiang et al. (2011) considers changes in climate over multiple years, and finds that since 1950 and in countries that are affected by ENSO the risk of war within countries rises during an ENSO period. This study is supported by some studies that find associations between deviations in rainfall and civil war (Miguel et al., 2004; Hendrix and Glaser 2007; Hendrix and Salehyan 2012; Raleigh and Kniveton 2012), but contradicted by others that find no significant association between droughts and floods and civil war (Buhaug 2010; Buhaug and Theisen 2012; Koubi et al. 2012; Theisen et al. 2012; Slettebak 2012). There is high agreement that in the specific circumstances where other risk factors are extremely low (such as where per capita incomes are high, and states are effective and consistent), the impact of changes in climate on armed conflict is negligible (Bernauer et al., 2012; Koubi et al., 2012; Scheffran et al., 2012a; Theisen et al., 2013).

I have quoted nearly all of 12.5. It is immediately followed by Box 12-5. Climate and the Multiple Causes of Conflict in Darfur (page 16):

Climate variability or climate change are popularly reported to be significant causes of the mass killing in the Darfur region that began in 2003 (see Mazo, 2009). Five detailed studies dispute the identification of the Darfur conflict as being primarily caused by climate change (Kevane and Gray, 2008; Brown, 2010; Hagen and Kaiser, 2011; Sunga, 2011; Verhoeven, 2011).

All studies of this conflict agree that it is not possible to isolate any of these specific causes as being most influential (Kevane and Gray, 2008; Hagen and Kaiser, 2011; Sunga, 2011; Verhoeven, 2011). Most authors identify government practices as being far more influential drivers than climate variability, noting also that similar changes in climate did not stimulate conflicts of the same magnitude in neighboring regions, and that in the past people in Darfur were able to cope with climate variability in ways that avoided large scale violence.

I’m still not getting how the SPM got to its concern about “amplifying well-documented drivers of these [armed] conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks”.

But, on the other hand, the IPCC does identify in 12.5.2 much more clearly that climate change mitigation can cause conflict:

Research is beginning to show that climate change mitigation and adaptation actions can increase the risk of armed conflict, as well as compound vulnerabilities in certain populations (Bumpus and Liverman, 2008; Adger and Barnett, 2009; Webersik, 2010; Fairhead et al., 2012; Marino and Ribot, 2012; Steinbruner et al., 2012). This is based on robust evidence that violent political struggles occur over the distribution of benefits from natural resources (Peluso and Watts, 2001). Hence, in circumstances where property rights and conflict management
institutions are ineffective or illegitimate, efforts to mitigate or adapt to climate change that change the distribution of access to resources have the potential to create and aggravate conflict.

The attempts to create a link between climate change and conflict have been made for obvious reasons: it would help to sell the idea of the world descending to hell, and sell the climate change agenda to security agencies. But it is at best a contested claim that climate even has a trivial influence over conflict. The IPCC’s rebuttal that climate change can “amplify” the “well-documented drivers of conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks” is equally bogus. It appears to me to be a weaselly way of trying to sustain a link between climate change and conflict no matter what the evidence says, through truisms. But even if it were true that climate change could “amplify” “poverty” and “economic shock” we are no better informed about the degree of amplification for any given amount of global warming. And then there is the problem of identifying the extent to which conflicts have been “driven” by poverty and economic shocks, amplified or not. Moreover, if climate change is a problem which “amplifies” poverty, then the problem is still fundamentally poverty, not climate.

The IPCC’s rebuttal continues:

The Mail on Sunday says the Summary warns of negative impacts on crop yields, with warming responsible for lower yields of wheat, maize, soya and rice. In fact the Summary says that negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts, with wheat and maize yields negatively affected in many regions and effects on rice and soybean yields smaller in major production regions.

The article says:

The SPM said:

Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence). The smaller number of studies showing positive impacts relate mainly to highlatitude regions, though it is not yet clear whether the balance of impacts has been negative or positive in these regions (high confidence). Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate (medium confidence). Effects on rice and soybean yield have been smaller in major production regions and globally, with a median change of zero across all available data, which are fewer for soy compared to the other crops. Observed impacts relate mainly to production aspects of food security rather than access or other components of food security. See Figure SPM.2C. Since AR4, several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors (medium confidence).

The IPCC’s statement of the SPM line does nothing to address the problems identified by our article. The SPM is designed to give the reader the impression that crop yields and crop production have fallen. But neither are true. Over the years since AR4, the claim has come up time and time again. And we’ve been able to check claims against the UN’s own statistics.

The IPCC complains that the Mail on Sunday article has misled. But it’s a funny kind of world in which it is known that “negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts”, and yet yields per acre and in total have increased. The IPCC’s WGII SPM was intended to mislead — to give the impression that yields were falling because of climate change.

SEction 7.2.1 points out that

…Formal detection of impacts requires that observed changes be compared to a clearly specified baseline that characterizes behaviour in the absence of climate change…

And that

Attribution of any observed changes to climate trends are further complicated by the fact that models linking climate and agriculture must, implicitly or explicitly, make assumptions about farmer behaviour. […]In most cases, models implicitly assume that farming practices or technologies did not adjust in response to climate over the period of interest.

So in order to make the claim that “negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts”, the IPCC — or the studies they have reviewed — have had to assume:

* That food producers are stupid.
* That a world without climate change would have been more fertile than the one we live in.

There is a very real possibility that the counterfactual scenario allows researchers to pass their premise off as a conclusion: if you assume that a world with climate change is less productive than a world without it, then, surprise surprise, when you compare a counterfactual statistic to a real world statistic, you get a result that reflects your assumptions. Either way, the world is still more productive than it ever has been, thanks in large part to the substances which are blamed for causing climate change. It would be difficult to imagine the following scenarios in a world without tractors, let alone fertiliser produced from natural gas:

Readers may want to investigate further why a lead author of the chapter in which these claims are made enjoyed so many citations:

Lobell, D. and M. B. Burke, 2008: Why are agricultural impacts of
climate change so uncertain? The importance of temperature relative to
precipitation. Environmental Research Letters, 3, 034007.
Lobell, D. B. and M. B. Burke, 2010: On the use of statistical models
to predict crop yield responses to climate change. Agricultural and
Forest Meteorology, 150, 1443-1452.
Lobell, D. B.and C. B. Field, 2007: Global scale climat-crop yield
relationships and the impacts of recent warming. Environmental
Research Letters, 2.
Lobell, D. B. and C. B. Field, 2012: California perennial crops in a
changing climate. Climatic Change, 109, 317-333
Lobell, D., Ortiz-Monasterio, J. 2007. Impacts of day versus night
temperatures on spring wheat yields. 2007. Agronomy Journal 99,
Lobell, D.B., Sibley, A. and Ortiz-Monasterio, J.I., 2012. Extreme
heat effects on wheat senescence in India. Nature Climate Change,
2(3): 186-189.
Lobell, D. B., U. L. C. Baldos and T. W. Hertel, 2013: Climate
adaptation as mitigation: the case of agricultural investments.
Environmental Research Letters, 8. doi10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015012.
Lobell, D.B., Hammer, G.L., McLean, G., Messina, C., Roberts, M.J. and
Schlenker, W., 2013. The critical role of extreme heat for maize
production in the United States. Nature Climate Change, 3: 497-501
Lobell, D. B. , J. I. Ortiz-Monasterio, G. P. Asner, P. A. Matson, R.
L. Naylor and W. P. Falcon, 2005: Analysis of wheat yield and climatic
trends in Mexico. Field Crops Research, 94, 250-256.
Lobell, D.B., Schlenker, W. and Costa-Roberts, J., 2011. Climate
Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980. Science, 333(6042):
Lobell, D.B., Banziger, M., Magorokosho, C. and Vivek, B., 2011.
Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical
yield trials. Nature Clim. Change, 1(1): 42-45.
Lobell, D.B., M.B. Burke, C. Tebaldi, M.D. Mastrandrea, W.P. Falcon,
and R.L. Naylor, 2008: Prioritizing Climate Change Adaptation Needs
for Food Security in 2030. Science, 319, 607-610.

Ainsworth, E.A. and J.M. McGrath, 2010: Direct effects of rising
atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone on crop yields. In: Climate
Change and Food Security: adapting agriculture to a warmer world.
[Lobell, D. and M. Burke(eds.)]. Springer, pp. 109-130.
Burke, M.B., D.B. Lobell, and L. Guarino, 2009: Shifts in African Crop
Climates by 2050, and the Implications for Crop Improvement and
Genetic Resources Conservation. Global Environmental Change, 19,
Hertel, T.W., M.B. Burke, and D.B. Lobell, 2010: The poverty
implications of climate-induced crop yield changes by 2030. Global
Environmental Change, 20, 577-585.

The IPCC is in no position to speak about misleading people about the possibility of reduced food yields.

Its rebuttal continues:

The references to the underlying report cited by the Mail on Sunday in contrast to the Summary for Policymakers also give a completely misleading and distorted impression of the report through selective quotation. For instance the reference to “environmental migrants” is a sentence describing just one paper assessed in a chapter that cites over 500 papers – one of five chapters on which the statement in the Summary for Policymakers is based.

The article said:

The SPM said:

Climate change over the 21st century is projected to increase displacement of people (medium evidence, high agreement). Displacement risk increases when populations that lack the resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, in both rural and urban areas, particularly in developing countries with low income. Expanding opportunities for mobility can reduce vulnerability for such populations. Changes in migration patterns can be responses to both extreme weather events and longer-term climate variability and change, and migration can also be an effective adaptation strategy. There is low confidence in quantitative projections of changes in mobility, due to its complex, multi-causal nature.

It is worth recalling the UN’s previous prediction of 50 Million climate refugees. Wattsupwiththat had a fun and empirical post on the subject back in 2011 at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/15/the-un-disappears-50-million-climate-refugees-then-botches-the-disappearing-attempt/

This is the ENTIRE section on migration from chapter 9. Migration

It is difficult to establish a causal relationship between environmental degradation and migration (see Section 12.4.1). Many authors argue that migration will increase during times of environmental stress (e.g. Afifi, 2011; Gray and Mueller, 2012; Kniveton et al., 2011; Brown and Crawford, 2008), and will lead to an increase in abandonment of settlements (McLeman, 2011). Climate variability has been associated with rural-urban migration (Mertz et al., 2011; Parnell and Walawege, 2011). Another body of literature argues that migration rates are no higher under conditions of environmental or climate stress (Black et al., 2011a and b; van der Geest, 2011; van der Geest and de Jeu, 2008; Tacoli, 2009; McLeman and Hunter, 2010; Gemenne, 2011; Foresight, 2011; Cohen, 2004; Brown, 2008). For Tacoli (2009) the current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called “environmental refugees” or “environmental migrants”, are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events and predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best. Analogies with past migration experiences are used frequently in such studies (McLeman and Hunter 2010). For example, in Ghana the causality of migration was established to be relatively clear in the case of sudden-onset environmental perturbations such as floods, whereas in case of slow-onset environmental deterioration, there was usually a set of overlapping causes – political and socioeconomic factors – which come into play (van der Geest, 2011). Similarly, a recent survey by Mertz et al. (2010) has argued that climate factors played a limited role in past adaptation options of Sahelian farmers. Given the multiple drivers of migration (Black et al., 2011a and b) and the complex interactions which mediate migratory decision-making by individual or households (Raleigh, 2008; McLeman and Smit, 2006; Kniveton et al., 2011; Black et al., 2011a and b), the projection of the effects of climate change on intra-rural and rural-to-urban migration remains a major challenge.

Chapter 12, section 12.4 (pg 15) states:

There is widespread agreement in the scientific and legal literature that the use of the term climate refugee is scientifically and legally problematic (Taccoli, 2009; Piguet, 2010; Black et al., 2011a; Gemenne, 2011; Jakobeit and Methmann 2012; Bettini, 2013; Piguet, 2013). McAdam calls the concept ‘erroneous as a matter of law and conceptually inaccurate’ (McAdam, 2011, p. 102). The reasons are threefold. First, most migration and climate studies point to the environment as triggers and not causes for migration decisions. Second, some studies focus on the negative geo-political implications of changing the Geneva Convention on refugees to include environmental migrants as well as the lack of global instruments to handle internal displaced peoples or international migrants (Martin, 2009; Cournil, 2011). Third, many small island countries are reluctant themselves to have their international migrants designated as being victims of climate change (McNamara and Gibson, 2009; Farbotko, 2010; Barnett and O’Neill, 2011; Farbotko and Lazrus, 2012).

There were not 500 studies cited by the IPCC WGII in relation to migration as a consequence of climate change. Worse, the chapters explicitly contradict the SPM in more than one chapter. And in fact, rather than depending on just one paper (out of 500), the article quotes from two different chapters’ own conclusions about the range of literature.

A simple keyword search shows many references to publications and statements in the report showing the opposite conclusion, and supporting the statement in the Summary that “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence…”

The implication here seems to be that there are lots of other papers, cited throughout the chapters, which support the SPM’s claims. If it’s true, it is the IPCC’s problem. I checked the SPM’s claims against the chapter references cited in the SPM. Moreover, if the evidence considered by the WGII is contradictory, the contradictory nature of the evidence should be reflected in the SPM. It wasn’t. We don’t need to think very deeply about why such an evaluation of the evidence was omitted.

The IPCC have misled people with the WGII SPM. And it has furthermore misled people about the criticism of the SPM.

More results from the research will be published soon.

One Giant Bleak Against Mankind

Posted by Ben Pile on March 25, 2014
Mar 252014

I have an article over at Spiked, on the matter of that dodgy ‘NASA-funded’ end-is-nigh report.

The article, by the catastrophile and author of The Crisis of Civilisation, Nafeez Ahmed, was soon picked up by dozens of other newspapers, and hundreds of websites, all over the world. ‘NASA-funded study warns of “collapse of civilisation” in coming decades’, screamed the Independent. ‘Industrial civilisation “may be heading toward collapse” within decades because of its strain on the planet’s resources, NASA report finds’, yelled the Daily Mail.

It was written last week. Since then, Keith Kloor has given at least Ahmed’s version of the study a well-deserved spanking for his low journalistic standards.

Ahmed wrote an uncritical appraisal of the study. He didn’t bother to inquire about the merits of the model or its results.

Ahmed, is, though, a catstrophile, excited by the possibility of Judgement Day, and accordingly preoccupied. He responds to Kloor back at the gloomy-doomy Guardian:

Journalistic standards won’t be upheld by attempting to discredit science we don’t like

There is obviously no room, in Ahmed’s version of ‘journalist standards’, between salivating over scientific doomsayers, and rejecting all science.

Weirdly, part of Ahmed’s defence is this claim

Kloor’s journalistic rigour apparently somehow failed to involve bothering to read either my book or my numerous observations over the years on the grounds for long-term optimism.

Which links to yet another article of Ahmed’s, the optimism in which appears to be this,

As energy is the underpinning of a society, the unravelling of the fossil fuel system signifies the demise of the old paradigm. By the end of this century, one way or another, this paradigm will be obsolete. It’s up to us what will take its place – and as the death-spiral of the old paradigm accelerates, so do the opportunities to explore viable alternatives.

The new emerging paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment.

The unravelling of the fossil fuel system is, of course, witnessed only by Ahmed. The rest of the world is consuming more of it than ever before, and so it is a good thing that more of it seems to have been found.

And in any case, it’s a weird kind of optimism, that is predicated on a chaotic transition from one ‘paradigm’ to another, like some kind of traumatic re-birth. Ahmed imagines the benefits of a post-economic society in an era clearly characterised by scarcity, rather than abundance. The environmentalist fantasises that we will re-discover our lost humanity through poverty — that we will have nice, fluffy politics, in spite of only a basic level of life.

In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food.

We should reject this model.

I do not want to grow my own food, nor produce my own energy. 1. I wouldn’t be very good at it. 2. I don’t have enough time. 3. I have better things to do.

And I do not want to live in a ‘community’ which is bought together by necessity. If it floats your boat, more power to your elbows (and your comrades’ elbows). But there’s more to life than eating and sh*tting, and correspondingly, more to life than growing food and clearing up sh*t.

I would rather choose where I live, choose what I do, and choose what to have for dinner.

I don’t believe, as Ahmed seems to, that the Good Life exists in the post-fossil world he imagines. People do not discover humanity in subsistence. Yes, it is a Good Thing when humans cooperate to achieve each others’ or their shared aims. But Ahmed can only picture such ‘interdependence’ in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

This form of ethics is as crass as the motivations depicted by second rate Hollywood disaster B-movies. In such movies, some asteroid, alien-invasion, zombies or the incautious meddling of scientists, wipe the slate clean, removing the problem of determining consent for authority through political means — democracy. Only the virtuous survive the disaster, leaving intact those who were brought together by, yes, necessity. The agent of catastrophe is just a metaphor for misanthropy, or at least, the author’s inarticulate expression of rage at other people’s disobedience.

The ethics of doom are infantile. The likes of Ahmed don’t seem to be able to make a distinction between the failure to assert their will over the world and the end of the world. And they are narcissistic — consumed by themselves.

Speaking of crap films. Here is a film version of Ahmed’s thesis, in which he looks for an encompassing theory to explain ALL of the world’s problems.

Mar 082014

As we all now know, Marcel Crok and Nicholas Lewis have written a report on the IPCC’s treatment of climate sensitivity, published by the GWPF. The GWPF’s press release is here, the long version of the report is here, and the short version is here.

Andrew Orlowski has a nice piece on the report comprising a Q&A with Lewis at the Register.

The nuts and bolts of the science have never been of interest to this blog — that is for other blogs. But what is interesting about challenges to putative mainstream climate science is the responses that they generate. The scientific controversy isn’t generally very interesting, except to those who already take a particular interest in climate science’s debates. What this blog argues is that the treatment of scientific debates often reveal much more about the prevailing politics — the context of the climate debate — than a narrow treatment of scientific questions can reveal.

To take one crude example, Exactly seven years ago today, Martin Durkins’ film, The Great Global Warming Swindle (aka TGGWS) was broadcast on Channel 4. TGGWS rightly or wrongly suggested that variations in solar output might be indirectly driving changes in the planet’s temperature. This may or may not have advanced science or the public’s understanding of the scientific arguments. But what it did reveal was the uglier side of the argument in favour of action to mitigate climate change. The climate change establishment mobilised against the film, calling for its censorship. “Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements”, complained Bob Ward, the charmless leader of this new inquisition.

But free speech means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to make misleading statements, either in good faith or bad. My claim here might raise eyebrows. But the obvious problem with Ward’s claim is that individuals like him will shut down any reasonable debate on the basis of ‘factual accuracy’ once the state has determined it knows best what is or isn’t ‘factually accurate’. And as this blog has argued, the political utility of a scientific consensus was understood before the consensus was formed. Indeed, there is a good argument, whether or not ‘climate change is happening’, that a consensus was sought on climate change precisely because of its political utility, other consensuses in society being so hard to achieve in the current political environment. Politics has colonised science, whether or not climate science has understood the object of its study. The point, then, is not to say that people should be free to lie, but that it is an unfortunate consequence of saying that people should be free to speak the truth to the authoritarian impulses of lunatics like Robert Ward of the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics. And it’s not just journalists and the free press that Ward has his sights on — he also wants to prevent academics producing research that might slow the progress of the climate agenda, and to prevent academic journals from publishing that research.

Similarly, and as discussed here, Matthew England’s recent discovery of the ‘missing heat’ — right or wrong — in the oceans followed years of his somewhat angry criticisms of climate sceptics rightly pointing out the missing heat, leading to their claims, rightly or wrongly that climate science had erred. Once it became obvious that the heat was missing, England decided to go find it. Sceptics, far from distorting the scientific debate, had in fact, driven scientific discovery, whether or not they had been right about any aspect of climate science. Had Matt England’s ire been unbridled by such vulgar preoccupations as free speech, democracy, and academic independence — the sort of thing he and Ward seem hostile to — science may not have made the discovery he now claims as his own (if it is indeed a discovery). Moreover, anyone suggesting that the missing heat had found its way to the oceans might have found themselves thrown out of the academy for suggesting such a thing.

Time will tell whether Ward and England have accurately represented the science. Meanwhile, we can see their politics in its bright livery and shiny boots. So let’s get back to the current story, which is Lewis and Crok’s paper, published by the GWPF. What does the response to the report tell us about the politics of today’s climate debate?

There were some rapid replies from science. Notably, Piers Foster at Ed Hawkins’ Climate Lab Book, set out his own analysis of the Lewis & Crok paper, without — as far as I can tell — any obvious ideological baggage, though some sceptics pointed out that the reply was obfuscation, rather than a serious rejoinder. The consensus police arrived, as they are inclined to, to manage the situation in the way only they know how.

['And Then There's Physics' and 'BBD' visit the Climate Lab Book]

The Science Media Centre soon followed with an attempt at ‘expert reaction to new report on climate sensitivity published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation‘. The SMC’s approach to climate is less about getting clear scientific advice to the public debate than it is about getting rehearsed soundbytes from scientists into the press as quickly as possible. This is PR. And so it is no surprise that Bob Ward (him again!) sits on the organisation’s advisory committee. Readers of Bishop Hill blog will already know that Chief Executive of the SMC, Fiona Fox, is chairing a ‘debate’ about the question ‘Are there really two sides to every science story?‘ later this month, apparently in the wake of Lord Lawson’s appearance on Radio 4′s Today programme opposite Hoskins, which caused so much ire. Notably, the panellists do not include anyone from the side which might claim there is more than one story to the climate debate. It is populated, however, by Bob Ward (him again), and Steve Jones, whose views on sceptics on the BBC is not so different, as reported here, back in 2011.

Says Fox:

“I think many now agree that the hallowed principle of ‘journalistic balance’ is problematic when it comes to science and no one has made that point more than me. But I also think we have to be careful about where lines are drawn. Reporting climate change or GM crops as if there is a 50/50 split in science is misleading, inaccurate and poor journalism. But that does not mean that media debates about these controversies should be monopolised by scientists to the exclusion of other voices. I have agreed to chair this debate because I genuinely sit somewhere in the middle and think this panel guarantees a thoughtful, grown up discussion between speakers who care passionately about getting this right.”

Fox’s claim that she sits ‘somewhere in the middle’ is unconvincing. Notice that the SMC did not canvass anyone who welcomed the report, whether they agreed with it or not, as a contribution to the debate. Instead, the SMC’s correspondents belittled it. The SMC trades on the view that ‘science’ produces single answers to simple questions, whereas in reality, science — especially climate science — is a messy process, which investigates poorly understood, and even less clearly defined problems. (If it were otherwise, there would be no need for science). Being ‘half way’ on the question about the appropriate balance of opinion (yes, opinion) in the media is not ‘half way’ between censorship and editorial freedom. The idea that one can be half way on such a question is almost as absurd as the idea that Bob Ward can contribute to a ‘a thoughtful, grown up discussion’, much less guarantee one.

The SMC has not challenged Ward’s particular form of emphasis on the science — and it couldn’t. And it has not challenged the nonsense emerging from environmental psychology, such as that coming from Cardiff University (about which more follows) and Stephan Lewandowsky. It has not challenged the tone or the content of the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisers’ comments on climate change, nor the Royal Society’s presidents, even where they have been entirely unscientific. And it couldn’t. What use is science to society, if its advocates are not brave enough to point out the nonsense that is produced in the name of the scientific consensus?

Ward now represents an extreme position in the climate debate, which, it seems clear, organisations and individuals will want to move away from in the near future. But for now, the division that Ward wants to maintain between the orthodox position and its critics is sustained, not by clearly articulated scientific dispute, but by a single, entrenched — although perhaps unconscious — political perspective. It emerges under Foster’s attempt to define the scientific disagreement, and it is perpetuated by SMC’s attempt to control the narrative in the wider sphere. The SMC’s emphasis on ‘expert opinion’, reflects the ‘values’ recently evinced by Lewandowsky, that debate about the climate and criticism of his own work is valid only when ‘addressed through proper channels’ — it ‘should take place in the scientific literature’. Lewandowsky is a demonstration of the academy’s failure, and the SMC a demonstration of the need for climate scepticism, right or wrong.

The BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath, then suggested that the report might in fact represent the ‘foremost bastions of contrariness when it comes to man-made climate change, admitting that temperatures were actually rising in response to human emissions of greenhouse gases’. It’s the sort of thing we probably expect from the BBC. But it was more surprising from Reiner Grundmann, who, following McGrath, noted,

‘This raises the interesting question how much of the Lewis/Crok paper is actually endorsed by the GWPF. Providing a platform for an IPCC critical analysis does not mean the organisation shares the details, or the broader message of the paper. Maybe the motivation was to undermine the IPCC’s authority.

I’ve always found Grundmann’s writing interesting, there being a strong indication in his work that there’s more going on than the idea that environmentalism is a straightforward response to science. But the lack of sophistication in this analysis was disappointing, to say the least. Further noting Ed Hawkins’s comment that ‘if we broadly agree on this, the debate can crucially move on to what action is needed to deal with a warming planet‘, Grundmann goes on to claim,

If my reading is correct that the GWPF does not commit to this implication but is mainly interested in IPCC bashing, the invitation to Lewis and Crok may have led to a new dynamic. Commentators read this as a sign that there is some agreement emerging, despite the appearance to the contrary (because the GWPF emphasises that the sensitivity analysis is different between Lewis/Crok and IPCC).

And concludes,

It is now up to the GWPF to re-state their position with regard to climate policies: is there reason to act or to bury the head in the sand?

This seems to be the reasoning:

1. Lewis and Crok assess the IPCC’s assessment of the science on climate sensitivity.
2. Lewis and Crok determine that the IPCC over-estimates climate sensitivity.
3. But Lewis and Crock’s estimate is not radically different to the IPCC’s.
4. The GWPF published Lewis and Crock’s report.
5. But the GWPF are deniers of climate change.
6. The GWPF is must commit to the implications of Lewis and Crok’s proximity to the IPCC estimate.
7. The implications are still that a lower estimate of climate sensitivity means ‘there is a reason to act’.

It seems that many are surprised that the GWPF seem to have published a report that doesn’t say that ‘there is no such thing as climate change’. Yet of all the reports published by them, not one expresses a view of the debate as has been portrayed.

Jonathan Jones from the University of Oxford was the first to point out the obvious problem, in this superb comment:

It has been amusing to watch the apparent surprise of many climate scientists at their discovery that many “climate sceptics” are actually lukewarmers. Taking a rough and ready definition, that lukewarmers believe in AGW but doubt catastrophic AGW, one could reasonably place many of the more famous sceptics (Liljegren, McIntyre implicitly, Montford, Watts explicitly) in that camp, together with a number of “maverick” climate scientists (Curry, Lewis, Lindzen). Indeed it has long seemed to me that the unspoken position of Klimazwiebel itself has sympathy for lukewarmerdom.

What does not follow from this, however, is Ed’s suggestion that “the debate can crucially move on to what action is needed to deal with a warming planet”. Or to be more precise that is, as it always has been, a reasonable question, but a perfectly reasonable answer at the moment would be “little or nothing”. Many lukewarmers are also “policy sceptics”, and their view that current policy responses are hopelessly ineffective, with costs far exceeding any conceivable benefits, remains unchanged.

And straying briefly into more dangerous territory, lukewarmers can and do remain highly critical of the IPCC, the hockey stick, the climategate fiasco, the Lewandowsky nonsense, and the bizarre idea that sceptics are a bunch of “fossil fuel funded deniers”. True peace in our time requires mainstream climate science to acknowledge a few uncomfortable truths.

Similarly, Benny Peiser responded,

I’m afraid both Matt McGrath and Reiner Grundmann misunderstand the GWPF and our work. They should know better.

Our mission statement and philosophy has been known ever since we launched the GWPF in 2009 and is prominently posted on our website:

* We have developed a distinct set of principles that set us apart from most other stakeholders in the climate debates:
* The GWPF does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming – although we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled.
* On climate science, our members and supporters cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism.

As a matter of fact, we don’t even have a collective view on the excellent new report by Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok.

We are promoting an open debate, our opponents are trying to close it down.

And reiterated the point later:

GWPF members have different views on most subject matters. The only issue we all agree upon: that there is a manifest lack of an open, frank and critical climate debate.

To encourage open discussion and critical assessment is the main raison d’être of our work and existence.

Which was denied by Grundmann:

You are trying to paint the GWPF as a group without clear direction as every member has different views. I think this is misleading. The GWPF occupies a well defined space in the ecosystem of climate change discourse.

I took the issue up with Grundmann, who tweeted, “Has the GWPF become lukewarm?”

I asked, “You say GWPF may have ‘become’ something. What was it before? Perhaps it is only prejudices that have changed.”

Grundmann didn’t want to dwell on the question. But I think it is the most interesting question in the entire debate. Grundmann claims that the GWPF can be easily defined. But it would seem he has much trouble defining it, to the point that he couldn’t answer a question about its putative transformation, reflected in the publication of Lewis and Crok.

As is discussed here often, the most powerful misconception of the climate debate is that is divides on the proposition ‘climate change is happening’. This is presented as a scientific claim, though when one tries to understand what it means, and what its consequences are, unpacking it reveals that it means precisely nothing, and the consequences might mean anything between a trivial change in the weather, through to the collapse of civilisation and the end of all life on Earth. This ambiguity turns nuanced arguments and analyses into cartoons, and would seem to put Lewis and Crok opposite the GWPF, who have published broad criticism of climate policy and also of some particular scientific questions. Worse, this tendency allows politics or ‘ideology’ to be presented as ‘science’, and so to preclude debate. All Ed Davey has to do, for instance, to wave away criticism of his energy policy is claim that it is the expression of denial of climate science. Grundmann’s thinking is no more sophisticated.

Yet Grundmann’s academic profile claims that his interests are,

Sociotechnical Systems, Social Philosophy, Power (social), Political Science, Economic Sociology, Political Sociology, Pure Sociology, Social Theory, Comparative Politics, Climate Change, Sustainable Transportation, Sociology, Sociology of Knowledge, Global Environmental Governance, Science and technology studies, and Environmental Sustainability

How do political sociologists develop such blind spots in the climate debate, such that publishing a “lukewarm” report means a tiny organisation with few resources has radically altered its presumed position? The presumption is the key. If the GWPF had stated a position on the necessity of political action with respect to the magnitude of climate sensitivity prior to Lewis and Crok, Grundmann would be right to demand some revision of it, or remain ‘IPCC-bashers’. But I’m fairly sure that what concerns the GWPF’s members is the same as what has concerned this blog over the last seven years:

1. That climate’s sensitivity to CO2 is not equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate.
2. That political and scientific arguments are routinely confused.
3. That scientific expertise is used to prevent political debate about important questions.
4. That institutional science has allowed itself to be colonised by political agendas.

This blog has never taken a particular view on climate science. The criticism here is of environmentalism, broadly defined as a political phenomenon, in which the above problems (1-4) are epitomised. Yet it finds itself categorised as a blog for ‘scepticism’ or ‘denial’. This is all anyone seems to need to know.

The blind spot is a phenomenon that political sociologists ought to be conscious of, and to make an object of their study. I pointed out the problem to Grundmann on twitter, passing him a link to a new study coming out of the Tyndall Centre:

What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public
Capstick, S., and N. Pidgeon

The holding of doubts about climate change is often referred to as ‘scepticism’. However, there has been a lack of clarity in previous work as to what exactly this scepticism comprises. We integrate data obtained from discussion groups and a nationally representative survey, to interrogate and refine the concept of climate change scepticism with respect to the views of members of the public. We argue that two main types should be distinguished: epistemic scepticism, relating to doubts about the status of climate change as a scientific and physical phenomenon; and response scepticism, relating to doubts about the efficacy of action taken to address climate change. Whilst each type is independently associated by people themselves with climate change scepticism, we find that the latter is more strongly associated with a lack of concern about climate change. As such, additional effort should be directed towards addressing and engaging with people’s doubts concerning attempts to address climate change. © 2013 The Authors.

What is much more interesting to this “climate sceptic” than any claims about whether or not ‘climate change is happening’ is the implication of Capstic and Pidgeon’s abstract, that it is their role, as academics, to direct ‘additional effort … towards addressing and engaging with people’s doubts concerning attempts to address climate change’.

Imagine, for example, that researchers at a school of psychology at a university had authored a paper that aimed to understand why people voted for a particular mainstream political party, which then suggested ways that interventions might be made to encourage them to vote for another. NB, I am not suggesting here that researchers should not be allowed to have such biases, or even that the academy should not be a place where people are able to develop persuasive political ideas — on the contrary. But there is something weird about this form of ‘research’ which aims to change the dynamics of debates about public policy in this way.

Capstic and Pidgeon’s paper, like many investigations into climate scepticism — Lewandowsky’s, for instance — makes it an object of study rather than the ground of a debate. In table two, for example, they identify a list of 20 expressions of scepticism:

* There is too much conflicting evidence about climate change to know whether it is actually happening
* Current climate change is part of a pattern that has been going on for millions of years
* Climate change is just a natural fluctuation in Earth’s temperatures
* Even if we do experience some consequences from climate change, we will be able to cope with them
* The effects of climate change are likely to be catastrophic
* The evidence for climate change is unreliable
* There are a lot of very different theories about climate change<comma> and little agreement about which is right
* Scientists have in the past changed their results to make climate change appear worse than it is
* Scientists have hidden research that shows climate change is not serious
* Climate change is a scam
* Social/behavioural scepticism measures
* Climate change is so complicated, that there is very little politicians can do about it
* There is no point in me doing anything about climate change because no-one else is
* The actions of a single person doesn’t make any difference in tackling climate change
* People are too selfish to do anything about climate change
* Not much will be done about climate change, because it is not in human nature to respond to problems that won’t happen for many years
* It is already too late to do anything about climate change
* The media is often too alarmist about climate change
* Environmentalists do their best to emphasise the worst possible effects of climate change
* Climate change has now become a bit of an outdated issue
* Whether it is important or not, on a day-to-day basis I am bored of hearing about climate change

There’s plenty of material coming out of Cardiff to occupy political sociologists. But they seem more interested in the putative transformation in the GWPF than in reflecting critically on the new role of academics, and the diminished understanding of the public.Rather than positions to be argued with, the entries on this table are taken as merely arbitrary expressions of some kind of irrational motivation. But the consequence of this is that, far from developing an understanding of ‘what scepticism is’, the researchers only engage with their own prejudices. There is no dialogue. They aim to sample scepticism, by analysing sceptics (which ones?) comments, but only end up sampling their own heads, rather than testing the categories and ideas they have developed. Thus, Capstic and Pidegon tell us more about themselves than about sceptics.

Grundmann, Capstic, Pidgeon, Lewandowsky, The SMC, McGrath, and Ward, although their tones and their general approaches to the climate debate differ, cannot help but merely reproduce their own ignorance of their subjects. The GWPF’s position is a mystery to them. So when it becomes obvious that there is lukewarmism amongst the GWPF fold, the coordinates on which that ignorance rested are disturbed. Rather than seeing the ignorance as the cause of that disturbance, it appears as a radical shift in the position of the GWPF. In the same way, a dizzy person sees the world spinning. If sceptics were taken more seriously, if there was a debate… if there was a political, or academic culture which accepted debate… Cardiff wouldn’t produce such rank pseudo-science, and social scientists in Nottingham could be more confident about the definition of ‘space in the ecosystem of climate change discourse’, but probably would chose his words — and his coordinates — more carefully.

What space?

What ecosystem?

What discourse?

What bullshit!

Lewandowsky Nails his Faeces to the Door

Posted by Ben Pile on February 21, 2014
Feb 212014

Over at Lewandowsky’s lair, Shaping Tomorrow’s World, the academic-psychologist-turned-propagandist has set out his values…

Part of my research is considered controversial by some people because I examine why individuals choose to reject well-established scientific findings, such as the fact that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a bad opening shot from the professor. Lewandowsky does not ‘examine why individuals choose to reject well-established scientific findings’. Few that Lewandowsky has claimed ‘reject’ the claim that ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’ in fact reject the claim at all. Lewandowsky’s research invariably depends on the idea that any criticism of any aspect of climate change, from science through to policy, is a rejection of the claim. But this is misleading. Moreover, and has been observed here many times, the claims that ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’, is not scientific. It lacks any precision. It can mean anything from an inconsequential amount of warming, through to changes that will bring about the end of civilisation. Lewandowsky’s propagandising has to omit any sense of proportion, because admitting that climate change is not just a matter of degree, but matters of degree on matters of degree precludes the possibility of making polarising statements and moralistic claims, which are his intentions.

I believe that science has served us well during the last century or so. For example, the number of lives that were saved through research into HIV/AIDS is staggering—a fact tragically highlighted by the unnecessary death toll in South Africa when the government of then-President Mbeki rejected scientific medicine and preferred to treat AIDS with beetroot and garlic.

And here we already see the problem emerge. What role can psychology play, in trying to understand why Mbeki would make such a statement? I don’t believe it can shed any light on it at all. And Lewandowsky sheds not one single photon on this, or any other question he seems to have tasked himself with. What does Lewandowsky know about Mbeki, and the complex politics and history of South Africa? For that matter, what does Lewadowsky know about climate change sceptics? He won’t respond to their criticisms, and it is evident from his work that he doesn’t even read them. His refusal to understand the debate he comments on even leads him to put mainstream climate scientists into the same category as ‘deniers’.

Nonetheless, science takes place in a social context and is not value neutral. For example, I do not share the values of the late Dr. Edward Teller, an advocate of using nuclear devices to build harbours in Alaska (among other things), who possibly inspired the movie character Dr. Strangelove.

Congratulations to Lewandowsky for recognising the fact that ‘science takes place in a social context’. Might climate sceptics, and Mbeki not also exist in a social context? And might climate science, which is, after all, a very soft science, also exist in a social context?

He doesn’t say. But what are Lewandowsky’s ‘values’?

I value freedom of speech. In most instances, “bad” speech should be countered by good or better speech rather than being suppressed. It is for this reason that I have not taken action, thus far, against the clearly defamatory content of various internet blogs.

‘Thus far’, sounds like a threat. But it is as empty as his claim that ‘”bad” speech should be countered by good or better speech rather than being suppressed’. Lewandowsky has not responded to criticism of his work, and refuses to.

His second ‘value’ is:

I value academic freedom. This entails the freedom to publish research that some people find controversial or inconvenient. It is the responsibility of scientists to be rigorous in publishing and attempt to eliminate all errors and identify weaknesses in their work. Where these persist in published articles, it is the job of peer-review to correct those via published rejoinders.

Academic freedom is not damaged in any way by members of the public calling ‘bullshit’ on Lewandowsky’s claims. Academic freedom does not suffer when members of the public can see the work better than the peer-reviewers and the editors of a journal. And academic freedom is not undermined when people suggest that the paper be retracted. It is the point of peer review that poorly conceived and poorly executed research should not make it to publication.

Lewandowsky is complaining here about the attempts to obtain the raw data from his research, and about the questions raised about his method in recent papers. These problems have not been answered by Lewandowsky, nor by his publishers. Yet they are aware of the problems with his research. They have been told, but have ignored the criticism.

Lewandowsky’s statement of his ‘values’, then, amount to nothing more than an excuse.

Science is debate, and I have been participating in this debate for 30 years. I therefore welcome any critique of my work that survives peer review or is cogent in other ways or addressed through proper channels.

Here, Lewandowsky says that the only legitimate way of challenging his work is publishing criticism in academic journals, or some other ‘proper channel’ not explained. It is as if criticism of the claim that 2+2=5 could only come from another journal, not by anybody with a rudimentary grasp of arithmetic.

Lewandowsky wants to influence the public debate, both with his research and in his blog posts and other non-academic articles. Yet he then wants to hide behind the walls of the Academy when any of that work is criticised.

Because I value freedom of speech and academic freedom, I oppose and resist the bullying and intimidation employed by some opponents who refuse to engage in scientific debate by avoiding peer review. My thoughts and experiences are summarized in an article on the Subterranean War on Science.

Lewandowsky is not in a position to complain about bullying and intimidation. Many of Lewandowsky’s able critics do not have access to journals, nor to the academic resources usually necessary to publish in them, and much less the time. Lewandowsky’s argument is that only academics may criticise him — that the masses outside the academy have no legitimate argument to make. That is bullying in its simplest form, made worse by the fact that it is these individuals that Lewandowsky has made objects of his ‘research’. When they complain, he says ‘you’re not an academic, **** off’. The philosopher king holds himself in high esteem.

Inspired by some philosophers of ethics, I consider the rejection of climate science to be at least morally negligent and sometimes actively immoral. There is a crucial distinction between skepticism, which expresses itself in the peer-reviewed literature, and active rejection of scientific facts, which expresses itself in other fora and which does not seek peer review. People are entitled to question everything in good faith, but I do not believe they are entitled to spread disinformation or intentionally mislead the public. Opinions have ethical consequences.

‘Opinions’ having ‘ethical consequences’, only the privileged may possess them. Rank elitism hides behind scientific objectivity. It can’t be the case, on Lewandowsky’s view, that people who criticise him or the courses of action he wants to advance, do so in good faith, because they have a different understanding of The Science.

But as we have already seen, Lewandowsky does not have a sufficient grasp of climate science, or counter-positions to mainstream climate science, to say that others have an inadequate grasp. Hence, he has to reduce the scientific consensus to something meaningless — like ‘the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions’ — which is not even a contested claim.

Lewandowsky’s argument is not ‘ethics’, but is on the contrary, the total absence of ethics. ‘Science’ is a fig leaf.

I therefore perceive a moral obligation to conduct research into why people reject well-established scientific facts, be it climate change or the utility of vaccinations. This is my personal conviction, which other scholars are free to share or disagree with. To illustrate my position, Dr. Lawrence Torcello, a philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology, put it succinctly: “… Some issues are of such ethical magnitude that being on the correct side of history becomes a cipher of moral character for generations to come. Global warming is such an issue. History inevitably recognizes the moral astuteness of those loudly intolerant of ignorance and corruption. Those who offer polite hospitality to injustice must learn from history that they are complicit to the harms they enable.‎”

Only scholars are free to take issue with Lewandowsky, of course. Trying to find out why people do take a different view on all kinds of things, including science, is a worthwhile end. But that is not what Lewandowsky does. Instead, his work attempts to belittle people who take a different view to him, to say they are mad, or ‘conspiracy theorists’, without a full set of faculties, or are contaminated by ‘motivated reasoning’.

That is the opposite of finding out what people disagree about things. It’s just shouting at people who do disagree, albeit from the high walls of the academy.

If Lewandowsky was genuinely interested in why people take a different view on climate change, he wouldn’t attempt to understand them through bullshit and easily manipulated surveys on the internet, on sites hosted by his colleagues and comrades. He would instead ask them: ‘here’s what I think, why do you disagree?’

It’s called debate. Through he course of debate, the points of disagreement are discovered. That is the point of debate. There is no need for psychologists here.

In no way do my values suggest that debate should be curtailed: I merely insist that a scientific debate should take place in the scientific literature and that the public be put in a position where it can make an informed judgment about the voices that are opposing mainstream science on crucial issues ranging from climate change to vaccination.

Let us see more closely what Lewandowsky has said:

1) “In no way do my values suggest that debate should be curtailed…”

And then…

2) “I merely insist that a scientific debate should take place in the scientific literature…”

… and…

3) “and that the public be put in a position…”

verb: curtail; 3rd person present: curtails; past tense: curtailed; past participle: curtailed; gerund or present participle: curtailing
reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on.
“civil liberties were further curtailed”

Arguments 2 and 3 are explicitly for a curtailing of debate absolutely, viz. the debate should only be between the anointed, and that a passive public only be exposed to its outcome- NOT allowed to take part in it.

All that remains to be said about Lewandowsky is that, if he isn’t liar, he is master of self-deception.

Either way, it is bad faith that motivates his ‘reasoning’.

The video of the debate at last year’s Battle of Ideas festival on the question “What is new environmentalism?” is online.

I’m not sure that between Mark Lynas, Joe Smith, and Casper Hewitt and me, we got to an answer. But some interesting things were discussed on the way. I had a good chat with Joe afterwards over a couple of beers. However, I sense that neither he nor Mark still have any idea about why people might object to environmentalism in a broader sense, or might be critical of the claims made about climate change. This is odd, because Lynas is a fairly able critic of old environmentalism, especially the attitude to GMOs and to nuclear power. And Joe Smith, at least seems to understand that the climate debate is about more than climate science.

Kudos to them, however, for agreeing to the challenge of debate with people of a different perspective, unlike their erstwhile comrades in the dinosaur environmental movement, like this mad woman.

Missing Heat – Spiked

Posted by Ben Pile on February 13, 2014
Feb 132014

I have a very short (even by my standards) piece up on Spiked about the claims that the missing heat has been found:

A mainstay of environmentalists’ arguments for climate policies is that science can explain the past and present temperature of the planet, and, using computer models, project its likely future temperature. But, since the late 1990s, observations of temperature have deviated from models. The Earth is not as warm as it was expected to be. For many years, this deviation was denied, but it has recently been accepted by mainstream science. This is progress. But it has proven to be inconvenient to the political agendas attached to the climate-change narrative. In response, many theories have been proposed to explain where the ‘missing heat’ may be hiding out.

Read more at Spiked.

I remain mostly agnostic about climate change science. But it seems obvious that this new research is, to use the climate change communicator’s vernacular, ‘motivated’ by political need. That’s not to say that Matthew England is wrong. He might be right. But it does show in fact, that climate scepticism — even if it is ‘motivated’ (and only motivated to the same extent as its counterpart) — does contribute to the production of good climate science. This is a point I made, but which didn’t make it to the final article…

After all, if sceptics hadn’t made such an issue of the lack of warming, perhaps England would not have been moved to find a way to wrong-foot them. Maybe climate science needs climate sceptics, and climate researchers, like England, should welcome their criticisms.

Feb 092014

I doubt that Donna Laframboise needs much of an introduction here. She was in London recently to give evidence to the UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee, and while here, generously agreed to meet me for a quick chat about some of the things we’re both particularly interested in about the climate debate. Especially her experience at the recent COP meeting in Warsaw.

This video is a bit of an experiment for this blog, but if it goes well, I hope I’ll be producing some more. Please share, link and comment.

Climate Sceptics: The Phantom Menace

Posted by Ben Pile on February 8, 2014
Feb 082014

At the Guardian this week (yes there, again), David Robert Grimes claimed,

Denying climate change isn’t scepticism – it’s ‘motivated reasoning’
True sceptics test a hypothesis against the evidence, but climate sceptics refuse to accept anything that contradicts their beliefs

Grimes, a medical physics researcher at Oxford channels a lot of the guff that is passed off as ‘research’ into the phenomenon of climate scepticism. In particular, Grimes cites Stephan Lewandowsky’s ridiculous, unscientific and poorly-executed magnum opus:

The problem is that the well-meaning and considered approach hinges on the presupposition that the intended audience is always rational, willing to base or change its position on the balance of evidence. However, recent investigations suggests this might be a supposition too far. A study in 2011 found that conservative white males in the US were far more likely than other Americans to deny climate change. Another study found denialism in the UK was more common among politically conservative individuals with traditional values. A series of investigations published last year by Prof Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues – including one with the fantastic title, Nasa Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science – found that while subjects subscribing to conspiracist thought tended to reject all scientific propositions they encountered, those with strong traits of conservatism or pronounced free-market world views only tended to reject scientific findings with regulatory implications.

Well, if white, male, American conservatives believe something, it must be wrong. Meanwhile, of course, as I and many others have demonstrated, there was a great deal wrong with Lewandowsky’s work. No matter though, because as long as a bullsh*t survey can be turned into an article to be published in a journal, it must be true, no matter the criticism of it… Probably from white, conservative males. The scientific consensus on climate change soon reveals itself to in fact be little more than a social prejudice.

Grimes continues…

It should be no surprise that the voters and politicians opposed to climate change tend to be of a conservative bent, keen to support free-market ideology. This is part of a phenomenon known as motivated reasoning, where instead of evidence being evaluated critically, it is deliberately interpreted in such a way as to reaffirm a pre-existing belief, demanding impossibly stringent examination of unwelcome evidence while accepting uncritically even the flimsiest information that suits one’s needs.

This, of course, is an argument that, in lieu of a perfectly-calibrated mind-reading machine, is unscientific, through and through. Although we might notice that people’s arguments tend to coincide with their preferences, the hypothesis that the preference exists before the reasoning is untestable bunk. Moreover, although it appears to privilege reason, by denying that the objects of the hypothesis are capable of it, in turn deny the value of reason. Even more moreover, positing that one putative side of a debate lacks the necessary faculty to make rational choices forgets the influence of ideology over the counter-position. As I have argued before, if one takes a robust view of individuals faculties, and of course in wider society, one might well take a different view of the scientific evidence. For example, environmental ideologues evince a view of the world which holds that: i) the world is fragile; ii) the world provides; iii) the relationship between the world and people is delicately balanced. Those claims are not scientific. They are presuppositions. They are also, in large part, mystical in origin. And they are categorically anti-human, in the sense that they do not necessarily privilege human experience in their reasoning and in their deeper philosophical ideas (such as they are). It follows that one or two degrees warming is, on one view, fatal, catastrophic. And on the other view, perhaps a problem in particular times and places.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that a low-rent activist-journalist writes about the other side of the debate in such a way. However, his Guardian profile claims ‘He has a keen interest in the public understanding of science’. No he doesn’t. He wants to use science to achieve a particular political end, and he doesn’t care if he — in the amateur PUS/STS vernacular — ‘abuses science’ and confuses the public in the process. Science is a weapon — a point I will return to later.

Debates, like consensuses, have an ‘object’. Let’s say there is a debate about the proposition ‘all apples are green’. The proposition is the ‘object’. Let’s imagine that all the apples studied thus far are green. Thus, the consensus is that all apples are green’. But some scientists and interested folk take the view that, although all apples are green, there’s nothing about apples that means they have to be green. Carrots used to be purple (I am told). We might one day see a red apple, say the sceptics of the consensus. If you shut your eyes, you wouldn’t notice the difference. The debate, although it is dominated by the consensus view, now divides on a very particular grounds, about which it is very hard indeed to get excited about.

Granted, it is an absurd example. But let’s stick with it. It tells us something about consensuses and debates. They are about something. They are about the colours of apples, or they are about the value of X, or they are about the best way to organise society.

Grimes’s account of the debate, however, does NOT give us any information about the object of the debate. It says this, of course…

The grim findings of the IPCC last year reiterated what climatologists have long been telling us: the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and we’re to blame. Despite the clear scientific consensus, a veritable brigade of self-proclaimed, underinformed armchair experts lurk on comment threads the world over, eager to pour scorn on climate science. Barrages of ad hominem attacks all too often await both the scientists working in climate research and journalists who communicate the research findings.

… But to what extent is the debate defined by the claim that ‘the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate’? Is this even the object of the consensus? But worse, what is the counter-position — the claim that sceptics make in response?

The IPCC, of course, do not make quite such a claim. Grimes produces a grotesque and value-laden over-simplification. Of the thousands of lines of evidence evaluated by the IPCC, the response from the sceptics is not, as Grimes would have it, a simple negation of a single proposition, but instead consists of a range of criticisms and questions, about each of them.

Even if Grimes accurately presented the scientific consensus, he still doesn’t explain the debate, because he does not even attempt to explain the sceptic’s counter-position. There is no scientific debate in the world where this would be acceptable to the academic community. Yet this mythology persists, and is sustained, in large part by academics.

Grimes offers a crude, and entirely partial approximation of the consensus, because the extent of the consensus diminishes as it becomes specific. The broad consensus on climate change is inconsequential, thus activists like Grimes need to play fast and loose with it. Notice, for instance, that one account of the consensus (more accurate than Grimes’s) holds that ‘most of the warming in the second half of the twentieth century has been caused by man’, and does not exclude the majority of climate sceptics, who typically argue that the IPCC over estimates climate sensitivity. Moreover, notice that many sceptics do not take issue with the propositions that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, much of the increase in atmospheric CO2 can be attributed to industry, that this warming will likely cause a change in the climate, and that this may well cause problems. One of the biggest debates between sceptics and their counterparts is in fact the role played by feedback mechanisms — a response in part to claims by environmentalists such as Mark Lynas in ‘Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet’ that a relatively small increase in CO2 could cause ‘runaway climate change’ by triggering (unknown and possibly non-existent) feedback mechanisms to form.

The approximate consensus seems to serve, not inform the debate with science, but to supply it with moral coordinates in the environmental activists favour: you don’t need to know about the mechanics of CO2 or the climate; you only need to know that there are good guys and there are bad guys. To supply the debate with the actual consensus position and counter-position would deprive the moral argument of the utility that ambiguity offers. While it can be claimed that there is an other — an irrational, malign force — acting to subvert the debate, scientists and activists can seem to be on the same team. The moment the debate is deprived of its ambiguity, and supplied with actual data, it turns out that many activists, and indeed, scientists-cum-activists, are far further away from consensus position represented by the IPCC than are the putative ‘deniers’.

So, the ‘consensus without an object’ is a cohesive force. The environmentalists argument does not depend on science as much as it depends on depriving the debate — denying — of science.

This is to say that the ‘consensus’ has political, rather than practical utility: it is more useful to the task of mobilising towards ‘action on climate change’ than it is informing the debate about what kind of problem climate change is, and what the options for dealing with it are.

I have observed this before. In Naomi Oreskes’ work attempting to identify relationships between the ‘tobacco lobby’ and climate sceptics, she proposed that key individuals were ‘Merchants of Doubt’, and employed the same strategy — ‘the tobacco strategy’. As I wrote, back in 2008:

What Oreskes seems to forget is that doubt, rather than being generated by the “denialists”, has long been at the very core of environmental politics. Consider the following statement, which is part of the 1992 Rio Declaration, agreed at the Earth Summit…

Doubt is the very essence of the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle is at the heart of international agreements and domestic policies on the environment. It was not scientific certainty that drove efforts to mitigate climate change, but the same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. In claiming that denialists were generating doubt where there was certainty, Oreskes – a professor of the history of science – re-writes scientific history. More interesting still, Oreskes seems to agree with the “deniers” that scientific certainty – rather than doubt – should drive action.

[...]What matters to Oreskes is not the substance of scientific understanding, but an isolated, binary fact that “climate change is happening”. From here, “climate change” can mean anything. Once it has been established as a “fact”, it doesn’t matter what science says, because the doubt incubates the imagination better than certainty, and prohibits scientific expertise from undermining the power of the nightmare.

The Precautionary Principle operates just as the ‘consensus without an object’. It is not the facts of the matter that count. To define the problem of climate change means turning climate change into a merely technical problem, rather than a problem in which the parameters can be constantly shifted, for political ends. Oreskes epitomises the phenomenon of mobile goalposts by claiming that the movement which had for so long been grounded in the precautionary principle had instead been formulated on the basis of certainty. Perhaps more fatal for Oreskes is that any debate that seems to proceed from a scientific claim is going to take the form that she describes, of a proposition and doubts about its soundness.

Coincidentally, Lewandowsky and Cook have been channelling Oreskes 2008 work this week, at The Conversation:

So why are tobacco control measures now in place in many countries around the world? Why has the rate of smoking in California declined from 44% to less than 10% over the last few decades? Why can we now debate the policy options for a further reduction in public harm, such as plain packaging or tax increases?

It is because the public demanded action. This happened once the public realised that there was a scientific consensus that tobacco was harmful to health. The public wants action when they perceive that there is a widespread scientific agreement.

The argument defeats itself, of course. The public neither demanded action to stop smoking, and it didn’t demand action on the basis of ‘widespread scientific agreement’. If the public really hated smoking so much, it wouldn’t need the intervention. There is widespread scientific agreement that hitting yours head with a hammer is a bad idea. But curiously, there is no law banning people from hitting themselves with hammers. It is understood, widely, that people’s own sense of self prevents them from hitting themselves with hammers, and that where this faculty fails, there are bigger problems at play. There also existed, for a long time, that even in spite of the known risks caused by smoking, that it was a pleasurable thing for the smoker, and that he or she was capable of taking his own risks. If there was a shift in public mood, it had much less to do with ‘science’ than it had to do with the fact that smoking can be an nuisance to others, and possibly a fire risk in certain environments, and a health risk to people with certain conditions. Lewandowsky and Cook, like Oreskes, re-write history to make a political argument in the present…

A scientific consensus is necessary to understand and address problems that have a scientific origin and require a scientific solution. The public’s perception of that scientific consensus is necessary to stimulate political debate about solutions. When the public comes to understand the overwhelming agreement among climate scientists on human-caused global warming, acceptance of the science and support for climate action increase.


In a recent article, Mike Hulme argued that the debate “needs to become more political, and less scientific”. We agree, because the scientific debate has moved on from the fundamentals – there is no scientific debate about the fact that the globe is warming from human greenhouse gas emissions. So we need to hammer out political solutions rather than “debating” well-established scientific facts.

Hulme also suggested that, in reference to a paper by John Cook, “merely enumerating the strength of consensus around the fact that humans cause climate change is largely irrelevant to the more important business of deciding what to do about it.”


When Hulme queries the value of consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature, he has it backwards in two important ways.

Closing the consensus gap is an important step towards the public debate about climate policy which he rightly calls for. The problem is the attack on climate science and the overwhelming consensus, not the research supporting it.

Straight from the horses mouth… the ‘consensus’ has political, rather than practical utility: The public’s perception of that scientific consensus is necessary to stimulate political debate about solutions.

Lewandowsky and Cook were responding to Mike Hulme’s essay on the same website, ‘Science can’t settle what should be done about climate change’. Hulme was clear about his view of Cook’s attempt to measure the extent of the consensus,

A paper by John Cook and colleagues published in May 2013 claimed that of the 4,000 peer-reviewed papers they surveyed expressing a position on anthropogenic global warming, “97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming”. But merely enumerating the strength of consensus around the fact that humans cause climate change is largely irrelevant to the more important business of deciding what to do about it. By putting climate science in the dock, politicians are missing the point.


In the end, the only question that matters is, what are we going to do about it? Scientific consensus is not much help here. Even if one takes the Cook study at face value, then how does a scientific consensus of 97.1% about a fact make policy-making any easier?

Lewandowsky and Cook believe that it will make it easier because the more people who ‘believe in climate change’, the more there is apparent pressure on government to act on it. But this is naive.

First, at least as far as the UK public is concerned, policy action has proceeded not just in spite of the public’s indifference to the climate issue, but perhaps because of its general indifference to politics. Climate change has risen up the political agenda as politics has become professionalised, and managerial in character, leaving the public with less democratic choice, and public debate deprived with contested values. The political crisis that this disinterest might cause has been largely offset by borrowing the cultural authority of science — science as a weapon. The idea of managing public affairs according to the ‘best available evidence’ always sounds good. Like ‘motherhood and apple pie’. But politics isn’t about responding to the ‘evidence’. It is about contested values about how society should be organised. A dearth of ideas to contest leaves a bloated public sector in dire straits, and so scientists are recruited to give just one message: do as they say or your children will die. Arguments for ‘action on climate change’ are invariably arguments for the accretion of power away from the demos. Lewandowsky and Cook do not argue for the ‘consensus gap’ to be closed in order that the public demand their politicians take notice; they make the argument for the consensus in order to deprive the public of democracy, whether or not Lewandowsky are aware of it.

Second, Lewandowsky and Cook miss the point that there is a difference between knowing there’s a consensus and knowing what the consensus consists of. I say they miss the point. But they do know that explaining what the consensus is, and what sceptics’ arguments are, would be to give a hostage to fortune. The political argument is invested too heavily in the science, the object of which — the natural world — has a habit of confounding expectations. Especially environmentalists’ expectations, who, throughout the second half of the 20th century, prophesied civilisation’s immanent collapse in a new way every five or ten years… Silent springs, overpopulation, resource depletion, ozone depletion, acid rain… climate change. There is still political utility in these scare stories, but there is less inclination to express a view about when they will become reality. To admit to shades of grey would be to limit the political utility.

So, sceptics, in the arguments from the likes of Lewandowsky and Cook in the debate about the consensus without an object take the form of objectless consensuses. Climate sceptics are, in the arguments of Lewandowsky and Cook, like ghosts: they are the subject of lots of stories, but they do not exist. They do not have names. They do not have ideas or arguments. They are intended only to haunt the imaginations of climate activists… To fill them with horror, rather than to face reality. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

Walport, Spiked

Posted by Ben Pile on January 31, 2014
Jan 312014

I have a short piece over at Spiked Online on UK Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport’s injunction that climate sceptics should ‘grow up’.

According to an article in The Times (London) earlier this week, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, is about to start a lecture tour, which ‘will put climate change back on the political agenda’. With the global effort to reduce CO2 emissions in tatters, with the EU doing a volte-face on its own green energy targets, with the UK examining its own commitment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to green legislation, and with scientists scratching their heads about the absence of warming over the past 17 years, Walport’s words seem incautious, possibly foolish.

Read it there.

The Sleeping Dragon… Sleeps

Posted by Ben Pile on January 23, 2014
Jan 232014

“The sleeping dragon has awoken”, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

23 January 2014

Last year was a record year for PV installation worldwide, with a rush of activity in China on the back of a national feed-in tariff one of the main drivers

Beijing and Zurich, 23 January 2014 – China’s solar developers installed a record 12GW of photovoltaic projects in 2013, and a booming market at the very end of the year may even have pushed installations up to 14GW. No country has ever added more than 8GW of solar power in a single year prior to 2013, and China’s record outstripped even the most optimistic forecasts of 12 months ago.

But then, China is no ordinary country. It’s massive — home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population. And the capacity of solar PV is dismal. 10%, on average. And of course, the ‘boom’ in China’s PV sector is driven by subsidy:

A CNY 1 (16 US cents) per kWh feed-in tariff for large PV projects connecting to the transmission grid ended on 1 January, creating the year-end rush. China’s National Energy Administration announced earlier this month that there were 12GW of 2013 installations, but this preliminary estimate may be exceeded.

According to this infographic, the price of electricity in China is 8 US cents per kwH. So electricity from solar PV in China costs three times as much as electricity produced conventionally. But how much is it really, anyway?

12 Gigawatts of capacity is a lot.

It is 12,000 megawatts…

or 12,000,000 kilowatts…

or 12,000,000,000 watts

But solar PV cells are only about 10% efficient. So that’s

1,200,000,000 watts.

And there are 1.351 billion people in China. So that’s a whopping…

0.89 watts of net capacity per person. And yet…

“The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.”

The focus on “the scale of the Chinese Market” forgets the scale of China. The Dragon doesn’t even have enough power to sit on standby mode, much less wake itself.

China, however, is, by contrast powering itself. But much debate exists about how.

Founder & CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance — which is part news agency, part green energy lobbying organisation, and part environmental NGO — tweeted a challenge to Bjorn Lomborg, who has criticised claims that China is leading the clean energy ‘revolution’.

Michael Liebreich ‏@MLiebreich 2h
@Sustainable2050 And it’s only 16c/kWh. I want to see @BjornLomborg claim the Chinese should burn more coal and eat more smog instead of PV.

Lord Deben — or John Gummer, as he is affectionately known by his critics — joined in the tweeting…

John Deben ‏@lorddeben 1h
@MLiebreich @KeithAllott @Sustainable2050 @BjornLomborg Happily they wouldn’t listen as the Chinese are following the science!

The Chinese are following the science… Says Gummer. Never mind sleeping dragons, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

However, a more sober news agency — Reuters — reported recently that,

China approves massive new coal capacity despite pollution fears

BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) – China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage – flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.

The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing’s aim to put 860 million tonnes of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015, more than the entire annual output of India.


Chinese coal production of 3.66 billion tonnes at the end of 2012 already accounts for nearly half the global total, according to official data. The figure dwarves production rates of just over 1 billion tonnes each in Europe and the United States.

A tonne of coal can produce about 2000 kilowatt hours of electricity. 3.66 billion tonnes can produce 7,320,000,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity — or seven hundred times as much as China’s solar PV output. In other words and numbers, the 12GW of solar PV capacity added to China’s grid in 2013 was equivalent to 5.2 million tonnes of coal — around a twentieth of the coal producing capacity it added in the same year.

China’s coal use is projected to increase to nearly 5 billion tonnes by 2020.

The ‘sleeping dragon’ is not going to even open its eyes until the cost of solar PV has been reduced by at least a third, and that’s not even taken into account the costs of intermittent nature of solar power.

As I’ve argued previously on these pages, what environmentalists in general, and green energy evangelists in particular have missing is a sense of proportion.

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