Monthly Archives: April 2007
Spinal Tap are to reform and join Al Gore’s line up of bands playing at the Live Earth “Concert for a Climate in Crisis”. You can watch the promo video here. It’s actually quite funny. But that’s because the jokes are not written by Sheryl Crow, and there’s not much about global warming in it. Perhaps the irony of a bunch of clueless rock stars lecturing us about climate change is lost on Gore.
“They’re not that environmentally conscious, but they’ve heard of global warming,” said Reiner, whose other films include “When Harry Met Sally” and “Stand By Me.” “Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing — that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler.”
No less ironically, Media Matters for America want you to believe that “The media dialogue on global warming is infected with conservative misinformation”. Well, we agree, but feel that their plan to “…embark[ed] on a campaign to educate and inform members of the media and the American people with the facts” isn’t as likely to stop the rot as much as add to it.
Among the common conservative myths and falsehoods advanced in the media about global warming are unsubstantiated claims that human activity is not a substantial cause of global warming; Antarctic ice is increasing, not decreasing; former Vice President Al Gore is exaggerating; and carbon dioxide is not bad for the environment.
The truth of the matter is that you do not have to be a conservative to recognise that Al Gore is exaggerating. This characterisation of the debate is as misleading – and the campaign is likely to be as conservative – as any “conservative lies” you can find. We non-conservatives at Climate-Resistance confidently predict that the new, and aptly titled Misinformation Action Center will live up to their name, and continue to actively misinform.
When environmentalists aren’t aping the war on terror (‘you’re either with us or against us‘, not to mention sexing up documents to generate an unwarranted sense of urgency) they can sometimes sound uncannily like the lunatic extremists that the war on terror is supposed to be against.
Last night Tony Juniper, executive director of the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, said far more fundamental lifestyle changes were needed than had been considered by the UN group. ‘Simply replacing one set of technologies with another set of technologies won’t work, especially when there are such big downsides with some of them,’ he said. Nuclear reactors are dangerous and land clearance and chemical pesticides and fertilisers used to grow fuel crops can cause huge environmental damage, he added. ‘Structural change to the economy, behaviour change and culture change – those have to be elements in a world of decarbonisation,’ said Juniper.
What is striking about Juniper’s reaction is that he seems happy to welcome the IPCC’s ‘scientific consensus’ when it suits him, but when the IPCC starts developing technological solutions to the problem of climate change, it doesn’t suit him. For Juniper, technology is the cause of the world’s problems. In which case, how could he possibly see it as a solution to them? He doesn’t want technological fixes. After all, they only encourage the root causes of the problem – our decadence. The problem, according to Juniper, is not technical, it is ethical, so it is a point of principle that only ‘fundamental lifestyle changes’ are good enough. In fact, environmentalists are prone to argue this line to the extent that one can be left wondering whether changing the economy, behaviour and culture is a higher priority than actually ‘saving the planet’.
Compare Juniper’s view of the industrial world to that of Theodore Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber)…
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation… But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a POLITICAL revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society
There are, of course, still important differences between Juniper and Kaczynski. First, Friends of the Earth aren’t trying to bomb us into submission. Also, in stark contrast to Kaczynski, Juniper calls for the government to implement the regulation of lifestyle, economics and culture that he demands. In this respect, Juniper is apparently advocating a return not only to a pre-technological society, but to political medievalism. Juniper is apparently more Taliban than Unabomber.
Just as the Taliban arrested people in possession of music, televisions and radios for their corrupting influence on society’s relationship with God, Juniper imagines engineered solutions to climate change to be corrupting our relationship with nature. This isn’t a view of humanity that can be sustained by science. Indeed, it is inherently anti-science, which is why Juniper has to drop the ‘science’ as soon as starts to challenge his ‘ethical’ perspective. In his vision, the state monitors our behaviour, regulates consumption and oversees material sacrifice.
Given that the environmentalists oscillate so easily between the rhetoric of the White House and cave-dwelling Luddites, perhaps they should go off and have a war with themselves and leave the rest of us to work out how best to proceed toward an uncertain future.
Norm has spotted a sign next to a bell in a public lavatory in Florence…
Sonare solo in caso di necessità.
Kindly, the proprietors provide an English translation that would seem entirely appropriate for the modern risk averse tourist wanting to prepare for the possibility of lavatorial crises that haven’t actually happened yet…
Please ring just in case of emergency.
Martin Durkin’s Great Global Warming Swindle is in the news again following an open letter to Wag TV signed by 37 scientists. The Letter, organised by Bob Ward – former Senior Manager for Policy Communication at the Royal Society, complains about the DVD release of the film.
We believe that the misrepresentation of facts and views, both of which occur in your programme, are so serious that repeat broadcasts of the programme, without amendment, are not in the public interest … In fact, so serious and fundamental are the misrepresentations that the distribution of the DVD of the programme without their removal amounts to nothing more than an exercise in misleading the public.
This isn’t censorship, Ward argues in the Guardian. ‘Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements’, which raises the question about what free speech actually is if it is not freedom, amongst other things, to…er…speak – even if it’s not the truth. But if Ward is really against ‘misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements’, he might set his sights closer to home, on his former boss and co-signature Robert May, for example, who doesn’t appear to be against making factually inaccurate statements either. Ward, May, and others in and around the Royal society are conspicuously silent about mistakes/overstatements/distortions/lies (you decide) made by NGOs, politicians, and indeed their fellow scientists when it doesn’t contradict what seems to be emerging as their own clearly political agenda.
For example, the Guardian reports that,
Myles Allen, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford who signed the letter, said the programme “took a very cavalier attitude to science. There are important issues around climate change that the public should be discussing, but all this programme did was rehash debates that were had and finished in the scientific community 15 years ago.”
Allen doesn’t tell us which debates he thinks have been ‘had and finished’. But, if the debate is indeed now over, then why would scientists and IPCC contributors still be challenging the scientific consensus and the politics which flows from it? Allen means, of course, that he likes to think that the debate is over but this is simply wishful thinking. The implication is that Allen et al get to decide when the debate is over, not anyone else. This is neither good science, nor good politics. Debate exists where there is a challenge to an idea, not when a select committee decides that it has had enough.
It might be that these scientists and the Royal Society simply don’t recognise their own political agenda. This seems likely given the apparent inability of these scientists-turned-pundits to see the irony of their own words. Take, for example, Allen’s comments in the Guardian:
“What Martin Durkin and Channel 4 don’t understand is the way science works. Science is about the arguments, not the people who make them.”
Allen makes an argument about ‘Martin Durkin and Channel 4′ as though it was not an argument based on their credibility. Similarly, Robert May suggests that ‘an active and well-funded “denial lobby”‘ prevents the truth being heard, and that it ‘shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer’. This does not tally with Allen’s view that science is about the arguments, not the arguers, and neither do the Royal Society’s statements about the debate. For example, in setting out its views on the climate change controversies on its website, the Royal Society tells us that
This is not intended to provide exhaustive answers to every contentious argument that has been put forward by those who seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming.
It goes on to explain that
There are some individuals and organisations, some of which are funded by the US oil industry, that seek to undermine the science of climate change and the work of the IPCC. They appear motivated in their arguments by opposition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, which seek urgent action to tackle climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions… Often all these individuals and organisations have in common is their opposition to the growing consensus of the scientific community that urgent action is required through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But the opponents are well-organised and well-funded…
The RS does not appear to be doing ‘science’ here at all. It would rather we take its word for it that any challenge to the consensus has no scientific basis, but is politically motivated. This is itself a political argument, not a scientific one. The RS would have us believe that no criticism can be legitimate; the crisis is too urgent. As Martin Rees, the current president of the Royal Society puts it:
Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game. They run the risk of diverting attention from what we can do to ensure the world’s population has the best possible future.
And what kind of ‘best possible future’ does Rees imagine? Well, according to his book, not a very good one. Indeed, Rees can only imagine a future which gives the human race a 50/50 chance of surviving beyond 2100. Political conspiracies… Bond-esque villains plotting the end of civilisation… looming apocalypses… Killer robots… Were Rees not president of the RS, we might expect him to go around in a tin-foil hat.
Perhaps the reason that Rees and his fellow scientists need to make these bleak statements about the future is because of an inability to imagine a role for science without the raison d’etre that crisis provides. This would suggest a limited view of the value of science to society – one reduced to saving the world from a range of nightmares rather than making it a better place. This fantasy gives legitimacy, authority and purpose. It is, therefore, in their interests to defend superficially plausible theories about the end of the world. Indeed this group of scientists (many of them – Rees and May, for example – not climate scientists) have constructed arguments which fall apart when the idea that ‘the debate is over’ is challenged (even if there remains the likelihood that CO2 emissions are influencing the climate) precisely because their argument is about the politics not the science. If the debate is not over, and consequently, there is no crisis then there is no purpose for any of the organisations whose role it is to provide consensus. It is because of this that they need to insist that the debate is over, rather than to encourage it. They ought to be shedding light on the matter, and making sense of the science, not defending a course of action out of the necessity of justifying themselves. This is politics.
May, Rees and the Royal Society in general make much of the vested interests of the so-called ‘sceptics’ and ‘deniers’, but these are accusations that can be thrown straight back at them. The matter has become so politicised that there are now reputations, jobs, livelihoods, grants, interests, and political positions at stake here. Indeed, the Royal Society is responsible for the distribution of £40 million of public and private funds to scientists. How likely it is that any of those funds get allocated to research that sets out to challenge the IPCC consensus? And given the ferocious statements made by leading RS scientists, how many scientists who might be in a position to develop theories that could challenge ‘the consensus’ might be put off approaching the RS for funding?
But why would Bob Ward, who no longer holds a position at the RS, and who is not a climate scientist, have anything to say about who is right or wrong on matters of climate science? Ward left his job at the RS to take a job as Director of Global Science Networks at risk analysis firm RMS, which serves ‘more than 400 insurers, reinsurers, trading companies, and other financial institutions‘ so that they ‘achieve financial stability while optimizing profitability and growth‘.
Might it be that just as political capital is generated by the urgency of climate change arguments, there are financial interests also? RMS sell their services to their clients who, if persuaded that the confidence intervals given by the IPCC are not quite what they seem, might not be prepared to fork out for insurance premiums. As the RMS website tells us:
Over the last decade catastrophe modeling technology has become a vital tool for quantifying, managing, and transferring risk in the insurance industry … Any company with financial assets exposed to catastrophes can benefit from catastrophe modeling. Insurers, reinsurers, brokers, financial markets, and corporations have all recognized the need to synthesize available scientific research with quantitative techniques to evaluate the probability of financial loss…. Today, RMS provides catastrophe modeling solutions to more companies than any other organization… RMS models are the standard for quantifying catastrophe risk in countries all over the world. RMS offers catastrophe models in over 40 countries, allowing underwriters to confidently price risk and analyze the probability of loss in regions with the highest exposure.
Just as politicians turn fear of risk into political capital, so too can fear of risk be turned into hard cash – fear of risk is to RMS what oil is to Exxon. Yet if somebody holding a senior position at Exxon were to make similar public statements about taking liberties with scientific fact, they would face a storm of protest. Indeed, Bob Ward might be inclined to write them an open letter…
That said, we have no intention of reducing scientific climate debates to squabbles about who funds whom or who has what competing interests. Neither do we wish to defend any mistakes or ‘deliberate distortions’ made by Durkin in his film. But Ward and his colleagues have blundered into the affair in the manner of people aggrieved that their authority has been challenged rather than as scientists with the best available information to hand. They would rather silence dissenters than address their arguments. And the only casualties from that are the reputations of science and scientists.
Three excellent pieces from Spiked about the green movement…
First, Rob Lyons’ ‘The IPCC goes looking for bad news‘ is based on an interview with Aynsley Kellow, a contributor to recent IPCC reports.
‘even though Kellow has expressed public disagreement with the summary for policymakers, and the chapters that it flows from, he will still be listed as having taken part in the process – with the implication that he agrees with the final reports and is one of those thousands of experts who have apparently shown beyond all doubt that climate change will wreak havoc on the world.’
This highlights a major problem with the IPCC. It is regarded as a body that generates an unchallengeable consensus, which allows governments and activists to defer to its political and scientific arguments and to go unchallenged on matters of substance. What we lose is any sort of healthy debate. Rather than discussions about matters of political reality or scientific fact, all we get are (barely distinguishable) alternative interpretations of the scientific consensus on climate change. (Why don’t they just go the whole hog, and let the IPCC make all the policy?)
Second, Tessa Mayes explores what’s behind the recent Vanity Fair special on environmentalism featuring some celebs ‘doing their bit’, ie, assuming themselves to be in a position to lecture us on climate science and politics. Mayes echoes some points made by Lyons about the Eurocentricity of environmentalism, and asks an important question about the green movement…
‘But who does it help when big business is presented as the destroyer of nature and local Amazonians are depicted as the guardians of nature? Is that what Vanity Fair and other green campaigners really want for certain communities in Latin America? That they should live forever in harmony with nature, and their societies remain underdeveloped, natural, organic, hard work, at risk from the elements…?’
No doubt many greens would say ‘no’. But there don’t seem to be any green ideas in circulation that have distanced themselves successfully from Mayes’ characterisation. This is developed in Austin Williams’ account of how recent comments by Tony Juniper seem to acknowledge the conservative, backward-looking nature of environmentalism. Juniper’s attempts to reinvent it, however, suggest that the green movement is suffering from some form of identity crisis.
‘it is interesting that many environmentalists complain that they are constantly let down by how little practical attention we’re paying them.’
Willliams argues that these complaints are laughable, given the degree to which the political mainstream patently has absorbed environmentalism. He concludes that, in spite of all this angst and self-reflection by the green movement, its core values remain inescapably anti-human.
Did we say three excellent articles? Here’s a fourth.
Apparently, ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Who’d have thunk it? We really don’t need the IPCC WGII report to tell us that – things are always worse for the poor. And yet the report seems to have taken many by surprise.
If poverty and wealth are the factors which determine our immunity to the effects of climate change, then it seems obvious that the solution, rather than changing the climate, is to change people’s circumstances.
But environmentalists and NGOs favour ‘sustainability’ and empty, feel-good gestures such as Fair Trade over development. And political parties of all persuasions are locked in an arms race of climate-mitigation policy-making. The result is that changing the circumstances of the poor is not a serious option.
Anyway, there is good reason to believe that, despite what they say, environmentalists have little real interest in the plight of the world’s poor. According to Mark Lynas, a high-profile UK environmentalist, and one of National Geographic’s celebrated ‘New Explorers‘, ‘The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere‘.
Of those that maintain that that alleviating poverty remains a primary concern, ‘climate instability’ serves as a convenient peg on which to hang other neuroses. So, the idea that climate change will be worse for the poor is now being used, by the UK government and others, to exploit our fears of political instability and threats to the security of the West. (In this respect, the vulnerability of the world’s poor is being used as a reason to be suspicious of them rather than as a call to improve their lot.)
All such attempts to use the poor to lend moral weight to climate mitigation policies are bankrupt. Poverty necessarily involves a close, dependent relationship with Mother Nature and a vulnerability to her every whim – one’s ability to shape one’s own future is diminished by the necessity of merely surviving in the present. In contrast, development buffers people against the elements. And yet that security is precisely what the environmental movement, in pushing mitigation over adaptation, seems intent on denying people. Justifying the push for mitigation using the story of the poor’s battle with the elements won’t help them, but it might well prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares[sic] of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don’t want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.
That’s easy for her to say, she’s never eaten anything. Meanwhile, back in the real world, we at Climate Resistance are hoping that this is some form of joke from the Davids. Laurie (Larry’s wife) shared a platform with Crow at a tour of eleven US university campuses to promote a Tides Foundation campaign called, simply enough, ‘Stop Global Warming‘.
Crow should stick to writing songs. We no more need celebrities to tell us about global warming than we need them to tell us how to wipe our bottoms.
Over at Prometheus, Roger Pielke Jr makes a good point about how the actual views of IPCC reviewers often don’t make it into the papers.
Nullius in Verba, the motto of the UK’s Royal Society, usually gets translated as ‘on the word of no one’. That’s a pretty good motto for a scientific body, the message being that knowledge about the material universe should be based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than authority.
However, in the TLS, Robert May, erstwhile President of the Royal Society (and ex-Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government), offers a different translation. Nullius in Verba ‘roughly translates’, he says, as ‘respect the facts’. Indeed, ‘Respect the facts’ is the title of May’s cover-story review of seven recent publications on climate change (although it is called ‘The world’s problem’ in the online version). This also seems to be the translation preferred these days by the Royal Society itself.
But why is ‘respect the facts’ better than ‘on the word of no one’?
We at Climate Resistance have no problem agreeing that evolution by natural selection or gravity are scientific facts. Hey, we’d even accept that it is a fact that atmospheric CO2 is a driver of the greenhouse effect.
But, there are facts, and there are ‘facts’. And many of May’s facts, are, in fact, ‘facts’.
For example: ‘CO2 is, of course, the principal “greenhouse gas” in the atmosphere’. That is wrong whichever way you look at it. It is in fact water vapour that contributes most to the greenhouse effect. And other gases – methane, for example – are more potent, measure for measure.
May quotes the Stern Review Report to demonstrate how climate change will lead to species extinctions (which is itself a rather blatant appeal to authority, given that Stern’s is an economic analysis rather than a scientific one):
Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15–40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2°C of warming.
Is that a fact, too? It’s hard to say, because we cannot find that particular section in Stern. The closest match we can find is this:
‘Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with one study estimating that around 15 – 40% of species face extinction with 2°C of warming’ (part II, ch.3, p.56)
On the word of no one? Absolutely. Respect the facts? Of course. Respect the evidence? Yep, that too. But May is asking us to respect evidence dressed up as fact, when any scientist worth their salt should be encouraging us to challenge the evidence, and any GCSE science student would be able to.
So why the new translation? Why drop ‘on the word of no one’? Perhaps it is another example of a political body hiding healthy debate behind scientific certainties that do not exist. Or maybe the Royal Society, like any political body, would rather we trust the word of nobody but itself? May makes some noises about oil companies ‘misinforming the public about the science of climate change’. But May would appear to be doing a pretty good job of that himself. We’re not going to take his word for it.
Yesterday, the UK’s third political party – The Liberal Democrats – launched their Climate Change Starts at Home campaign.
Menzies Campbell unveiled bold proposals that demonstrated how upgrading Britain’s homes could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tonnes, save energy, and lead to significant cuts in energy bills.
Last week BBC2’s Newsnight featured a review of a journalist’s gruelling year-long attempt at ‘ethical living’ which reduced his family’s ‘carbon footprint’ by two tonnes. But as Bjorn Lomborg pointed out on the program, if that reduction were to be acheived by families nationwide, the saving would postpone the effect of global warming by a mere seven hours by the year 2100.
‘Millions of tonnes’ sounds big, and makes good copy, but it doesn’t change the planet at all. This leaves Menzies with only the claim that insulation, paid for with ‘Energy Mortgages’ secured on homes, would shave hundreds of pounds a year off consumers’ energy bills. But with an added risk of losing that home on top of having to pay back the loan, it seems unlikely that this scheme will make much of a difference to anyone for whom £300 a year makes a difference.
Away from home, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is due to take the issue of climate change to the security council on the basis that ‘the cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict.’[DEAD LINK]
Perhaps this is a case of Blair attempting to secure his legacy by getting the world to move on climate change. Indeed, it’s not like him to be against things that ‘exacerbate the drivers of conflict’. Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to offset all that carbon used in the Gulf war…