Monthly Archives: July 2007
Good news for armchair activists… You can change the world from the comfort of your own webcam. Environmentalism’s real-world rallies have proved unpopular in the past, resulting in a chaotic alliance of anti-capitalist anarchists, NIMBYs , hippies, and ossified socialists – more often than not resembling an embarrassing unwashed and shoddy circus than a planet-wide movement of change. Now concerned citizens can express their deepest anxieties about the future and their general sense of dissatisfaction about the world, online…
What better way of channeling the collective apathy of the environmental ‘movement’ than getting the citizens of the web to author their own video messages to Gordon Brown? The Big Ask Web March – is a virtual rally organised by Friends of the Earth, comprising clips of people asking MPs for ‘strong climate law’.
Heading the line up of self-important celebrities desperate to prove themselves more than pop stars are whiny toff, James ‘yor bew-tee-fuh-ul’ Blunt, and whinger’s whinger, Thom ‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo’ Yorke, who threatens to ‘come down’ on Gordon Brown ‘like a ton of bricks’. (What’s he going to do? Sing him a depressing song?)
Mark ‘there’s only one way of life and that’s your own’ Chadwick – of the agit-pop-folk outfit The Levellers tells us from his position of authority on the subject of climate science… as a pop star… that people have to make ‘very harsh personal decisions about how they’re going to live their life from now on’, and then calls for legislation, otherwise ‘it will be too late’. It’s a funny kind of ‘personal decision’ that cannot be made without legislation. And a funny kind of Leveller who calls for legislation to force recalcitrants to make the right personal decisions.
Ben McLelland from Band From County Hell (who we’ve never heard of) lacks the lyrical spontaneity (and balls) of his Rock Star colleagues, lets his mummy tell us that with ‘knocking on the right doors and asking the right questions a difference can start to happen’. Whatever that difference is, we’re not sure – she doesn’t say.
No less vague about what it is they are being asked to say, let alone which doors they are knocking on, or questions they are asking are two members of Magic Skool Bus. Speaking from the Wychwood Festival of Clichés, Rory and Lee, tell us that ‘human beings have to be worried about the climate change’, and that FOE’s campaign is ‘telling us that we have a voice’ and that ‘we should use it to spread the word’ to ‘change government legislation’ because ‘there’s a lot more than can be done’.
We at Climate Resistance have no time for celebrities lecturing us about climate change. None of the celebrities speaking on behalf of the campaign appear to have a clue what it is even about. It is the most shameful indictment of Friends of the Earth that they have to recruit pop-stars to endorse their project because it lacks the content to generate its own momentum. The constituency of this campaign are not politically-engaged individuals, but inebriated festival goers and adoring fans – the two least critically-minded groups we can think of.
And what kind of demonstration calls for more law – especially law which regulates lifestyle and consumption? Could we imagine the serfs of 18th century France, demanding ‘less cake’? Polite requests for less freedom and lower living standards hardly sound like the stuff of mass movements, yet this is what FOE imagine 200,000 video clips will make them. As previous slogans have told us, ‘la révolution est dans la rue’, and ‘The revolution will not be televised’. By televising itself, away from the streets, The Big Ask reveals a protest movement which is neither: it is vague about what it asks for – rather than clearly demands. It is not an expression of collective will, but a database of whinges from individuals whose efforts to change the world only seem to extend as far as pressing ‘record’ and ‘send’… Just as it thinks turning the TV off, rather than leaving it on standby, is a world-changing action.
Here’s a thought… Has online protest contributed to the “obesity epidemic”? As everybody knows, fat people cause climate change.
The Guardian reports that the National Trust – a conservation charity that owns 1.5% of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – is to jump on the bandwagon reinvent itself by turning its membership into “the largest green movement in the world”.
Founded in 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley to protect the nation’s character against the transforming effects of industrialisation, the trust’s new aim seems to be to lock the entire UK – not just the odd stately home – into the preindustrial age it celebrates.
In the past we have been cautious about expressing our voice loudly. Now we recognise that we have to engage in public debate on a very wide scale. If our knowledge tells us, say, that expanding airports leads to problems, then it is right we should say so,” said Peter Nixon, the trust’s director of conservation. “If you have 3.5m members you can go to government with a different kind of authority.”
Does the membership of 3.5 million picnickers and elderly stately home enthusiasts make the NT a political force, let alone legitimise the grandstanding atop bandwagons of its senior members? Its membership have not subscribed to a political ideology, yet the NT seems to imagine that it has a mandate ‘to drive conservation and quality of life agendas, and in particular to combat climate change’.
From now on, said director-general Fiona Reynolds, the trust will advise people how to adapt their lifestyles to climate change and challenge government to be more ecologically aware. “If we think that public policy is not right, then we will say so.”
What the Trust perhaps hasn’t considered is that its membership is not quite as convinced that climate change is the problem that Reynolds et al believe it to be. Whatever. The National Trust is no more a legitimate political force than The Dennis the Menace fan club.
According to news reports:
British scientists say a soon-to-be-released study supports the idea that global warming caused by humans is responsible for this summer’s heavy rains.
Let’s face it, it would be nice to be able to blame somebody for this rubbish summer, with everything from music festivals to electricity being cancelled due to broken river banks. But no self-respecting scientist would be saying anything like this quite so soon after recent events. In fact, the self-respecting scientists behind the Nature paper on which these reports are based make no such claims. From the abstract:
…Here we compare observed changes in land precipitation during the twentieth century averaged over latitudinal bands with changes simulated by fourteen climate models. We show that anthropogenic forcing has had a detectable influence on observed changes in average precipitation within latitudinal bands, and that these changes cannot be explained by internal climate variability or natural forcing. We estimate that anthropogenic forcing contributed significantly to observed increases in precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, drying in the Northern Hemisphere subtropics and tropics, and moistening in the Southern Hemisphere subtropics and deep tropics. The observed changes, which are larger than estimated from model simulations, may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel.
Spot the difference anyone?
Would this summer have been any better had humans never got round to experimenting with combustion? It’s impossible to say. What is easier to say is that life (summers included) in a cave is less fun than life on a housing development that sits on a flood plain. Yet the search for blame continues. Under the headline “A 21st Century Catastrophe“, the Independent writes that
Flood-ravaged Britain is suffering from a wholly new type of civil emergency, it is clear today: a disaster caused by 21st-century weather. This weather is different from anything that has gone before.
What has gone before – and is different – is a significant number of articles in the Independent telling us to expect hotter, drier summers, apparently contradicting the current message. So why are they suddenly confident in this attribution of blame? It’s far too early to start making statements about what is to blame for July’s weather – let alone climate. Yet journalists will attribute any phenomenon to anthropogenic global warming if it’s an opportunity to etch the political messages of environmentalism into our minds, even if it flatly contradicts what they told us yesterday.
Contrary to what Michael McCarthy writes in the Independent, John Kettley (is a weather man, a weather man, a weather man) tells us in ‘Global warming? No, just an old-style British summer‘ that
This year’s apparently extraordinary weather is no more sinister than a typical British summer of old and a reminder of why Mediterranean holidays first became so attractive to us more than 40 years ago… In my view, none of the severe weather we have experienced is proof of ‘climate change.’ It is just a poor summer – nothing more, nothing less – something that was the norm throughout most of the Sixties and has been repeated on several occasions more recently.
There is no doubt that July’s weather is a disaster for people living in areas which have flooded. But it is a disaster caused not by the weather, but by a failure to plan. Well before we start looking at what climate conditions were playing out, we ought to be looking at changes in land and river use, and why Britain’s civil infrastructure cannot cope with anything but mild summers and mild winters. Schools are shut, roads melt and trains are stopped by falling leaves, sunny spells and ‘the wrong type of snow’, and of course, we get floods every other year. Perhaps the nation’s planners are investing too much confidence in what they read in the pages of the Independent and the Guardian. Still, it’s nice weather for quacks.
We are surprised that the media has paid such little attention to Caroline Lucas’s statements likening climate change scepticism to holocaust denial. Her comments expose much of what is rotten about the environmental movement: its lack of proportion, its religiosity, its inability to cope with change and challenge, its misanthropy, its failure to capture the public’s imagination and the fantasy it constructs to explain that failure.
What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.
Lucas speaks as though a consensus on climate-change allows her to say whatever she likes about the future. Her 99.999% figure is, of course, entirely made up. If it were true, it would mean that 1 in 100,000 climate scientists were sceptical, and we can think of enough sceptics to put the number of climate scientists in the world well into the tens of millions. Lucas has absolutely no idea what proportion of climate scientists constitutes the consensus position because no poll of scientists has been taken.
IPCC reports are not a license for Caroline Lucas to say whatever she wants to say about science. They are hundreds and hundreds of pages long, and cannot be reduced to alarmist statements without losing all of their meaning.
Most scientists do believe that humans are influencing the climate. But ask them how much we are influencing it and you’ll get many different answers. And it certainly does not follow that they would agree with Lucas’s plans to mitigate change. Neither does it follow that they believe that climate change would be catastrophic. In fact, many leading climate scientists who represent the ‘consensus’ position can be found directly contradicting what Lucas says, in particular that ‘we’ve literally got between five and ten years…’
Professor Mike Hulme, for example – no climate sceptic by any stretch of the imagination – wrote last year in an article for the BBC website called Chaotic World of Climate Truth that ‘a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country – the phenomenon of “catastrophic” climate change’, and explicitly cautions against Lucas’s form of language.
It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the (catastrophe) sceptics. How the wheel turns.
Some recent examples of the catastrophists include Tony Blair, who a few weeks back warned in an open letter to EU head of states: “We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point.”
There is no way that Lucas cannot be aware of Hulme’s comments about alarmism. Yet she has to maintain her version of scientific certainty because if the public realises that there is a debate about how to respond to climate change, and a debate about how reliable forecasts are, her political manifesto simply has no currency.
The Green Party has invested all of its political capital in a nightmare from which there is only one escape: to vote for them. Anyone who questions these self-appointed saviours of the planet is as bad as a holocaust denier: a Nazi, essentially. And arguments don’t come much cheaper than that. Dr Lucas is engaged in a programme of terrifying people into voting for her, and making statements about the morality of people who disagree. This is the worst kind of politics.
Lucas understands that her election depends on there being a public who are terrified into voting for her:
[M]y intention is to try to wake people up a bit about the catastrophe which I genuinely believe we are sleep-walking towards. What I’m saying here is that the way in which the media always insists on having somebody to deny climate change at the same time as they have someone talking about how climate change is real. That is neutralising the debate, it’s stifling the potential to move forward on this politically in just the same way as it would be if you had somebody who was constantly denying the holocaust every time someone spoke about the Second World War. Now the media doesn’t do that, and quite right too, but my point is they shouldn’t be giving so much airtime to the climate deniers either because although it may seem a dramatic comparison to make, in reality if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.
Without fear, panic, and alarm about catastrophe – floods, epidemics, famines, and droughts – Lucas has no vision of the future to sell to the public. She is free to ‘genuinely believe’ whatever she likes, but what she is doing here is inventing a false scientific position in order to make her apocalyptic beliefs sound plausible. She is constructing a terrifying crisis which only she is capable of saving us from, but her valiant efforts to save mankind are thwarted by evil (fascist) sceptics, and the sheer stupidity of the gullible public, who believe what they say.
Where Lucas claims that scepticism is diminishing the potential for political progress and neutralising debate, what she is actually voicing is a tantrum that she is not winning. So she escalates the rhetoric. But Lucas’s claims about millions of deaths are not supported by scientific research.
What kills humans is not climate change, but inability to cope with climate. People survive and prosper in a vast range of climatic conditions, even where climate has also always been a problem for people, occasionally killing thousands of people in a stroke. But as society has developed, natural disasters have been mitigated by ingenuity. We have the means to cope with adverse conditions, and to adapt to new ones, opening up many new possibilities for better lives. Floods and drought and disease kill people in regions which are too poor to afford to adapt. Tsunamis and storms kill people because there is insufficient coastal development. Famines and drought kill people because conflict prevents settlement, development, and the transport of aid. There is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’ – these problems always have political or economic causes. For humans, Nature is a disaster… Drought, famine, and disease are all ‘natural’, after all.
But Lucas rejects the idea that society’s relationship to the climate is defined by human development in favour of a kind of environmental determinism. In the past, ideas about development and infrastructure were realised because it was understood that that it would be a moral good to organise society to defend itself against the elements, and better the circumstances of even the poorest people. Now, doctrines like Lucas’s offer the poor the bogus pro
se of not making things worse for them, rather than bettering their lot. The technology that allows society to develop and prosper is exactly what Lucas seeks to deprive the world of. The kind of lifestyle that Lucas would celebrate as ‘sustainable’ in fact increases people’s susceptibility to climate. It puts them in the path of hurricanes, in areas prone to flooding, drought, and famine, because the idea that people should live within natural limits necessarily means that people will suffer the fluctuations of climate.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that there’s any reality behind holocaust denial, on the contrary, I’m saying that holocaust deniers are as outrageous as climate change deniers; both of them are outrageous, so it was very much a point I was trying to make in order to say that you know, both are completely unacceptable.
Lucas does not seem to understand the difference between the historical fact of the deliberate and systematic murder of millions of people, and a quasi-scientific theory that changes in climate might turn into human tragedy. She can invent any figure she likes to claim as deaths which make equivalents of genocide and climate change, but they are not equivalents, because the holocaust was an act of barbarism executed by people against people; people who suffer from the effects of climate are not acted against.
We reviewed Josie Appleton’s critique of Mark Lynas’s book Six Degrees a while ago, in which Appleton describes the way environmentalism explains the relationships between people:
Carbon dioxide becomes the nexus between individuals, the thing that connects us to other people and to the future of the planet
It is within this degraded moral framework that Lucas’s calculations take place. Her unsophisticated chain of reasoning posits that because Nazis killed millions of people and some scientists have speculated that climate change could kill millions of people, scepticism of climate change theory is the equivalent of denying the holocaust. Lucas finds it outrageous that anyone might question her view of the world because challenging it undermines it. It is not a view which is expanded or improved by being challenged, but is exposed as vapid posturing.
All the more ironic that Lucas should have been given the title ‘Politician of the Year’ at the Observer Ethical Awards. (What better indication of morally uncertain times could there be than a pageant in which people contest to prove their stainless character?)
I’m not saying we should somehow stifle debate, but I think at the moment we’ve got into a rather absurd way in which every time almost you have someone talking about the latest scientific facts on climate change it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to have somebody from the other side to automatically deny it. And I’ve lost count of the number of debates I’ve done for example, where someone like BjornLomborg or Richard North are dragged out these two or three names of the people that continually deny that there’s any risk from climate change. And it just really does just stop the debate moving forward and stopping action happening more than anything. And it really does seem to me that we are on the edge of an abyss here, and you know, for anybody that’s really looked at some of the very measured language coming from the intergovernmental panel on climate change from NASA, and others, it’s measured language, but what they’re talking about here really is apocalyptic, so I really hope that I don’t cause offence with this, but what I do do is to wake up people a little bit and make them think that actually what we’re talking about here is something that is desperately serious.
Only a worldview as hollow as Lucas’s needs to defend itself by claiming that public debate is dangerous because the public are not sophisticated enough to make up their own minds about what they hear, and that exposure to counter arguments risks sending the human race to their doom. If Lucas really deserved the title of ‘politician of the year’ – that is to say, if she really had a positive and coherent political and ‘ethical’ perspective – she would welcome and encourage debate and criticism, not seek to reduce it in this way. She lacks the courage of her convictions, and hides the fact behind the horrors of the holocaust – a cowardly act which reduces any possibility of genuine debate to bogus claims about what percentage cut of CO2 emissions would put the most distance between a political party’s policies and fascism.
There is a real debate to be had. There’s a debate to be had about the science, there’s a debate to be had about the best way to approach the problem of climate change and how big that problem is, in the light of – but not as a consequence of – the best scientific information available. Most importantly, there is also a debate to be had about why it is that politics has sunk to the point where politicians have to use science fiction fantasy to convince us of their importance.
The reaction of scientists and environmentalists to The Great Global Warming Swindle has been far more interesting than the programme itself. The most recent tirade against it comes from Professor Mike Lockwood of the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Here he is talking to the The Register:
“That program was so bad it was almost fraudulent,” Lockwood says. “[The subjects raised] made for a decent scientific debate 15 years ago, but the questions have since been settled … The Great Global Warming Swindle raised old debates that are going to be latched on to and used to suggest that we don’t need to do anything about climate change. In that sense, it was a very destructive program”
Lockwood is the co-author, with Claus Fröhlich of the World Radiation Center in Switzerland, of a highly publicised paper published last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society series A, which finds a lack of correlation between recent solar activity and global temperatures. From the abstract:
Over the past 20 years, all the trends in the sun that could have had an influence on Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures
‘This should settle the debate’, Lockwood told the BBC. The debate in question is of course the one surrounding the influence of solar activity on recent global temperatures, as featured in The Great Global Warming Swindle. But why was this paper needed at all to settle a debate that, in Lockwood’s own words, has already been settled? It seems that the debate wasn’t quite so settled after all. Indeed, Lockwood told the BBC that his study was initiated partially in response to Swindle.
The Royal Society also seem to consider the paper to be of some special significance, because, although it’s published in a traditional, subscription-funded journal, they have taken the unusual step of making it available in full – and for free – online. And yet the Royal Society still use the opportunity to have a cheap pop at anybody who disagrees with them:
At present there is a small minority which is seeking to deliberately confuse the public on the causes of climate change. They are often misrepresenting the science, when the reality is that the evidence is getting stronger every day.
Presumably, that is not aimed at Martin Durkin, producer of The Great Global Warming Swindle, and the man falsely accused by Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, of being an HIV-AIDS denialist. Because, judging by what Lockwood says, and by the reaction of the Royal Society, Durkin has prompted a landmark study that settles a matter that they thought had been settled fifteen years ago. They should be thanking him.
***EDIT (7 April 2008) Something we missed at the time, and then forgot to post about, is that the press release put out by the Royal Society (purveyor of academic journals, custodian of the facts, and Exxon slayer) billed the Lockwood & Fröhlic paper as “The truth about global warming”. The page has long since been deleted, but here’s a screen grab we took last year:
Caroline Lucas was on BBC Radio Oxford’s Bill Heine show last night to explain why she thinks climate change scepticism is the same as holocaust denial.
There is so much wrong with this that it’s going to take us a little while to list it all. We’ll get back to you soon(ish) about that. Meanwhile, here’s the audio of the interview for your enjoyment.
We mentioned yesterday that Ipsos MORI regard the majority of the UK population as ignorant sheep who can’t come to an informed decision even if it’s handed to them on a plate. Well, next to what Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for the UK South East region, thinks of them, that all sounds almost complimentary. According to eGov, she prefers to compare the climate scepticism revealed by Ipsos MORI’s poll to holocaust denial.
The media’s attempt to seem balanced is in fact distorting the public’s understanding of perhaps the most pressing issue facing us all today – and it’s tragic. It doesn’t make any sense: would the media insist on having a holocaust-denier to balance any report about the second word war? Of course not – but by insisting on giving so much airtime to climate change deniers, it is doing exactly the same thing.
We’re glad that Lucas has finally admitted that she’s against a “balanced media”. We are less impressed with her attempts to make moral equivalents of healthy scientific scepticism and the most morally reprehensible acts she can think of. But she is not alone. We reported on Sunday how Lord May resorted to accusing Martin Durkin of making films denying the link between HIV and AIDS, and previously the Royal Society’s statements about how scepticism of claims about the climate are comparable in some way to denying the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Anybody who cannot tell the difference between scientific scepticism and fascism lacks a moral compass. (And to think that Lucas has just been awarded Politician of the Year at the Observer Ethical Awards.) Environmentalism’s moral disorientation means that in order to make a moral argument (or to explain their own failures), environmentalists have to draw on absolutes from elsewhere – whether they be absolute wrongs from the darkest periods of history, or absolute scientific certainties that don’t even exist.
We don’t need anything to compare Nazi atrocities with – they were horrors that spoke for themselves. But the morality of emitting CO2, which possibly raises global temperatures and might change the climate (in an unpredictable and unspecified way) isn’t such an easy thing to measure. That needs science – really thorough, deep and tested science. We don’t have that, yet. And we won’t ever have it if we deny scientists the opportunity to pursue a value free investigation of the material world without calling them denialists.
Given that 56% of the public, according to the MORI poll, come under Lucas’s definition of denialists, it’s pretty obvious she doesn’t have much regard for the intelligence of those she represents. If the public are so easily lead like sheep, can she say that her election victory wasn’t due to ‘media distortions’? Funny how people like polls when it suits them.
Ipsos Mori are about to publish some research they’ve done, Tipping Point Or Turning Point? Social Marketing & Climate Change
Phil Downing, head of environmental research at the company, and one of the report’s authors appeared on yesterday’s Today program on BBC Radio 4 to discuss the findings.
I think there are two key headlines that we’ve found. The first is that concern about climate change on the whole is rising. And we find that very few people, only a very small minority, actually reject out of hand the idea that it is actually changing the climate, that humans have at least some part to play in that.
So what’s the problem?
The more disturbing trend is there’s still undecided or a large proportion who are ambivalent about the issue. And we see this filtering through to the number who say that they’re not convinced that scientists can successfully model the climate. More frighteningly still that they believe the scientific debate is still raging, err, and the jury is still out.
But you don’t need to be a global warming denialist, or even a sceptic to be part of the 56% of us who are unconvinced of science’s current ability to successfully model the climate. Take for example, Kevin E. Trenberth’s recent article on Nature’s Climate Feedback blog:
There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess. … Even if there were, the projections are based on model results that provide differences of the future climate relative to that today. None of the models used byIPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate. In particular, the state of the oceans, sea ice, and soil moisture has no relationship to the observed state at any recent time in any of theIPCC models.
And Trenberth is no ‘sceptic’. He maintains that global warming is happening, and humans are causing it. He concludes,
… the science is not done because we do not have reliable or regional predictions of climate. But we need them. Indeed it is an imperative! So the science is just beginning. Beginning, that is, to face up to the challenge of building a climate information system that tracks the current climate and the agents of change, that initializes models and makes predictions, and that provides useful climate information on many time scales regionally and tailored to many sectoral needs.
Downing’s research apparently fails to accommodate the complex and nuanced debate that evidently does exist. Furthermore, it seems that the public are far more sophisticated than he gives them credit for. Worse still, however, it is his own ignorance of the science, the debate, and his underestimation of the public that causes him to be ‘disturbed’ and ‘frightened’. He then needs to invent reasons as to why the public don’t see things the way he wants them to:
Given the actual consensus and the reality if the situation, it is a particularly disturbing statistic and does suggest one or two things. Firstly the impact of contrarian and negative messages, for example, Channel 4’s great Global Warming Swindle are having an impact. Secondly, if the public is ambivalent, and you have a disconnect between what you believe on the one hand, and how you act on the other. The easiest thing is to change what you believe, rather than how you act.
If Ipsos Mori want to become opinion formers rather opinion pollsters, they’ll need to be rather more persuasive than that. This ‘research’ only reveals the public opinion pollsters’ low opinion of the public.
Two recent gems from New Scientist magazine…
First up, Climate Change Sceptics Criticise Polar Bear Science, a story about some bad scientists, funded by bad money, who have apparently published some bad science in what is presumably a bad science journal, for bad reasons.
As the poster child for the climate change generation polar bears have come to symbolise the need to tackle climate change. But their popularity has attracted the attention of global warming sceptics funded by the oil industry, who have started to attack polar bear science.
Willie Soon’s paper, which appears in the journal Ecological Complexity, questions ‘whether polar bear populations really are declining and if sea ice, on which the animals hunt, will actually disappear as quickly as climate models predict.’ But that’s all New Scientist has to say about the science.
Soon, who receives funding for this and other work from Exxon-Mobil, has been attacking climate change science for several years. Three of the six other authors also have links to the oil industry.
The social construction of science doesn’t get much attention from the science press – or anyone else – these days. Science won the Science Wars. Scientific findings flourish or fail by the cold, objective, rational method of hypothesis testing, peer review and replication. And that’s all there is to it. Except, of course, when the science in question is funded by the oil industry. Because oil money, or just the faintest whiff of it, trumps the scientific method every time.
Ultimately, carping on about Exxon-funded scientists only serves to undermine the worth of all that hypothesis testing, peer review and replication. Because if dirty money overrides them, what else does? Is it any wonder that science doesn’t get the respect the scientific establishment thinks it deserves? Science is having its own Science Wars all by itself – with not a sociologist to be seen.
Even more absurd is Say No to Global Guzzling – How the Obesity Epidemic is Aggravating Global Warming by Ian Roberts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who appears to be offering an epidemiological perspective on global warming.
We tend to think of obesity only as a public-health problem, but many of its causes overlap with those of global warming. Car dependence and labour-saving devices have cut the energy people expend as they go about their lives, at the same time increasing the amount of fossil fuel they burn. It’s no coincidence that obesity is most prevalent in the US, where per capita carbon emissions exceed those of any other major nation, and it is becoming clear that obese people are having a direct impact on the climate.
Roberts speciously reasons that obese people, who (allegedly) consume 40% more calories than non obese people, (allegedly) use their cars more because they are too fat to move properly, and (allegedly) eat the kind of things which are more CO2 intensive, contribute disproportionately to global warming than their thin counterparts.
Roberts’s argument is not scientific, but a narrow, shallow, and hollow critique of capitalist society:
The social stigma attached to obesity is one of the few forces slowing the epidemic – even though obesity is not a personal failing but a problem of society. We live in an environment that serves primarily the financial interests of the corporations that sell food, cars, and petroleum.
This serving of ‘financial interest’ traps people in vicious cycles of low-self esteem and comfort eating, diminished mobility/health and car use – all to the detriment of the environment.
And as the number of obese people increases, a kind of positive feedback kicks in. Obese people in the US are already throwing their political weight around.
Roberts then asks us to panic about the possibility of the political voice of fat Americans being used to demand, elevators, escalators, and other forms of labour-saving mechanisation, which in turn worsens the cycle of increasing fuel use, carbon emissions, and the world’s waistlines.
When all that the best clinical minds can offer is the political idea that people’s desire for food and labour-saving devices (ie, higher standards of living) are expressions of a kind of false consciousness, small wonder that people complain about ‘health fascism’. Roberts has such contempt for the public that he assumes to know their political and material interests better than they do, and pretends that it is ‘capitalism wot makes ‘em do it’… that people are too fat headed to know what to eat.
It must be lean times at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, because this poverty-stricken argument is so bloated, it needs four bandwagons to wheel it onto the pages of the New Scientist: obesity, global warming, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism. All that’s missing is a photo of a polar bear perched on a dwindling ice floe.
Bob ‘respect the facts‘ May has been failing to heed his own advice again. Here’s a recording of him at the ‘Oxford is My World‘ event on 5 June, accusing Martin ‘great global warming swindle’ Durkin of being ‘a chap who earlier is notable for Channel Four’s [...] three-part programme showing that HIV didn’t cause AIDS’.
Where does May get his ‘facts’ from?
Martin Durkin has made no such series of films. May’s point is that ‘denialists’ like Durkin set out to deliberately misinform the world about the science of climate change. No doubt the misinformation May spreads about those he disagrees with is a genuine, innocent mistake – we look forward to hearing him correct it.