Fat People are Killing the Polar Bears

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.

11 thoughts on “Fat People are Killing the Polar Bears”

  1. Hi,
    I think there is definitely a lot of linkage between obesity and GW: Both are designed to scare us into conforming and both are based upon flimsy “science”.

    They both seem to fall into the trap that “correlation = causation”.

    And despite what politicians tell us, obesity is a moral judgement not a health issue as of course is Climate Change.

    Personally, my hypothesis, also untested, is that fat people don’t eat 40% more (I believe there are several studies showing that food consumption in calories hasn’t changed much in the UK, and anyway, these show food purchased rather than consumed) but that actually they exercise 40% less, thus earning a net saving in CO2 over all those people pounding the streets and the Gyms. Now if only I could get my mate colin to review that I could get it published in New Scientist.

    If these people want to make us consume less overall, I suggest they lead by example and sit in a darkened room for a few years with very little to eat or drink (perhaps join a monastery) and let us live and enjoy our lives.

    Nice articles by the way. Can’t believe I am the first to comment. I reckon there are loads of comments all queued up, probably all claiming that you are anti-christ deniers of science and in the pay of “Big Oil”. Better get a thick skin. :o)

  2. [Quote] “I think there is definitely a lot of linkage between obesity and GW: Both are designed to scare us into conforming and both are based upon flimsy “science”.

    The other link, as obliquely implied in this quote, is that both issues are exploited by cynical and dirigiste politicians who are bent on misrepresenting the issues in order to bolster their own careers and further their political goals. The “Holier-than-thou Health Nazis” are natural bedfellows of the “Do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do Climate Change Nazis”, so this new development should come as no surprise to us. These People Know What Is Best For Us. They Know They Do.

  3. I think the real problem is that people think New Scientist is a credible source of science reporting, it isn’t. The writers are biased to one opinion, their own and fail to see any other point of view. The magazine, I won’t dignify it by calling it a journal, engages in name calling and debunking through guilt by association.

    But they do know wat is good for us. The clear sign of a zealot.

  4. This column is really biased on thier data. Do they really think that the use of a vehicle uses as much “fossil” fuel as our politician do flying those huge jets around the country and to different parts of the world. If the GW thing is true, why is it that Al Gore covers his “six” by saying he is paying offsets into a company that he owns; and then continues to drive his huge SUVs and flys the jets? It is a lie. Americans are just too complacent to get off their “sixes” and do the work necessary to make some changes. And then there is the China problem; they did not sign the treaty and they produce more greenhouse gases than the rest of the world! Come on folks, wake up.

  5. What about the other way around with this dilemma? If GW causes the weather to get too hot for people to safely walk outdoors and so we will all be sitting inside on our duffs getting fat in front of the tv and air conditioner.

  6. Simple. Feed the fat people to the polar bears. Very tasty, as bears are known to eat seals.

    Paging Mr Gore… Paging Michael Moore… :o)

  7. You are very selective in your quoting of the New Scientist article. It notes that: “The researchers, including Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, published their findings as a “viewpoint”, which is not peer-reviewed.”

    The research hardly conforms to your description of the scientific method: “Scientific findings flourish or fail by the cold, objective, rational method of hypothesis testing, peer review and replication.”

  8. cft said: ‘You are very selective in your quoting of the New Scientist article. It notes that: “The researchers, including Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, published their findings as a “viewpoint”, which is not peer-reviewed.”‘

    Nope. We were quoting from a New Scientist article published on 1 July 2007 (link in post). I think you must be referring to a piece from 28 October 2007. Still, ta for the pointer.

  9. Yes, fat people do eat more. You can prove it for yourself scientifically by doing a prospective study. As you walk along any city street, observe the people who are stuffing their faces and categorize them as fat or not-fat. Compare with a randomly selected control group. If you still don’t believe it, ask yourself what is wrong with the dieter’s lament “No matter what I eat, I still can’t lose weight”

  10. y r fat people so annoying i think they should be eaten by polar bears. they deserve it. they only think for themselves, and have no life. ecsersize u fat lugs of trash. do sumtin for the planet and ur selves. get a life and save our home.!!!!!!!!!

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