More on Lucas

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
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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.

19 thoughts on “More on Lucas”

  1. So, i in 100,000 that gives us a rather staggering number of scientists, since 18,000 scientists signed the Oregon petition, that would make what… 1.8 billion scientists who believe in man made climate change? That would mean that about 1 in 3 people on the planet are scientists. Wow, who would have thought?

    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.

    Does she not realize that millions of people die because of disease, starvation, and poverty every year, right now? Shall we pay no attention to them while we worry about the few millions who may suffer because the climate might change catastrophically?

    “I’m not saying we should somehow stifle debate…” au contraire my dear, you are doing just that.

  2. you all might want to google the term “polar cities” or wiki it to see what might lie in store for us in the future, say year 2500 or so…. or see my rant at
    climatechange3000.blogspot.com

    this is for REAL!

  3. dan, if you believe its real, by all means believe that. But many. many scientists disagree. James Lovelock may be an interesting read, but he makes predictions that are just too fantastic to be realistic. In 2500, we will be very lucky if we can have an arctic outpost in Edmonton, ALberta let alone a Polar City hosing the few lucky survivor of the climate holocaust.

    Thanks for the link to your blog, your rant is just that, a rant, it runs so long that it is unreadable, the only person, other than one, that commented on your rant was apparently you. Your sources are questionable, starting with Lovelock.

    Good luck with the blog, I believe everyone should have a place to state their opnion.

  4. Looking at the extreme climate-related events going on around the world right now – not to mention the likelihood that such events will become a lot more extreme and a lot more frequent if no urgent measures are taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions – I can well understand Lucas’s concern to wake people up. And (as was abundantly clear from Martin Durkin’s recent effort) much of the so-called climate ‘scepticism’ is based on shamelessly dishonest distortion and suppression of evidence.

    However, I don’t think the Holocaust-denial analogy is a good one. It’s true that, in my experience, holocaust deniers occupy a similar mental space to some climate ‘sceptics’, in which anything that might be taken as evidence against their beliefs is seen as part of a grand and far-reaching conspiracy to suppress the ‘truth’. But the holocaust is categorically very different from climate change, not least because it is now history.

    A better analogy might be those people in the 1930s who, for a variety of motives, did their best to deny that the Nazis represented a grave danger, despite the extremely strong evidence to the contrary.

    Of course we cannot be 100% sure that human-induced climate change will, if unchecked, wreak havoc on countless millions of people (any more than people in the 1930s could be absolutley sure of Hitler’s intentions). Given what so many well-qualified scientists are saying, however, we’d be very foolish to delay action until we achieve 100% certainty.

  5. Tom is sensible to distance himself from claims that holocaust denial and climate scepticism are equivalents. But he instead likens climate sceptics to apologists, appeasers, or those who buried their head in the sand in the face of Hitler’s advances. In doing so, he makes the same mistakes and as shallow a view of history as Lucas has.

    National Socialism is a political ideology, climate scepticism isn’t. Environmentalism is a political ideology. Climate science isn’t. The disparity between the claims of climate science and the claims of environmentalism are stark. Where there maybe a scientific consensus which says little more than “humans are influencing the climate”, environmentalism claims that an apocalypse hangs over us.

    Likewise, Tom alludes to “extreme climate-related events going on around the world right now”, and the possibility of “more extreme” climate in the future. But what “extreme climate-related events”?

    All climate is a disaster. No climate on earth allows humans simply to exist without problems. There is no land flowing with milk and honey. Yet environmentalists will maintain that an optimum equilibrium between humanity and nature exists. There will still be floods if we abandon all fossil fuel use, just as there would still be floods had we never used oil. The difference is that floods kill more people where society is less industrialised.

    The effect of climate change on human society is not inevitable. We can adapt –as we have done – to a vast range of conditions. It would take a gigantic amount of CO2 to render earth truly inhospitable to industrialised human society.

    It is only under the tyranny of environmental dogma that humans are prevented from adapting to their circumstances. The myth of precious balance and equilibrium prevent development. It is that antihuman ‘ethic’ which would put people in the path of inevitable catastrophe and suffering. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we pander to it, the greater our losses to climate change will be.

    So who are the appeasers?

  6. Yes, of course National Socialism and climate scepticsm are two different things. Analogies by their nature compare different things and are inexact. I do think that we are facing a threat every bit as dangerous as National Socialism was in the 30s – indeed, in many ways more so.

    It is nonsense to claim that ‘environmental dogma’ is opposed to adaptation to a changing climate – every environmentalist I have ever met has recognised this. It is also completely untrue to suggest that environmentalists blame all natural disasters on human influence. These are simply straw men of the crudest sort, trotted out for rhetorical effect.

    You allege that ‘the disparity between the claims of climate science and the claims of environmentalism are stark’. In as far as this means anything at all (which is doubtful, given the breadth of the categories ‘climate science’ and ‘environmentalism’)I think it is deeply misleading.

    In 2005 the Royal Society (the UK’s most prestigious scientific institution) joined with the national science academies of France, Russia, Germany, the US, Japan, Italy, Canada, Brazil, China and India to issue a statement saying: “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Perhaps you could explain to us how you happen to have acquired a deeper understanding of climate change than the prestigious scientists who make up these institutions? Until you do so, I would think it wiser to listen to them that to a couple of ‘science journalists’ with a rather obvious ideological agenda.

  7. I’ve looked at it, and found it completely unconvincing. Your attack on May’s description of CO2 as the ‘principal’ greenhouse gas is typical of the sort of linguistic quibbbling and deliberate muddying of the waters that so-called climate ‘sceptics’ (a self-flattering description if ever I heard one) so often attempt to pass off as argument. May was clearly using the word to mean ‘the most important’ (in relation to the global warming that is taking place at present, the subject of his article) – something with which just about all climate scientists would agree.
    Your deliberate misreading of his meaning is yet another example of the straw-man technique that you appear to favour.

    I wonder if your views on the Royal Society also apply to the other science academies mentioned in my previous post? And you still haven’t explained how you’ve managed to arrive at a better understanding of climate change than these eminently well-qualified scientists.

  8. Tom, we don’t know where you get the impression that we think we have a better understanding of climate change than the scientists. We rarely talk about the science per se at all on this site. We are far more interested in how the politics and science of climate change have become so conflated in public debate that it’s very hard to tell them apart. And it’s not just the media and pressure groups who conflate them, but also scientific institutions such as the Royal Society – a political organisation whose remit includes raising the profile of science in policy decisions. And how better to make policy makers take notice but by dressing up the science in scarier terms than are warranted? To take what science academies say at face value, and as a true reflection of the science, is naive to say the least… ‘Nullius in verba’, as they tell us.

    The consensus statements made jointly by the various science academies are not a scientific consensus, but a political consensus among science academies. The two are very different.

    You make an arguable point about Bob May’s description of CO2 as the principal greenhouse gas. But we made the point amongst a number of others – chiefly that May was arguing that to challenge his authority is to ‘disrespect the facts’, is to somehow do the work of oil companies. Never mind the ambiguity of May’s choice of language, what is scientific about his argument? It’s a highly charged political statement that scientific questions are not legitimate because they are a symptom of the corrupting influence of big business.

    Our point is that if you are self-appointed custodians of the scientific facts, you have to be especially careful how you wield them to suit your own purposes. Are we to assume that that is your only quibble with our criticisms of the RS?

  9. In the intro blurb to this blog you state that: “We believe that an unfounded sense of crisis – and therefore urgency – dominates public discussion of environmental issues.”

    The key word here is “unfounded”. If the science on which calls to action such as that of the RS and the other academies is in fact well founded, then the sense of urgency would appear to be amply justified. Perhaps that is why you prefer not to talk about ‘the science per se’?

    To expect scientists to ignore the human implications of their own findings seems to me absurd – after all, they are as human as the rest of us. Science and politics have of course always been intimately connected, since science offers the best available means of understanding how the world works and thus how to shape it to our advantage. But I think you are quite wrong to suggest that either the academies or the many climate scientists whose work underpins their statement are driven by any narrow political agenda. They are simply pointing out the glaringly obvious implication of their findings: if we go on pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the present rate then we are letting ourselves and future generations in for very serious trouble.

    The ways in which we might drastically reduce such emissions are of course a matter for political debate and decision-making. But that process is not going to be assisted by the efforts of people like yourselves to suggest that the science itself is ill-founded.

    I think the only reason you are doing this is because you feel your own ideology (of unrestricted economic growth) to be threatened by the science. It is you, far more than the Royal Society, who are guilty of putting a rigid political agenda ahead of scientific integrity.

  10. Tom, have a look at historical patterns, there are no more extreme events now than there were at times in the past. More hurricanes in the first half of the 20th century than the last half. England’s 2007 flood? Been there in 1947.

    Nobody made big news out of previous events becasue there was no single hook to hang the hat on, now we have it and its called anthropogenic global warming.

    I think the only thing not attributed to AGW is critical thinking, indeed the two are mutually exlusive.

  11. John – the fact that you appear to take the Oregon Petition seriously does not inspire confidence in your own powers of critical thinking. Have a look at the Wikipedia entry on this notoriously fraudulent document to see what I mean.

    If you (and the editors of this blog) really believe that most of the world’s climate scientists are involved in some kind of cosy conspiracy to cover up or exaggerate the facts, then I suggest you take an open-minded look at realclimate.org, where ‘the science per se’ is debated critically and in depth by well-qualified people. It’s possible that you might learn something about scientific integrity from doing so – though I have to say that this does not seem likely.

    Like holocaust deniers, climate ‘sceptics’ seem to take any evidence that contradicts their ideologically determined position as further proof of a far-reaching conspiracy. The more I see of this mind-set, the better Caroline Lucas’s analogy seems to be.

  12. Tom. If, as you say, it is ‘glaringly obvious’ that ‘if we go on pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the present rate then we are letting ourselves and future generations in for very serious trouble’, why do we need scientists to tell us that? And isn’t it also glaringly obvious that if we slow development down, we are also ‘letting ourselves and future generations in for very serious trouble’? We know, for example, that what makes people vulnerable to climate is not the climate itself, but their ability to cope with it.

    You make a clear point that scientists should not be expected to ignore the human implications of their findings. What happens when scientist’s findings are out of kilter with the ‘consensus’? They get called holocaust deniers. They are accused of being funded by a conspiracy orchestrated by oil companies. Their political motivations are called into question. You seem to argue that scientists are human too – until they have an opinion which you disagree with, at which point they become evil.

    Can we remind you of Mike Hulme’s comments about catastrophism?

    ‘I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric… Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science’s predictions?’ – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6115644.stm

    Is he as bad as a holocaust denier, in spite of his comments that ‘Climate change is a reality, and science confirms that human activities are heavily implicated in this change’?

    May we suggest that you stick to criticising what we are saying rather than speculating wildly about why we are saying it.

  13. Tom, Wikipeadia is not exactly a reliable source of all information. The Oregon Petition aside, there are still many scientists who do not believe that man is the cause of GW. Most of the people you clump into the sceptic, denier, etc., camp do not doubt that GW and Climate Change exist. We question the manmade part, especially since the earth has warmed and cooled all on its own for millions of years. Climate changes, it always has and always will. Get over it and adapt to it.

  14. Tom, RealClimate is, in my humble opinion, one of the most one-sided blogs on the internet. They have taken a stance as objective scientists, but their behaviour is anything but objective. They have a point to push, good for them and may they be happy doing it. I applaud them for their tenacity. But I do not agree with their views. That too is my right.

  15. Tom, please don’t make assumptions about my “powers of critical thinking” and I won’t make any rash assumptions about your ability to think in any fashion.

    I don’t remember, and I just checked, making any rude or demeaning statments towards you. You are entitled to draw your own conclusions about the data presented in any forum.

    Frankly, I am growing weary of the constant barrage of insults thrown at those of us who doubt manmade climate. It belittles not only the person who is attacked, but also the person who wields the knife.

  16. I’d fully support Hulme’s view that it’s booth unwise and unnecessary to exaggerate the findings of climate science. As I’m sure you are aware, he is a member of the IPCC Task Group on Climate Scenarios for Impacts Assessment, and is fully supportive of both the contents and tone of the IPCC’s latest report. I’d urge anyone who wants to understand why to read his recent Guardian article, at http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,2032678,00.html

    In it he makes many of the same points as I have been trying to make – though more eloquently and from a position of much more expert knowledge. To quote: “It is important that on big questions such as climate change scientists make an assessment of what they know at key moments when policy or other collective decisions need to be made. Today is such a time.[…] What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered.”

    It seems to me that you and your fellow idealogues at Spiked are making determined efforts to prevent such foresight and wisdom from being exercised. I think this is because you have a narrowly (and foolishly) ideological perspective which you are unwilling to alter in the light of the best available scientific knowledge. And I find the dishonesty with which you pursue this agenda to be pretty sickening.

  17. And I find the dishonesty with which you pursue this agenda to be pretty sickening.

    What dishonesty Tom? You read the data, all of it, not just the sanitized bits and make your own concuions. Many of us have done just that and are not convinced. Just because we don’t sing from the same song book as you does not make us dishonest. There is a hell of a lot more grey in all of this than the black and white you would want us to see.

    Do I worry about climate change? No. Becuase I think that worring about it is counterproductive. If we are faced with the perils that some people wold have us believe, we would be better off figuring out how to adapt.

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