Monthly Archives: January 2008
(Or “Global Production of Alarmist Story-Lines Past Peak” or “Gloom-Mine Reserves Increasing According to Demand” or “New Scientist in Search of Renewable Sources Of Gloomy Stories” or [INSERT OWN HEADLINE HERE])
An editorial in last week’s (19 Jan) New Scientist magazine claims that “there is a case for nuclear power, but the future is with renewables”. Gone are the days of scientific optimism. The new scientists are now pessimists. The editorial concludes, following some seemingly intractable political problems with nuclear energy that “… don’t let’s delude ourselves that [nuclear power] still has a long-term role to play”.
This miserable theme is continued on page 38 by David Strahan in his article The Great Coal Hole (available in full here), in which he reports that the world is facing an imminent shortage of coal. “And not only because of logistics”, warns Strahan, “but also because of geology”. This runs counter to many previously held studies which have attempted to estimate how much black stuff we have left. One 1996 study even suggested that there may be as much as 7.8E12 tonnes (7,800,000,000,000) of coal – enough for around 1200 years at today’s rate of consumption.
According to the article, however, even the World Energy Council’s far more conservative 2007 estimate of 847 billion tonnes of known coal reserves world-wide (enough for 140 years at present consumption) may be vastly over-inflated. Known reserves of economically recoverable coal are actually shrinking faster than coal is being consumed, says Strahan.
Another less noticed reason is that in recent years many countries have revised their official coal reserves downwards, in some cases massively, and often by far more than had been mined since the previous assessment. For instance, the UK and Germany have cut their reserves by more than 90 per cent and Poland by 50 per cent … Figures for two of the world’s biggest coal producers are particularly hard to glean. Russia has failed to update its numbers since 1996, China since 1990. “There is really nothing very certain or clear-cut about reserves figures anywhere,” Clarke says. Even senior officials in the coal industry admit that the figures are unreliable. “We don’t have good reserves numbers in the coal business,” says David Brewer of CoalPro, the UK mine owners’ association.
A more sobre analysis of Britain’s coal situation, from 1993, is available from the New Scientist’s own archive. It reveals that the true size of the UK’s coal reserves has never been certain.
The nature of the real problem is well illustrated by the deceptively simple question of ‘How much coal is there in Britain?’ A great variety of answers has been provided over the years. A report of a Royal Commission in 1871 estimated the figure to be 149 billion tonnes. Reserve figures based on coal workable for the following hundred years were estimated in 1942 at 21 billion tonnes. In 1973, ‘operating reserves’ were estimated at 4 billion tonnes and in 1979 to be about 7 billion tonnes. Also in 1979, British Coal estimated ‘coal in place’ at 190 billion tonnes, of which about 45 billion tonnes might eventually be shown to be a reserve, a figure that has been taken to indicate that there is enough coal for the next 300 years at the prevailing rate of mining. Recently the British Geological Survey has suggested that the true operating reserves may be as little as 3 billion tonnes. So, over the years we have seen an extraordinary range of figures for Britain’s coal reserve/resource.
Evidence from the Coal Authority to a 2001 House of Lords Select committee suggested that the UK had even less coal.
The CA has consulted with the British coal industry and have advised the Cabinet Office Energy Review that estimated established reserves amount to 222 million tonnes with a further known potential of 380 million tonnes; in addition currently un-accessed deep mine and open cast resources potentially (see para 11 below) provide many years of future production at present levels.
These increasingly conservative figures appear to support Strahan’s thesis, albeit while detracting from its newsworthiness. But, as the evidence points out:
Section 5(6)(b) of the Coal Industry Act 1994 specifically prevents the CA from exploring for new coal or proving known occurrences. It is also barred from obtaining planning permission or any other authorisations required for carrying on coal mining operations. In today’s circumstances, this prevents an overall approach being adopted in the public interest. Equally important, known reserves of coal are universally in danger of being sterilised by non coal related surface developments. There is little, if any, effective planning policy to prevent the sterilisation of coal which may be required for working in the future. Unlike the situation with aggregates for example, there is no land banking policy for opencast coal embedded in the formalities of the Town and Country Planning system. Even if Britain’s considerable opencast and deep mine coal resources are not to be extensively worked under the existing planning regime, it is important that they should be kept available to facilitate any future change in policy which might favour their exploitation.
Uncertainty remains, even in the UK – a small island, one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the most comprehensively surveyed, by some of the keenest geologists and geographers. Nonetheless, the gloominess in the New Scientist continues…
Taken together, dramatic falls in some countries’ reserves coupled with the stubborn refusal of others to revise their figures down in the face of massive production suggest that figures for global coal reserves figures are not to be relied on. Is it possible that the sturdy pit prop of unlimited coal is actually a flimsy stick?
This seems to imply that something nefarious is going on. This “stubborn refusal” is presented as though it were a deliberate attempt to deceive, when in fact, as is clear, the truth is that there are no such data, even for the UK. How can we expect it to exist in Russia, and China, given their comparatively vast sizes, and arguably more limited human resources? The article goes on to explain that we know that coal is running out – in geological terms – in spite of the conspiracy to keep us misinformed, because price increases would have the effect of increasing known reserves, as geological reserves became economically viable.
Problem is, the real world seems to have forgotten this piece of economic lore. Although the price of coal has quintupled since 2002, reserves have still fallen. This is similar to what is happening with oil, where fresh reserves have not been forthcoming despite soaring prices. To a growing number of oil industry commentators this is because
we have reached, or are just about to reach, peak oil – the point at which oil production hits an all time high then goes into terminal decline.
That is to say that we know that prices have risen, and reported reserves have fallen, indicating that prices are rising because of depletion, not confounding economic factors. But Strahan has already explained that reserve reporting is unreliable. Now that they are being downgraded, he seems sufficiently confident in them to make some alarmist statements.
Yet we know that the downgrading of reserves has political causes. For example, one reason for the UK downsizing its reserves might just be because of Britain’s recent history. Coal mines in the UK were shut down amid a historic dispute between the Government and miners, and the declining cost of importing coal from elsewhere against the rising costs of domestic production, not because Britain had run out of coal. In the case of oil, the rising price has much to do with uncertainties caused post-9/11 and by the War in Iraq and tensions in the Middle East. Reluctance to invest in exploiting new reserves might reflect the fact that global economic forecasts are currently as gloomy as the New Scientist. With economic downturn comes a reduction in demand. Who would invest in bringing new sources online in the face of economic uncertainty? Furthermore, it is not true that known geological reserves can switch on and off according to the price. Mining is an expensive business, even more so when mistakes are made.
As the 1993 article tells us, in the wake of two economic recessions:
But recent years have seen the opposite trend, with a progressive decrease in the price of most fossil fuels. Variations in the price of a barrel of oil have resulted in oilfields being brought into production or ‘mothballed’ as the price has gone up, or down. In the short term, price variations of a commodity have little to do with available resources or reserves and everything to do with Gulf crises, new environmental legislation, the state of the economy or perceptions within the commodity market. In the longer term, however, the price must be related to the availability of resources and reserves and the ease and relative potential cost of transferring estimates from the resource category to the reserve category.
ie, politics not geology. But what is behind this idea that the super-abundance of coal is a fragile illusion, and that the truth is in just two decades we will run out? The first thing is a need to create stories about the future. This is no bad thing in itself. After all, the good news that we’ve got a millennium of coal left is as uplifting as the news that we’ve only got two decades left is depressing. But Strahan does not report about new research about the actual, physical amount of coal in the ground, but a fairly old and clunky way of divining that same data from proxies. In the process he forgets that both the downgrading of reserves and the current high price of energy can be explained by political forces rather than geological ones. Downgrading merely reflects a lack of any meaningful data, and the peculiarities of geopolitics and the market explain high prices. Second, the bigger storyline is the New Scientist’s editorial agenda, which seems bent on pursuing alarmism, and taking environmentalist political positions on matters which it really ought to be shedding light on. Strahan’s thesis also relies on the (controversial) work of M. King Hubbert:
To forecast coal production Rutledge borrowed a statistical technique developed for oil forecasting known as Hubbert linearisation. M. King Hubbert, after whom the method is named, was a the Shell geologist who founded the peak oil school of thought. In 1956 Hubbert famously predicted that US oil production would peak within 15 years and go into terminal decline. He was vindicated in 1970.
So what’s the truth? How much coal is there really left? Probably somewhere between the highest and the lowest estimate. Which still gives us good time for finding out how much is left, and developing alternatives. Hubbert said some interesting things about those, too:
… it appears that there exist within minable depths in the United States rocks with uranium contents equivalent to 1000 barrels or more of oil per metric ton, whose total energy content is probably several hundred times that of all the fossil fuels combined. The same appears to be true of many other parts of the world. Consequently, the world appears to be on the threshold of an era which in terms of energy consumption will be at least an order of magnitude greater than that made possible by the fossil fuels.
Not if the “new” scientists have their way, it isn’t. But even Strahan and New Scientist can’t help looking on the bright side, just a little bit:
The sliver lining to this gloomy scenario is its effect on climate. Forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assume more or less infinite replenishment of coal reserves, in line with traditional economic theory. Less coal means less carbon dioxide, so the impact on emissions could be enormous. Using one of the IPCC’s simpler climate models, Rutledge forecasts that total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel will be lower than any of the IPCC scenarios. He found that atmospheric concentration of CO2 will peak in 2070 at 460 parts per million, fractionally above what many scientists believe is the threshold for runaway climate change. “In some sense this is good news,” Rutledge says. “Production limits mean we are likely to hit the general target without any policy intervention.”
Hurrah for not having enough energy.
Yesterday, we had a bit of a go at a philosopher for his naughty, anti-democratic (if unconsciously so) world view when it comes to saving the planet. Well, it turns out that Marc D. Davidson ain’t got nothing on David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith. You don’t need a Rorschach test to tell where they’re coming from. They’ve written a book called The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy. Roger Pielke Jr nails it.
Davidson claims that historical hindsight shows how preposterous the claims made in favour of slavery were. He suggests they bear striking resemblance to claims made against taking any action on climate change by contemporary members of Congress.
Like the mag itself, this argument is neither new nor science. It poses as philosophy. Which is fine. But really it’s just a rehash of the climate-denial-equals-holocaust-denial chestnut. Yet it is still interesting, because, just like the climate-denial-equals-holocaust-denial chestnut, it tells us more about the people making it than it does about its subjects. In spite of being ‘not convinced the comparison is helpful’, Brahic is sufficiently sympathetic to finish her article with the cynical words:
Political decisions are based on money, not morals.
It’s that money argument, again, even though abolition is about as good an example of a political decision based on morality rather than money that you are likely to find. Brahic’s sympathy for Davidson’s thesis appears to be based on the idea that arguments for the continuation of slavery were preposterous, and business-as-usual arguments are preposterous, therefore, denying climate change is as bad as being in favour of slavery. Or something.
The causes of ‘bad science’ in today’s society – such as the rise of alternative therapies, creationism, and new religious movements – are the subject of many a hand-waving thesis. But when that discussion extends to arguments about the role of oil and money in society, people claiming to have science on their side are adding bad politics, bad history and bad philosophy to the mix. And in his paper, Parallels In Reactionary Argumentation In The US Congressional Debates On The Abolition of Slavery And The Kyoto Protocol, Marc D. Davidson certainly claims to have science on his side. In fact, he goes as far as to equate the science of climate with the morality of equality. Well, he has to really, otherwise he wouldn’t have a paper to write. Davidson’s abstract reads:
Today, the United States is as dependent on fossil fuels for its patterns of consumption and production as its South was on slavery in the mid-nineteenth century. That US congressmen tend to rationalise fossil fuel use despite climate risks to future generations just as Southern congressmen rationalised slavery despite ideals of equality is perhaps unsurprising, then. This article explores similarities between the rationalisation of slavery in the abolition debates and the rationalisation of ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases in the US congressional debates on the Kyoto Protocol.
He then makes equivalents of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 1856 13th Amendment to the US constitution, abolishing slavery. The earlier document, states:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
On the UNFCCC agreement, Davidson writes:
Despite this commitment [“to protect the climate system for present and future generations.”], the US Congress has as yet rejected any mandatory regulation of greenhouse gases, including the binding emission targets for the industrialised nations agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol
But how is using slaves the moral equivalent of using oil? The subtitle of the second section of Davidson’s article – ‘Similarities between slavery and the use of fossil fuels’ – promises to answer the question… but doesn’t. Instead Davidson argues that they are similar because (i) abolition of slavery/oil is not in the interests of the electorate – people who had a vote did not have an economic interest in abolishing slavery, or in the later case, oil; (ii) the electorate shifts costs onto those outside of the electorate – the slaves do all the work in the same way that oil does, and the costs of using that oil (as opposed to labour) are borne by future generations, who are not yet part of the electorate; and (iii) arguments against both the slave trade, and efforts to reduce CO2 are similar because they both resist social change.
Davidson’s problem, it seems, is with democracy – that it does not represent the interests of people who do not yet exist; people in the future are excluded from the process because they aren’t alive yet, just as slaves were denied access to the democratic process. But this does not make equivalents of using slaves and using oil. In order to be deprived of ‘rights’ it is necessary to exist. So to grant rights to people who do not exist, or to claim that they are being denied their rights, or to imply that you somehow speak for them are all totally absurd.
And it’s far from clear that using oil does leave a cost for future generations to pay. This claim cannot be tested until such time as such people exist. It is a significant assumption. Davidson defers the argument to the future, in order to escape being challenged. And he admits that reducing CO2 emissions is not without its detrimental effects: after all, he agrees that it’s not in the electorate’s interests. It is democracy itself which creates slaves out of the humans of the future, according to Davidson; democracy is the means by which social progress is thwarted; it cannot transcend self-interest in favour of the interests of people he has conjured from his imagination. The “social progress” (and it is neither) he has in mind (even though he agrees it’s not in people’s interests) is one where people who don’t exist yet are spoken for by anyone who wants to call the precautionary principle, against the interests of people who actually exist.
More interestingly, especially given that he’s a philosopher, Davidson doesn’t even explain why slavery is wrong. Slavery is wrong, of course. But if you want to show that something else is wrong in a similar way, you have to make it clear why it is wrong. Were we to claim that tap-dancing is the moral equivalent of drug-pushing you’d want to know why. If we answered in terms that failed to connect tap-dancing to drug-pushing, you’d close your browser, never to return.
Phillis Wheatley was a slave from Gambia bought by a wealthy Boston Family at the age of just seven in the mid 1700s. Unusually, the family encouraged her to read and write, especially poetry – for which she became famous on merit.
On being brought from Africa to America
`Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
You don’t need to be a Christian to see the message. Wheatley was grateful for being brought to the USA, and for the opportunities she had, but not for being bought and sold as a slave. This is pertinent because no barrel of oil could ever write a poem which expresses such potential. As her poem suggests, the act of buying, selling, or using slaves is immoral because it creates a relationship between people which degrades humanity, when in fact, slaves were in every respect as capable of achieving as much and contributing to civilisation as their white counterparts.
The trouble for Davidson is that were he to state a principled objection to slavery, he would undermine his own argument. It would fall apart because, of course, people are not oil. It is only by dint of similarities in the shape of certain arguments, without historical and political context, superficially sharing some conceptual space, that slavery and oil usage can be seen as moral equivalents. Morality, for Davidson is more like geometry than an expression of humanity. This reveals far more than any resemblance between arguments against abolition and against climate change mitigation.
Davidson goes on to look for more geometrical congruence between arguments made hundreds of years apart, and finds another six arguments used by both Kyoto sceptics and anti-abolitionists: (i) What is deemed bad is in fact good; (ii) The benefits of the proposed policy are uncertain; (iii) Change brings economic ruin; (iv) Solo action will be ineffective and unfair; (v) Sovereignty will be undermined; (vi) Social change will hit other groups.
This is utterly mundane. What political issue is not debated on these lines? What divides camps on any matter, where one sees a thing as a good, and the other bad, with one arguing for either progressive or retrogressive change, the other for the status quo? Davidson might just as well argue that using oil and using slaves are moral equivalents because arguments in favour of their continuation were both constructed using words and marks of punctuation, arranged into sentences. What he is describing are six questions that will likely be at the centre of any political discussion about change. The closer you look at these six points, the sillier they become. In fact we are starting to seriously wonder whether his paper is some sort of clever spoof.
(i) Opposing political ideas will necessarily always differ about what is bad, and what is good. That’s why we have arguments. From some perspectives, a welfare state is bad, while others maintain that it is a good. Environmentalists argue that industrial society is bad, and deep ecologists argue that nature is itself a good. Others see nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’. Davidson juxtaposes statements by vice president John Caldwell Calhoun, on February 6, 1837 with bogeyman du jour, Senator James Inhofe:
“the Central African race…had never existed in so comfortable, so respectable, or so civilized a condition as that which it now enjoyed in the Southern States”…Slavery was not “an evil. Not at all. It was a good – a great good.” – John Caldwell Calhoun
“Thus far, no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophic predictions by alarmists. In fact, it appears just the opposite is true, that increases in global temperature have beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” – Sen. James Inhofe.
We know why slavery is wrong. It deprives individuals of their liberty, and the institution limits the development of human society. Meanwhile, Inhofe’s point finds support among among many mainstream climate scientists, such as the Tyndall Centre’s Professor Mike Hulme, who has observed that catastrophe “is not the language of science“. And the idea that climate change might produce benefits – however true or false it is – is not a moral argument. By contrast, the ideas that slavery is either right and good or wrong and bad are not testable, are moral arguments, and more to the point, slavery is an idea which disgusts us today not because of scientific investigation, but because of our understanding of humanity. Yet Davidson uses scientific and moral arguments as though they were interchangable.
(ii) The benefits of any proposed policy are always uncertain to any opponent. How can somebody who doesn’t see the policy as good, ever see the benefits as certain?
(iii) No doubt the end of slavery did bring economic problems, and yes, sceptics do worry about the economic costs of policies to mitigate climate change. But anyone who cites the Stern report in support of immediate mitigation also makes an economic argument. Does that make them the moral equivalent of slave traders, too? And even Davidson agrees that the economic effects of Kyoto would cause economic problems.
Although economic forecasts vary widely, there are few studies predicting that climate policy will benefit employment or economic growth.
(iv) It is precisely the environmentalists who are arguing that solo action will be ineffective and unfair. That is why they – and Davidson – are calling for international frameworks.
(v) Sovereignty is not only a key concept in most political theories, it was also at the heart of the abolitionist argument, for slavery denies personal sovereignty. Davidson contrasts the argument that it is for individual states to decide the legal status of slavery in the 1800s with more recent complaints about supranational organisations (IPCC) creating policy frameworks.
As sincere as this fear of supranational bodies may be, however, the arguments become suspect if they are not accompanied by proposals for unilateral action.
And yet he’s already claimed that the “solo action will be ineffective and unfair” argument is “reactionary”! Only, it seems, if it doesn’t conform to climate orthodoxy. Again, Davidson’s contempt for democracy is palpable.
(vi) All change creates winners and losers. Whether that change is progressive, or retrogressive, is, of course, the point. And as political scientist Harold D. Lasswell explained, “Politics is who gets what, when, and how.” Even Davidson recognises this…
Apart from specific groups like manufacturers of solar cells or windmills, few people have a personal interest in rising energy prices.
For Davidson, Kyoto sceptics are “reactionaries”, but it is Davidson who shows contempt for democracy, and for politics. He is unable to make moral equivalents of slavery and using oil, and so searches for abstract ways to connect them that bear no scrutiny. In doing so, he also shows contempt for humans. The relationship between slave and master is vicious, exploitative, and deliberate. The link between slaves and not-yet-existing-slave-like-people-of-the-future is merely tortured. The only person deliberately exploiting future generations is Davidson. The irony is that it is people in the present who suffer.
Climate Debate Daily is a shiny new site from the nice people who brought you Arts & Letters Daily. Dennis “A&L” Dutton, who is sceptical about the idea that the present warming trend is mostly anthropogenic, has got together with Douglas Campbell, a philosopher/biologist /computer scientist who isn’t. In their own words:
Climate Debate Daily is intended to deepen our understanding of disputes over climate change and the human contribution to it. The site links to scientific articles, news stories, economic studies, polemics, historical articles, PR releases, editorials, feature commentaries, and blog entries. The main column on the left includes arguments and evidence generally in support of the IPCC position on the reality of significant anthropogenic global warming. The right-hand column includes material skeptical of the IPCC position and the notion that anthropogenic global warming represents a genuine threat to humanity.
While we welcome such a high profile effort to promote discussion of climate change issues – and there’s certainly a lot of great material up on the site already – we are not entirely convinced about their binary, for-and-against approach to the subject. One of our main quibbles with the way the climate change debate is presented is precisely that the IPCC “consensus” belies a broad range of nuanced positions and arguments – both scientific and political – as does the so-called sceptic camp. Given Dutton and Campbell’s mission statement, one wonders in what column they’d put an article arguing, for example, that climate change is real and anthropogenic (à la IPCC WGI), but that efforts to mitigate are misguided (contrary to WGII and III). Time will no doubt tell.
A wake-up call to the world from AFP…
Light snow fell in Baghdad early on Friday in what weather officials said was the first time in about a 100 years. … “These snowfalls are linked to the climate change that is happening everywhere.”
If this climate chaos carries on, the weather the day after tomorrow will be the same as it was yesterday. Again. Thus proving once and for all that climate change is real, and is happening, and something must be done about it.
One of the arguments which frequently emerge from the warmers in climate change debates is that the scientific expertise of sceptics has been bought – literally – by oil companies. We see this tired argument again wheeled out in the aftermath of the Inhofe 400 list. For example, James Wang of non-profit organisation Environmental Defense tells us,
The aim of the report is to refute that only a handful of scientists – mostly in the pocket of oil companies – still dispute that global warming is happening, and that it’s caused by human activities.
The logic of the “industry funded sceptics” argument seems to be that scientists can’t possibly have an honestly held position which contradicts the “consensus” because the consensus cannot possibly be mistaken, so their opinion must have been paid for. These scientists (and, for that matter, anyone with a public profile who has anything critical to say about global warming) are whores – “industry shills” , “corporate toadies”, or part of the “well funded denial machine” – who not only prostitute themselves, but also sell us all out to an apocalypse for dirty, dirty dollars… Those who “deny” climate change are in fact, denying a “holocaust“. As ecowarrior Mark Lynas puts it,
I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes.
It would be hard for the warmers to escalate the rhetoric against their detractors and for the tone to sink any lower. Yet still, the inclination of those using this argument is not to engage their sceptical counterparts in scientific discussion, or even to allow their political opinions on the best way to act on the available evidence to be challenged in an open and democratic way. Meanwhile, the scientific and political debates go unheard, and are overwhelmed or shut down by the shallow rhetoric of ‘consensus science versus industry-funded sceptics’.
This is not merely the language of hairshirt lunatics and fringe activists operating in the blogosphere and Internet forums, but even the “considered” opinion of “experts”. But far from lending the argument credibility, this expert opinion only reveals its own shallow, fragile and nervous claim to objectivity and the hollowness of the political environment that it thrives in. The truth of the matter appears to be that few people recognise environmentalism as a political ideology. We’ve reported before how the Royal Society – the UKs leading “science academy” – make bigger noises about “funding” than they shed any light on the science.
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 Royal Society’s statements that sceptics aren’t interested in debate but “seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming” are unequivocal. According to them [PDF] (and pretty much any activist), at the centre of this conspiracy to pervert the course of science are “climate criminals” ExxonMobil, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And at the centre of the attempt to expose this devious master plan, and dishing the dirt on the backroom negotiations is the website Exxonsecrets, a database of rumour, innuendo, and leaked documents, which sells itself as:
a Greenpeace research project highlighting the more than a decade-long campaign by Exxon-funded front groups – and the scientists they work with – to deny the urgency of the scientific consensus on global warming and delay action to fix the problem.
And the reason Greenpeace have targeted ExxonMobil is that,
For over a decade, it has tried to sabotage international climate change negotiations and block agreements that would lead to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
A report by the campaign [PDF] in May last year concluded that
ExxonMobil’s campaign to fund “think tanks” and organizations that spread misinformation about the science and policies of global warming is now widely known. The company’s multimillion dollar campaign has undoubtedly contributed to public confusion and government inaction on global warming over the past decade.
and suggested that ExxonMobil should
Apologize to the world for the damage delay caused by the company’s actions to confuse the public understanding and slow political response to this global crisis.
And the sums we are talking about, which have been spent on comissioning these “climate criminals”…
TABLE 1. EXXONMOBIL’S “HANDFUL” OF 2006 FUNDING CUTS
Center for a New Europe USA $50,000 $170,000 Center for Defense of Free
$60,000 $230,000 Competitive Enterprise Institute
$270,000 $2,005,000 Environmental Literacy Council $50,000 $50,000 Free Enterprise Education Institute. $70,000 $130,000 TOTAL $500,000 $2,585,000
So, according to Greenpeace and co, the $2,005,000 given to the CEI between ’98 and ’05 was enough to stall worldwide action on climate change.
But hang on a minute. Don’t Greenpeace also seek to influence the debate by lobbying politicians, and making public statements to “inform” the public?
Gosh, looking back over some of our recent posts, it seems as they do. Just last month, we reported on how Conservative leader (and quite possibly the UK’s next Prime Minister) David Cameron was so impressed by Greenpeace’s views on micro-generation that he was virtually singing about it from the rooftops.
Here he is, actually on Greenpeace’s rooftop, at their expensive headquarters in London. Not quite singing, but policy-making and webcasting, nonetheless.
In a BBC article last year, a Greenpeace representative summed up the way they like to be perceived…
“But it is not enough for green campaigners just to be seen as “nice people”, argues Greenpeace’s Jean McSorely – they must also have the stronger arguments. The pro-nuclear lobby has been clever in using environmental arguments, on climate change, and the security of supply issue, to push its case, she says. She believes Greenpeace has a stronger scientific case, but, she argues, it does not always get a fair chance to make it. “The access industry gets is just phenomenal compared to green groups,” she tells the BBC News website. “Labour has often castigated the old boy network, the public school tie and so on, but they have a similar network. It depends who you know in the unions or ex-Labour ministers. “People may accept that as the way things are, but there needs to be more transparency.”
Greenpeace… Always the victim, the underdog, the oppressed. Never mind its access to teams of lawyers, opposition parties and its favourable media image as heroic planet savers, and their proximity to the old-boy, public school tie network in the forms of David Cameron, and the billionaire Goldsmiths, among many others.
But if it is true that poor little Greenpeace doesn’t always have a fair chance to make its case, (which is news to us) how much smaller is this David, than the Goliath? If it’s true, as Greenpeace say, that “You Get What You Pay For”, how much cash has it had to spent on PR, and to influence the global dialogue on climate change?
(Speaking very roughly, Euros 1,202,527,000 = US$1,772,404,550. @ todays exchange rate = $2,190,752,550 total)
That is a lot of money.
Let us recap. Of all the oil companies, according to Greenpeace, the Royal Society, and campaigning organisations, journalists, and scientists, ExxonMobil is the worst. And of all the wrong things it does, the worst has been to give $2 million to the CEI over the course of a decade. This funding has been sufficient to significantly stall international action on climate change on the global political agenda. Allegedly.
Yet as we can see, since 1994, Greenpeace have been the lucky recipients of well over $2 billion in roughly the same time. A difference of three orders of magnitude.
And what have they done with it? Lobbied. And pulled high-profile stunts to gain media attention. And lobbied. And run expensive PR and media campaigns. And lobbied. And interrupted democratic processes and the generation of electricity and sabotaged crops. And lobbied. And picketed the forecourts of privately run ESSO garages. And lobbied. And lobbied. And lobbied. And, of course, terrified the public about cancers, apocaplyses, armageddons, catastrophes, too often and too many to begin to list here. You can do a lot of lobbying and PR work with 2.2 billion dollars. And don’t forget that a vast amount of work done is done for Greenpeace for free by activists, journalists, campaigning celebrities, and politicians who are keen to appear to be up-to-speed with the climate bandwagon, and therefore ‘in-tune’ with today’s concerns. Nothing epitomises this state of affairs better than the image of an MP or prospective Prime Minister in bed with an NGO. Because politics is regarded as sinister, whereas NGOs, in today’s world, are seen to be above that kind of stuff – “ethical”, rather than political. By achieving the ethical seal-of-approval of vociferous and high-profile NGOs, politicians can claim to have a stainless character. Environmental NGOs foster suspicion of politics, which is corruptible, claiming that their vision of “the good life” isn’t subject to contest, criticism or influence because “the science is in”.
Greenpeace want to claim that the corrupting influence of money has distorted the public perception of climate science. Given the scale of their funding and the extent of their influence, shouldn’t we agree with them? Couldn’t we say that Greenpeace have been engaged in exactly the propaganda exercise they accuse ExxonMobil and the CEI of? It accuses other organisations of sabotage, yet sabotaging and interrupting legal and democratic processes and stopping industrial operations is precisely how Greenpeace has risen to prominence. It terrifies people into donating and believing, and in doing so, over the last few decades, Greenpeace has successfully influenced politics throughout the world. But it is right and proper that they have been able to do so. What is a terrible, terrible shame is that opposition to them has been insufficient, and that, their own shrill complaints have gone largely unchallenged. There have not been enough Exxon-funded CEIs. If Greenpeace really had “science” on its side, and really had our interests in mind, it would welcome challenge, and debate – like all good political campaigns, it would shout “BRING IT ON!“. It would be through this process that Greenpeace would influence the debate. Instead, Greenpeace, the scientists at the Royal Society, and anyone using the cheap language of rumour, conspiracy, and innuendo avoid debate. This argument has been successful only because of the mass withdrawal from politics, and the political elite’s desperate need to find ways to justify itself. The ‘scientific consensus’ is a stand-in for political legitimacy, and the terrifying images of Armageddon constructed by environmentalists are a surrogate ‘purpose’ or vision. To challenge the consensus is to undermine that legitimacy, and to challenge the terrifying images is to undermine that purpose. It is far easier to shift the debate away from such potential damaging and revealing matters, to focus on ‘interests’, and to say that such challenges are the obfuscations of profit-seeking oil-barons. The most peculiar thing about this is that in this strange way of thinking, those who claim to have the least interests get to have the loudest voice, and it is up to the sceptics to prove the argument false.
Greenpeace should be free to make its political arguments, as should the CEI – wherever they each get their money from. But if Greenpeace want to continue to appeal to victimhood, as the hard-done-by truth-seekers, oppressed by the nefarious influence of cash, they should consider that their billions of dollars make their claims look not too dissimilar to those of the old church, which preached the virtues of poverty while raking in a vast wealth, using it to expand its influence, and to coerce and harass disbelievers. Such is the nature of orthodoxies.
The only real value in pointing out Greenpeace’s billions is to show how exhausted the political environment has become. People who clothe themselves in terms such as “progressive” and “liberal” yet get behind Greenpeace’s arguments about “scientific consensus” and “industry funding” should therefore take stock of the fact that, if it is true that alternative voices are being funded by corporate interests, it is big business which has created a challenge to powerful, well-funded and well-connected quasi-corporate interests and orthodoxies. No doubt it is confusing for such liberals to learn that they are in fact, engaged in undemocratic, and elitist argument.
The irony of “the well-funded well-funded-denial-machine denial machine” is not simply that it is well funded, and denies critics of its political agenda, whilst complaining about funding and political distortion of science. But that the angry accusations thrown at sceptics – both scientists and ‘ideological’ sceptics – are the product of a deeply illiberal form of politics, which seeks to deny opposition its right to expression, avoids debate, and hides behind the distorted conception of science that comittees can determine scientific truth which politicians and individuals should obey, and damn anybody who disagrees.
As before, we’ve limited ourselves to those contributors based in the UK or USA. That gives us 303 authors to work with out of a total of 618. That’s nearly half the total – strange, for an institution which claims to represent scientists from all over the world.
It was very difficult to establish the discipline, background and level of expertise of scientists who work at the UK’s Hadley Centre and Meteorological Office, and NOAA and NASA in the USA, as they tend not to have personal web pages. 31 of the UK contributors work at the Hadley Centre, 43 of the US contributors work at the NOAA. Where we have been unable to locate these people properly (nearly always), we’ve given them the benefit of the doubt, and included them in the same category as scientists in climatology, meteorology, and oceanography. There were 215 scientists in this category. So there is certainly a higher proportion of people who could reasonably be called climate scientists in WGI compared with II and III. But it’s worth pointing out that this figure is also boosted by a whole bunch of people who work in climatology but who are modellers by training. That’s not to knock modelling – well, maybe a bit – but it does raise questions about what a climate scientist actually is, when you get to call yourself one even if you’ve spent most of your career modelling traffic flows or whatever. We’ll try to come up with some numbers for that at some point.
As for the other 88, 24 are atmospheric physicists, 27 are geophysicists or geologists. Arguably, these could also be lumped in with the so-called climate scientists. Ach, what the hell, let’s call it 266 climate scientists out of 303. Of the rest, we have four statisticians, eight mathematicians/physicists, eight engineers, two biologists/ecologists, and one each from history of science, computer science, and a lonely economist. There were also solos from an NGO, an agronomist, and a lawyer (who curiously seemed to double up as an oceanographer). Which leaves another eight whose expertise we can’t establish.
So, across WGI, II and III, we have a very generous 314 contributors among the 510 we sampled who can reasonably be described as scientific experts. Which scales up to 1539 out of the putative 2500. Some of our critics have argued that it was dishonest to look at WGII and III, and that the climate scientists are all in WGI. Of course WGII/III are not all climate scientists. This criticism misses the point that the IPCC is neither, as is frequently claimed, 2500 of the worlds best climate scientists, nor indeed climate scientists at all. This is precisely the misconception we have been challenging, following claims made by the likes of Andrew Dessler about the Inhofe 400 list. The composition of the IPCC, it turns out, is not so different.
Tony Gilland points out in his review of Bjørn Lomborg’s ‘Cool It’, the IPCC expertise is spread across many chapters, with the result that most of the scientists involved will have read only a minimal proportion of any report. That’s to say, a reviewer or contributing author to WGI on glacial recession has not made any statement about his or her agreement in WGIII on what is the best way to approach the problem of climate change from a policy or economic perspective – or even on chapters of WGI to which he or she did not contribute. So the idea that the IPCC represents a scientific consensus on climate change and what to do about it is a complete misconception of the functioning of the IPCC. At best, each chapter from each working group represents the work of just tens of authors, across a range of disciplines and levels of expertise. Yet activists, politicians, and journalists will claim that de facto policy recommendations from WGIII have the support of the consensus of 2500 climate scientists.
That ‘the consensus’ does not represent agreement among 2500 scientists might not be news to some people. But others are quite oblivious. We flagged up a few examples in our last post; here’s some more (courtesy of a commenter).
And here’s Robert F. Kennedy doing the same (thanks to another commenter)…
RFK: The science on global warming is settled. Twenty-five-hundred scientists in the IPPC [sic] report – the top meteorologists and climate scientists from around the world have announced the consensus that global warming exists, that we are causing it and that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. You don’t need that science though, all you need to do is walk outside. I just came back from the Ar’tic [sic]. The Ar’tic [sic] is melting. It is catastrophic. The Good news is that everything that we need to do to solve global warming are things which we ought to be doing anyway for the sake of America’s prosperity, for our national security…
The evidence of the IPCC needs to be treated for what it is – not as the last word on the science of climate change, but as a contribution to a political process. A political process that, despite the best efforts of the global warming fraternity (including the IPCC) to nip it in the bud with their claims that ‘the science is in’, has barely even started.
Anyway, where did the whole ‘2500 climate scientists of the IPCC’ figure come from in the first place? If this flyer from the IPCC itself is anything to go by, it refers to the expert reviewers.
So having taken a look at the authors, we’ll have a go at the reviewers next. The IPCC certainly seem pretty proud of them. One wonders how many of those ‘scientific expert reviewers’ will turn out to be social scientists and economists that Andrew Dessler et al make such a fuss about when they turn up in the Inhofe 400, not to mention, Heaven forfend, web officers, administrative assistants and activists . Intriguingly, many warmers have no time for the reviewers. Stoat, Desmogblog and Tim Lambert claim that anybody can be an expert reviewer, which is a handy argument when you want to cast doubt on the credentials of any pesky ‘denialist’ who happens to be one, but kind of backfires when you’re trying to defend ‘the consensus’.