If there’s one thing that’s supposed to annoy us British about Americans, it’s their environmentally unfriendly ways. And not just George Bush and his Exxon-funded cronies. It’s the whole lot of them – as highlighted by the recent ABC News poll where “global warming” scored a big, fat zero (see page 6) in the US public’s list of priorities.
Contrast with London’s Mayoral candidates all battling to save the planet. The “central pledge” of New Labour’s Ken Livingstone to his electorate includes: “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable.” And the whole thing is only one sentence long. Boris Johnson (Conservative) pledges “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability”. Both claim to be against Heathrow’s thirdrunway on environmental grounds. And there’s still somehow room for a Green Party candidate. Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s… well… Green.
But is our superciliousness towards the green credentials of the USA really justified? Are we really that different here in the UK? Not according to an Ipsos Mori poll last year, which indicated that more than half of us are not convinced that the science of climate change is robust enough to justify a Green revolution. Despite the vast sums of cash available to the environmental PR machine to keep the looming ecopalypse at the front of our minds, nobody’s really that interested, it seems.
Funnily enough, environmentalists like to blame their failure to capture the public’s imagination on oil-funded “deniers” (whose budget is a fraction of Greenpeace’s alone). Or they’ll blame the selfishness of the publicitself, who need to be hectored into making “ethical” consumer choices… and taking fewer baths.
But is there another reason for our complacency? Could it be that we have a better nose for eco-friendly bullshit than Livingstone’s “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable”, or Boris’s “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability” give us credit for? Both look like nothing more than attempts to convince us that they’re taking armageddon seriously, rather than serious attempts to make the world a better place.
So why, given the public’s lack of interest, isn’t there a candidate with the balls to stand up and challenge Environmentalism? Where is the candidate who thinks a third runway is a good thing? It’s not as if Londoners don’t want to use airports. Or who thinks there aren’t enough roads? Or that a new de-salination plant is a better idea than saving water by hectoring Londoners with “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”?
Perhaps it’s because green policies can’t actually do any harm. We might be ambivalent, but we’re hardly going to vote againstsaving the planet. Which is perhaps why everyone from the BNP through to Socialist Worker are striking a green pose. Environmentalism is attractive to unimaginative politicians precisely because it’s seen as inoffensive and uncontroversial.
Except that it is offensive. And it should be controversial. Just ask Gareth Corkhill, the father of four who was fined a week’s wages by Copeland Borough Council and slapped with a criminal record for overflowing his wheelie bin by 4 inches. (And environmentalism is supposed to be ‘progressive’!). Once authorities get it into their heads that human concerns can take second place to a higher purpose – saving Mother Nature, Gaia, or whatever you want to call her – no reason exists for them to imagine that they owe the public anything, or are even accountable.
Environmentalism isn’t the left-wing conspiracy that those whom it accuses of being a right-wing conspiracy are wont to accuse it of being. It’s just very convenient, that’s all. Public servants can become policemen; they can suddenly make life more difficult in the name of saving the planet. Eco-Proles can be farmed out to Eco-Homes in Eco-Towns that lack flushing toilets and where the only water you are allowed to use is that which falls on your land. And to complain is to have the blood of future generations on your hands, or to be a bin-abusing ‘carbon criminal’. Environmentalism turns the purpose of government and public service on its head.
Environmentalism is all very convenient – for everybody except real, live human beings. So who’s more in tune with their electorate on environmental matters? Copeland Borough Council? Boris? Ken? Or George Bush Jr?
Given the occasional inability of environmentalists to resist the temptation of equating those who challenge the political orthodoxy on climate change with those who opposed the end of slavery, it was only a matter of time before someone would liken the reduction of carbon emissions to the Abolition. That Someone, it turns out, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who wants to de-carbonise the world entirely. Weeeeeeeell, it can’t do any harm can it? But more than that, it would be a positive kick up the arse for the economy, apparently. After all, says RFK, the industrial revolution, and all the benefits that brought for humankind, was only possible because of the Abolition. The Business and Media Institute reports:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants to ‘abolish’ carbon usage and sees a direct comparison to the end of slavery … According to Kennedy, “industry and government warnings” about avoiding “economic ruin” should not be heeded because abolishing slavery did not cripple the British economy as was predicted “Instead of collapsing, as slavery’s proponents had predicted, Britain’s economy accelerated,” he argued.
OK, so the Business and Media Institute is hardly likely to be a bastion of objective, detached journalism, and you are welcome to make your own minds about how low Kennedy was actually stooping with his analogy, by reading his piece for Vanity Fair on which the above report reports.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a crap analogy. Slavery, carbon. Carbon, slavery. If carbon reduction were expected to damage the economy, would it be not worth saving the planet after all? Should we regret ending slavery had the Abolition led to economic problems? Are those who merely want to reduce CO2 emissions – James Hansen, say – akin to those who argued for having fewer slaves?
And even if you give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt on his intentions, his wider argument is preposterous. He might as well be advocating that we go around throwing bricks through windows on the basis that the economy would be stimulated by all the extra work it created for glaziers. Sorry Mr Kennedy, but the Abolition was the right thing to do purely and solely because slavery is immoral. And anyway, wasn’t the industrial revolution well under way before slavery was prohibited?
It’s funny how this whole climate change debate thing seems so contemporary. And yet denialism, scepticism, certainty, doubt and liberty, and the tensions between them, were hot topics well over a century ago, as the following passage from Mill’s essay On Liberty shows. Of course, warmers might argue that the urgency demanded by the danger posed by climate change means that we need to revise our understanding of liberty. But weren’t opponents of Mill also arguing the case for a less liberal sort of liberty? Warmers who read this blog might also observe the short shrift we’ve given to casual claims of geometrical congruence between immoral arguments of the past and climate change scepticism, and decide that we are hypocrites. But our point is simply that debates of the past really can inform contemporary ones. And not in a “you disagree with how we want to change things, just like those horrible slave-traders disagreed with how the Abolitionists wanted to change things, therefore you’re as bad as they were” sort of way.
Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being “pushed to an extreme;” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.
In the present age — which has been described as “destitute of faith, but terrified at scepticism,” — in which people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without them — the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not so much on its truth, as on its importance to society. There are, it is alleged, certain beliefs, so useful, not to say indispensable to well-being, that it is as much the duty of governments to uphold those beliefs, as to protect any other of the interests of society. In a case of such necessity, and so directly in the line of their duty, something less than infallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and even bind, governments, to act on their own opinion, confirmed by the general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men, and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practise. This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself. And it will not do to say that the heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or harmlessness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth. The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful: and can you prevent such men from urging that plea, when they are charged with culpability for denying some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received opinions, never fail to take all possible advantage of this plea; you do not find them handling the question of utility as if it could be completely abstracted from that of truth: on the contrary, it is, above all, because their doctrine is “the truth,” that the knowledge or the belief of it is held to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion of the question of usefulness, when an argument so vital may be employed on one side, but not on the other. And in point of fact, when law or public feeling do not permit the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are just as little tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity, or of the positi
guilt of rejecting it.
In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I choose, by preference, the cases which are least favorable to me — in which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality. To fight the battle on such ground, gives a great advantage to an unfair antagonist; since he will be sure to say (and many who have no desire to be unfair will say it internally), Are these the doctrines which you do not deem sufficiently certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the belief in a God one of the opinions, to feel sure of which, you hold to be assuming infallibility? But I must be permitted to observe, that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call an as sumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less, if put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions. How ever positive any one’s persuasion may be, not only of the falsity, but of the pernicious consequences — not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment, though backed by the public judgment of his country or his cotemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. These are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity. It is among such that we find the instances memorable in history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable success as to the men, though some of the doctrines have survived to be (as if in mockery) invoked, in defence of similar conduct towards those who dissent from them, or from their received interpretation.
Now we come to think of it, this post could have been addressed to Paul LaClair. Because Matthew needs to be able to recognise a good argument when he sees one; not to pick factual holes in arguments he already disagrees with because his parents do.
A father-of-four has been left with a criminal record for overfilling his wheelie bin by four inches.
Gareth Corkhill, 26, of Whitehaven, Cumbria, received a £110 fixed penalty notice after Copeland Council staff photographed his raised bin lid.
When he refused to pay he was taken to court where magistrates added a further £115 to the fixed penalty.
Copeland Council has defended its actions and pledged to continue to take action against overfilled wheelie bins.
Wheelie bins have been introduced across the UK as part of the country’s commitment to reducing the amount of refuse making its way into landfill sites. Along with wheelie bins come an array of boxes into which recyclable rubbish is supposed to be left out for collection seperately.
Mr Corkhill, who shares a house with his partner and three children and also has a child from a previous relationship, said the authority recently switched from weekly to fortnightly refuse collections, but added that the supplied bins were not big enough to cope.
Alternate weekly collections are the local authorities’ new way of ‘delivering services’. But recognising that collecting waste for both recycling and landfill simultaneously would cost more money, councils have opted to collect recyclables one week and refuse destined for landfill the next. This also has the consequence of leaving rubbish to fester for a up to a fortnight, and cluttering up people’s homes and gardens with multiple containers.
In a statement the council said: “Copeland Borough Council will continue to crack down on the problem of overflowing bins, which cause problems for local residents and in the battle to reduce waste. “It is important that we all reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill. “We can do this by recycling more of what is in our bins, and we would advise anyone who has a problem with too much waste to look at what can be recycled.”
What is important – and what ought to be Copeland Borough Council’s priority – is removing rubbish. That is what municipal authorities are for. That is what is expected of them. But, over the years, local politics – perhaps more so even than national politics – has been set loftier aims. Now it is about saving the planet, one bin-criminal at a time. Never mind the fact that a father of four in a household of six, might have need of slightly more space than average; there are no mitigating circumstances. The aperture of four inches is not to be tolerated. The bin gestapo are on the scene to protect society Gaia from this wanton act of senseless criminality. Justice has been done. And to complain is to have the blood of future generations on your hands. It’s all very convenient – for everybody except real, live human beings.
But of course, real live human beings are merely an inconvenience for Environmentalism. Which brings us to Earth Day.
Founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network (EDN) promotes environmental citizenship and year round progressive action worldwide … Our mission is to grow and diversify the environmental movement worldwide, and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle for promoting a healthy, sustainable planet. We pursue our mission through education, politics, events, and consumer activism.
The action taken against Gareth Corkhill by Copeland Council gives the lie to the claim that the environmental movement is ‘progressive’. Environmentalism is misanthropic. Full stop. Once authorities get it into their heads that human concerns take second place to a higher purpose, no reason exists for them to imagine that they owe the public anything, or are accountable to them. Public servants become policemen. Refuse disposal ceases to be a public service and becomes a means to monitor and control behaviour. Environmentalism turns the purpose of government and public service on its head. It is convenient for councils that have no idea how to offer public services that they can pretend to be saving the planet rather than doing their jobs.
A paper published in Nature Geoscience last month received a lotofmediaattention. And rightly so. It showed that the Black Carbon (BC) component of soot is responsible for up to 60% as much warming as CO2. That is significant for many reasons, only some of which were covered in the newspapers.
Most reports also mentioned that BC-induced warming is more amenable to mitigation than that caused by CO2. This is because BC persists in the atmosphere for periods of days rather than the decades that CO2 does, so reductions in BC output will take more immediate effect, and because BC and the so-called white aerosols such as sulphates, which have a cooling effect, have only partially overlapping sources, providing the potential to decouple white and black aerosol production. So far, so interesting. But what didn’t get mentioned is even more so.
First, there are the implications of the research for the climate models. It hardly needs pointing out that the identification of a factor that causes 60% as much warming as CO2 is going to require something of a re-adjustment of the models. The graph that usually gets wheeled out on such occasions is this one, which shows how the models juggle what are thought to be the five major forcing factors to come up with a line that kind of agrees with observed temperature variation over the last century:
Black carbon doesn’t even feature. In its latest round of reports, the IPCC assigns BC a warming effect of 0.2-0.4 Wm-2 (a consensus figure based on 20-30 modelling studies), in contrast to the Nature Geoscience paper’s estimate of 0.9 Wm-2 (the result of a review of the models combined with new empirical data from satellites, as well as aerial and terrestrial measurements of “brown clouds” over the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea).
More generally, the findings reveal how little is understood about the role of aerosols (regarded as having a net cooling effect) on climate dynamics. Which is especially interesting because aerosols are absolutely central to the standard way of explaining away a thorny problem for global warmers – the period of cooling (~1944-1974), which occurred in defiance of rising CO2 concentrations (see graph above). The argument goes that the temperature slump is the result of white aerosols – released from coal and oil burning – masking the warming effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, until various clean air acts in the US and Europe allowed the anthropogenic warming signal to re-emerge.
Indeed, this is one of those items of ‘settled science’ flagged up in an open letter to Martin Durkin’s Wag TV, makers of the infamous The Great Global Warming Swindle, organised by Bob Ward, former Senior Manager for Policy Communication at the Royal Society and now Director of Global Science Networks at risk analysis firm RMS and signed by 37 scientists. The letter demanded that Wag TV correct “five major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence” before distributing the DVD version of the program. One of those major misrepresentations concerned the post-war temperature slump:
However, the DVD version of the programme does not make any mention of the impact of atmospheric aerosols on the record of global average temperature. The producer of the programme, Martin Durkin has attempted to justify this by suggesting that if aerosols caused the cooling between 1945 and 1975, then global average temperatures should be lower today, because he believes that atmospheric concentrations of aerosols should be even higher today than they were during that period. But the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report pointed out that “[g]lobal sulphur emissions (and thus sulphate aerosol forcing) appear to have decreased after 1980”.
However, according to the authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, it is nothing like so clear cut. First up, University of Iowa atmospheric chemist Greg Carmichael:
Climate Resistance: Are we now not so certain that the post-war cooling is due to aerosols?
Greg Carmichael: This is an added complication. But it’s also an added level of understanding. And as we get better measurements of the present, and better models that can drive these simulations for the last 50 years, or so, we’ll see that we’ve improved our understanding and that the aerosol effect is as important as we’ve indicated.
CR: But we don’t actually know that yet?
GC: We still have a way to go before understand how the heating-cooling push-pull really plays out.
Climate Resistance: What are the implications of this work for the idea that the post-war temperature decline is the result of sulphate aerosols masking the warming effect of CO2 emissions?
Veerabhadran Ramanathan: After the 1970s, when the West was cleaning up pollution, there was a rise in temperatures. We stopped burning coal in cities etc, and coal puts out a lot of sulphates, and sulphates mask global warming. At the same time, in the tropics, China and India, they were growing fast and putting a lot more Black Carbon.
CR: So the sulphate component must have been reduced more than the Black Carbon component for the aerosol masking theory to hold? We now need empirical data to compare the effect of black and white aerosols during the post-war temperature slump?
CR: Do we have that empirical data?
VR: No. The data we have is for 2002-2003. We don’t know what happened in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The implication of this study is that we have to understand what is the relative change in the sulphur emissions versus the Black Carbon emissions – and we don’t know that.
CR: So what is the empirical evidence that, 50 years ago, white aerosols were masking GW due to CO2?
VR: It’s pretty flimsy. The main information we have [...] is our understanding of the SO2 emissions by coal combustion, and oil. But we need to know not so much how much SO2 we put out, but how much was converted to sulphates, how much was removed [etc]
CR: So you don’t even know the life cycle of the SO2 and sulphates?
VR: No. All the information we have is from models… It could still be true [that white aerosols account for the post-war temperature slump]
CR: But it could not be true?
VR: Yes. The picture is complicated. But this paper is not saying it is wrong [...]
CR: So we now have a better idea of what is happening aerosol-wise in the present, but what was going on in the 1950s/’60s is still elusive?
VR: Yes, There’s a lot of research needs to be done on that – what happened in the ’50s and ’60s, and then why the rapid ramp up [from the '70s]. I’m not saying our current understanding is wrong, just that it is a more complicated picture. I would say it’s uncertain.
All of which tells a rather different story about the state of knowledge than Bob Ward’s letter would have us believe. It continues:
[The Great Global Warming Swindle] misrepresented the current state of scientific knowledge by failing to mention that the cooling effects of aerosol need to be taken into account when considering the period of slight cooling between 1945 and 1975.
Just like Bob Ward failing to mention that the empirical evidence that aerosols account for the period of slight cooling between 1945 is “pretty flimsy”, in fact – which is perhaps why Durkin didn’t mention it. And just as Ward slights Durkin for bolstering his case by omitting ‘inconvenient’ facts, there is little difference between what he accuses Durkin of, and the way he and his fellow accusers carried on.
Don’t believe the rumours of well-funded climate change denialism. We at Climate Resistance lack the hi-tech equipment and web infrastructure to offer the kind of webform that Friends of the Earth USA has at its disposal. Maurizio Morabito suggests we use the FoE form to send an alternative message to the Publishers of American Government, offering support, rather than harassment. We think that’s a good idea. But we should also let Prof Hansen and FoE know what we think of their silly campaign.
We wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to expect you to agree with the following, but if you do, then please send it to the following email addresses by copying it into your mail application. Or write your own. Either way, let them know.
TO: James.E.Hansen@nasa.gov ; firstname.lastname@example.org CC: email@example.com SUBJECT: ECO-CENSORSHIP
Professor Hansen and FoE USA,
I am writing to urge you to immediately publish a corrective addendum to your recent efforts to encourage members of the public to be outraged by text in American Government, 11th edition, by Professors James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr, published by Houghton Mifflin. Your calls for pressure to be applied to the publishers to withdraw or amend the book to suit your own political biases are factually inaccurate and misleading, and undemocratic.
Wilson and DiIulio are correct to describe the scientific understanding of climate change as “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty”, especially with respect to the political response to climate change. Although the IPCC has provided projections from various scenarios to inform the political process, none of these projections have been offered as forecasts, but ‘what ifs’. The international political response to climate change science to date has been precautionary, not based on scientific certainty. The extent to which certainty is absent from climate science is epitomized by the contrast between Professor Hansen’s projections for sea-level rise, and the IPCC’s, which differ by an order of magnitude. Professor Hansen would have us believe that the IPCC is wrong, and has gone on public record to that effect. Why should others not be allowed to challenge mainstream scientific and political orthodoxy without attracting accusations of dishonesty?
The application of the precautionary principle in response to fears about ecological catastrophe is not the result of politically-neutral, objective calculation. In recent years, the political environmental movement has been successful in presenting the precautionary principle as a ‘scientific’ response to uncertainty, while greatly exaggerating the scientific plausibility of imaginary apocalyptic scenarios to elicit a response in their favor from a terrified public. In other words, the environmental movement has hidden its politics behind science. And unfortunately, some high-profile scientists have been content to go along with this deception – with the best of intentions, no doubt, but at the expense of democratic debate that draws on the best available scientific evidence.
Allowing alternative perspectives to enter the climate change debate would deprive the political environmental movement of its oxygen, and in turn undermine its political leverage and public profile. I suggest that your demands for statements of correction to American Government in the interests of “the facts” belie a desire for political censorship to silence your detractors and opponents.
On Friday, we wrote about the US ‘Friends of the Earth’, who have enlisted James Hansen in their campaign to censor a book on American politics because it might give the impression that there’s something to discuss. Somehow we managed to miss this gem of a page on the campaign’s website…
Tell Houghton Mifflin global warming isn’t a matter of debate Friends of the Earth has received a copy of American Government, published by mammoth Houghton Mifflin, which is used in AP government classes in high schools nationwide. The latest edition’s chapter on “Environmental Policy” contains a discussion of global warming so biased and misleading it would humble a tobacco industry PR man: [...]
These are not quotes from oil company press releases. These and other such statements are made by the authors of American Government in the same omnipotent, textbook tone with which we are all familiar.
Please join us in writing Houghton Mifflin right now! We will copy your governor to make sure every state is aware of the problem with this textbook.
There follows an electronic form for activists to fill in, which gets sent to Houghton Mifflin (and your governor), to tell them not to allow debate on global warming, to harass them not to allow debate to happen in American classrooms.
We have written before about FoE’s contempt for democracy. And this is one more example of how Environmentalists regard the “ethics” of climate change as trumping fundamentals of democratic society. FoE’s shame is unlikely to be forthcoming, however, because the self-importance of the Environmental movement is growing, and its latest action needs to be viewed with some perspective. And what better perspective than a quick recap of Environmentalism in all its misanthropic glory, as reported by wonderful us during our first year on the job? So…
In April last year, we wrote about how UK FoE director Tony Juniper dropped his enthusiasm for consensus science when it challenged his desire to return to pre-industrial society.
Later that month we criticised former media officer of the Royal Society Bob Ward’s campaign to have the DVD version of The Great Global Warming Swindle censored.
Following an article in the TLS, we wondered how interested in science former president of the Royal Society Bob May actually is when he orders us to ‘respect the facts’.
Then we caught former president of the Royal Society telling blatant fibs about Martin Durkin (director of the Great Global Warming Swindle) to an audience in Oxford.
In August, futurologist Jamais Casico joined others in fantasising about trying climate sceptics in criminal courts.
In October we reported on the UK Government’s plans to put CO2 targets for the country out of political – ie, democratic – control.
In November we showed how miserable George Monbiot was complaining about the only hour on television where scepticism of climate alarmism ever got an airing – Top Gear – as though people were forced to watch it.
In December, Andrew Dessler tried to persuade us not to listen to climate sceptics by using the image of a sick child.
In January, we showed how claims that dissenting views on climate change have been financed by big oil interests lack any sense of proportion, and that green organisations have much more cash available to them.
Later that month we showed how Marc D. Davidson was attempting to diminish the moral character of Kyoto sceptics by ‘comparing’ their argument tothat made against the abolition of the slave trade.
Later still, we showed how David Roberts’ claim that climate-scepticism is ideological is incorrect, and how he in fact reveals his own nasty ideology, which he hides behind ‘science’.
And in March, we showed how Naomi Oreskes’ dismissal of climate scepticism as “the tobacco strategy” itself suffered from being a rather desperate strategy, devoid of reason.
What emerges from this list (and there’s plenty more) is the nasty, anti-democratic, anti-human fundamentals of Environmentalism. These examples show how the self-important urgency of Environmentalists allows them to diminish humans, to portray us as too stupid to engage with the decision making process,
too stupid to understand the issues, let alone hear the full range of arguments, lest they corrupt us. The irony is that of all the Environmentalists’ attempts to diminish the moral character of climate sceptics, to banish them, to compare them to fascists, or to reduce the public to unthinking morons undeserving of democracy, none are actually attempts to win the debate – they are just new ways of avoiding it.
You can say whatever you like about climate change, just as long as it doesn’t appear to undermine political action to ‘save the planet’.
You can, for example, be the billionaire founder of the world’s first international, 24-hour TV news channel, and claim that in just 30 or 40 years humans will be cannibals, forced to eat each other’s flesh because all the crops will have died, without people making much of a deal about it. (Into the bargain, you can use your money and influence to advance the political idea that too many people inhabit the planet, and still be called a ‘philanthropist’, without a hint of irony).
But threaten the fragile minds of the young with just the faintest whiff of an idea that there might be more than one side to the global warming story, and Friends of the Earth, armed with a NASA headed letter from James Hansen, will want to have words with you:
A textbook used in high school government courses across the country has come under fire from scientists and environmentalists for its misleading approach to global warming. The textbook, “American Government,” presents basic facts as matters of debate—leaving students with the misconception that there is no scientific consensus about human contributions to global warming when in fact a strong consensus exists. The textbook also dramatically downplays the threats global warming poses.
… Friends of the Earth and the other involved groups are calling on Houghton Mifflin to immediately send a corrective addendum to schools, and ensure that the corrections are included in the next edition of the textbook when it’s published.
The complaint relates to the following text:
1. “It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem, because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming.” (p. 559) 2. “The earth has become warmer, but is this mostly the result of natural climate changes, or is it heavily influenced by humans putting greenhouse gases into the air?” (p.559) 3. “On the one hand, a warmer globe will cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal communities; on the other hand, greater warmth will make it easier and cheaper to grow crops and avoid high heating bills.” (p. 559) 4. “But many other problems are much less clear-cut. Science doesn’t know how bad the green-house effect is.” (p. 566)
None of these statements are factually incorrect, because they are not simply matters of fact. Passage 1 highlights a very important problem with Environmentalism in political science. How do we determine the best course of action when human interests are at odds with what are perceived to be ‘natural’ interests? Environmentalism is problematic because it cannot negotiate this conflict, tending – at best – to apply the precautionary principle in the environment’s favour, claiming (untestably) that ultimately those whose interests are displaced by eco-policies will be better off in the long-run because they wont have to suffer the consequences of environmental degradation. Take Ted Turner, or Sir Crispin Tickell’s view that too many people inhabit the planet, for example. This is ultimately an expression of the idea that people shouldn’t have rights to their own reproductive functions – for the sake of the planet, and it is the state’s role to either regulate reproduction through laws or disincentives, or to engineer values to achieve the same effect. This Malthusian perspective is at odds with other political philosophies which claim that mankind is able to adapt to new circumstances, and to create new technologies through science and politics. And it is indeed a ‘foolish’ politician who challenges this thinking in today’s political climate (unless he isn’t a coward) because he will earn the wrath of the likes of FoE, who position themselves as judges over politicians and policy. That order needs to be challenged if democracy is important.
Passage 2 doesn’t even make a statement, but asks a question. It doesn’t even challenge the premise that ‘the earth has become warmer’. As such, it is hard to see why the questions about what to do about it, and the relationship between science and politics aren’t important to political science students. FoE apparently would rather students learn that one side is right, and the other simply wrong, without any appreciation for how the facts of the matter are interpreted by different perspectives. That might be a worthwhile approach if it is desirable to create students without analytical skills.
Passage 3 isn’t even controversial. It is an acknowledged fact – by the IPCC themselves – that global warming would create benefits and open up areas to agriculture that were previously inaccessible, or simply too cold. Everyone knows that it’s not simply a case of climate change being all bad effects. The difference between the two perspectives is less about matters of scientific fact, and more to do with how problems are considered in relation to benefits. For example, the Environmentalist’s claim to humanitarianism is that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. Yet this principle assumes that there will always be poor people, and so creates an ‘ethic’ out of avoiding making life worse for the poor by minimising our environmental ‘impact’, rather than expressing genuine solidarity by lending a hand in ending the poverty which prevents development. But this ‘ethic’ is counter-productive. Similarly, the problems that people face in a warmer future are contingent on there being no political, economic or technological developments. And it is worth remembering here that the objectives of political Environmentalism are to divert our ambitions away from economic development, to end our ‘dependence’ on technological solutions to our day-to-day problems, and to reorganise society around small-scale, localised systems of production. Environmentalists seek undevelopment – sheer retrogression – in the face of climate change! Under the political conditions that Environmentalists want to create, our environmental conditions will necessarily cause the problems that they predict. As we have said before, Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not “whether” but “how much” and “how soon.” And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.
And as we pointed out at the time, what exists in the future as far as the majority of climate scientists are concerned is not fact, but doubt.
Doubt is the very essence of the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle is at the heart of international agreements and domestic policies on the environment. It was not scientific certainty that drove efforts to mitigate climate change, but th
e same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. … The Environmentalist narrative of catastrophe, doom, and apocalypse, once given superficial scientific plausibility (in that science cannot exclude the possibility of such things happening – which it never could), provides doubt and uncertainty about the security of the future, which in turn provides political momentum and legitimacy for environmental policies.
What is important to Environmentalists is not that we know what will happen in the future – indeed, knowing what will happen in the future would undermine the doubt that Environmentalism thrives in. What is important to Environmentalism is that there is a vaguely plausible argument that it might be bad, and that humans might not be able to cope. Their energies are not focused on developing strategies to overcome the problems they anticipate, but to attacking any approach to them which in turn undermines the culture of doom that gives them political currency.
This news comes in the wake of climate activist Jo Abbess’s demands that the text of an article relating to the recent decline in world temperatures by BBC journalist Roger Harrabin be altered to reflect not the scientific reality, but to emphasise the catastrophic narrative. Harrabin did as Abbess asked (probably just to get the shrieking lunatic off of his back… time will tell) and changed the text of his article.
Harrabin’s article related to the fact that global average temperature appears to be declining, attributed by scientists throughout the world to ‘natural variability’. All this talk of natural variability follows a decade of no warming, and subsequent to a variety of claims that we have been about to experience warmer and warmer weather, which have been contradicted later by revised projections, and climate reality, as we reported on Monday.
Whether or not this means that global warming is or isn’t happening is not the point. What it does show, however, is that scientists have significant problems in accounting for the climate – especially the anthropogenic component – in spite of the ‘scientific facts’. Clearly, those facts are not quite as meaningful as Friends of the Earth maintain:
The book was authored by a prominent conservative, James Q. Wilson, who is affiliated with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute—which has received oil industry funding, and by John DiIulio, who served as director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush White House.
Ahh, it’s not about science, its the ‘it’s all about the funding’ argument again. We like to think we’ve covered this argument in some depth . According to Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets website (even though the accounts of the organisations they intend to expose appear to be matters of public record)…
Total funding to American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research from Exxon corporations since 1998: $US 1,870,000
Well, that’s certainly a lot of money as far as you or I are concerned. But it’s only enough to supply multi-multi-multi-millionaire Al Gore’s house with energy for 60 years, not to mention his travel expenses. It’s nothing in comparison to the billions that Greenpeace has had in its coffers, and nothing in comparison to the hundreds of millions Gore has raised for his eco-army, and nothing next to the billion that Ted Turner has been able to give away, or the influence he is able to achieve. Al Gore’s film was intended to be sent to every classroom in the UK, yet as has been well established, it too is littered with inaccuracies, catastrophism, and outright untruths. Where were the FoE’s demands for scientific integrity then?
FoE draws on the support of James Hansen, who contradicts the IPCC ‘consensus’ with alarmist statements about meters of sea-level rise, yet escapes being called a ‘denier’ on the basis that he differs from the mainstream in a more apocalyptic direction. Hansen is no stranger to the political debate on climate science, and enters this affair on NASA-headed notepaper…
The textbook’s authors repeatedly attempt to cast doubt on the accepted science of global warming. Among other things, the authors state that “scientists do not know how large the greenhouse effect is, whether it will lead to a harmful amount of global warming, or (if it will) what should be done about it” (p. 560); that “profound disagreements” about global warming exist within the scientific community (p. 560);  that so-called “activist scientists” say that the earth’s climate is warming (p. 560);  that “science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect Is, if it exists at all” (p.569);  and that global warming is “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty” (p. 573). [our numbering]
None of the claims about which Hansen complains are controversial. Points 1, 4, and 5 are well established. The advice given by the IPCC and science academies throughout the world is precaution. We have discussed this above, and recently and in posts about the precautionaryprinciple.
Point #2 is certainly true. As Oreskes explains above. Point #3 is self-evidently true, and in the context of point #4, we would remind Hansen of the words of Mike Hulme while he was director of the Tyndall Centre:
The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science. Is any amount of climate change catastrophic? Catastrophic for whom, for where, and by when? What index is being used to measure the catastrophe?The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change.
Clearly there is fundamental controversy within the scientific community. (Indeed, a letter written on NASA-headed notepaper by Hansen’s boss, Michael Griffin, would make for very different reading.) So what is Hansen really complaining about?
Each of these statements is profoundly mistaken in ways t
hat will mislead students about the facts and science of global warming. In recent decades the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence that the earth’s climate is undergoing a period of significant heating, of which human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause. The scientific community no longer doubts whether global warming is happening. Scientific academies from across the globe, including the National Academy of Sciences, have stated unambiguously that human generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of well-documented global warming.
His concern that students will be mislead by the idea that there is no scientific certainty about the best way to proceed politically does not credit those students with the ability to understand that political direction has been achieved through the application of the precautionary principle. He knows that precaution is a vulnerable subject for the environmental movement, because it creates different responses to doubt, and so he protects the uncertainty with what certainty can be mustered. It is not controversial that we do not know what the future climate will be. It is not controversial in the scientific community that ‘global warming does exist’. But that statement has no necessary consequences. The consequences are the subject of controversy. And the mainstream response to those consequences is precaution. If we buy into the precautionary principle, we buy into a political, not a scientific perspective. That perspective holds that we might not be able to respond to climate change by adaptation, through political, economic, and technological creativity. If students were to understand that what determines the response to climate change is our political, rather than scientific perspective, then the argument about what to do has been lost. In other words, it is an orthodoxy – not good science – which Hansen is nervously protecting, an orthodoxy which he is determined will not be challenged, and he will use NASA-headed paper to make his point.
There may be many reasons to challenge the perspective offered in ‘American Government’. But this is not one of them. No doubt, John Dilulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor, and James Wilson, Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, are more conservative than most. But then, most sociology texts are written by people with political perspectives. In the UK, for example, Tony Blair had an intellectual relationship with sociologist Anthony Giddens – the author of many textbooks and ‘third-way’, communitarian and multiculturalist policy ideas. Thatcher similarly with Karl Popper – who needs no introduction. Asking political theorists or social scientists not to have political perspectives is like asking physicists not to have views – or even ideas – about wave-particle duality. And here is the problem. Nervousness about the future precedes and extends well beyond what science can or cannot determine. What looks like an objection to politically-motivated scientific inaccuracy in a textbook brings into relief the fact that people’s minds and the way they see the world are the source of the greatest uncertainty in the world. A political perspective causing such a moral panic reveals only the political exhaustion of the Environmentalists, and, by extension, the movement which considers itself an alternative to conservative thinking – the only way it can think of to challenge conservatism (even though climate scepticism is not conservatism) is to hide behind science, and to call for censorship. No wonder then, that they are against political perspectives in the political science classroom. No wonder they have no confidence in students to make up their own minds about what they read in politics textbooks. Never mind that it was a student – Matthew LaClair - responding critically to the text who started the fuss in the first place. The whole point – now forgotten – of political and social sciences is to challenge, negotiate and explain different perspectives on the world, and to convincingly develop newer and better ones.
But that would mean progress. And progress is exactly what Environmentalism stands in the way of. It would rather we unquestioningly adopted simple lives, didn’t demand better living conditions, didn’t ask questions about whose interests the ‘ethics’ of austerity are working in favour of, and didn’t ask why people should have to endure the hardships that lack of material wealth creates. Letting political (forget ‘scientific’) orthodoxy get challenged in the classroom is a sure fire way of allowing a generation of people to grow up disobedient, and worst still… aspirant. How dare they?
It used to be conservatives who stood for orthodoxies; traditions, and ‘knowing one’s place’ in natural and social orders. Now, those things seem to be what ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’ campaign for. But these new radicals are radical in the same way the Taliban are. They want to change the world, but will brook no dissent. They will bring ‘ethics’ to bear on political matters, but deny political perspectives the right of expression. They will claim that a higher purpose legitimises their campaign, but not allow objections to that purpose.
As we are fond of saying, Environmentalism has thrived in an era of political exhaustion. Now that Environmentalism is at last beginning to face challenges from political science, climate science, and the results of thermometer readings, it’s time for Environmentalists to grow some balls, and stand up to these challenges, or push off.
Last Friday, we asked ‘what happened to the precautionary principle‘. Recent arguments dominating the public discussion on climate change seem to have been about the ‘scientific consensus’ achieving certainty, rather than advising caution in the face of doubt. Yet on inspection, this certainty isn’t real. It is the kind of certainty that there is about being uncertain. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s famously ridiculous ‘known unknowns’ – things which you know you don’t know about, and ‘unknown unknowns’ – things you can be certain you don’t know you don’t know about. Uncertainty can be spun into certainty… All it takes to talk bollocks is balls.
Since that post, we’ve been looking for another good example of the precautionary principle being applied in an argument framed in terms of scientific certainty, like Naomi Oreskes does in her lecture on “the tobacco strategy”. We knew we were onto something when Jeremy Paxman introduced last night’s Newsnight discussion between the former UK Chancellor, Nigel Lawson and former director of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, with the words “The danger from climate change is far more serious than previously thought, claims the top specialist at NASA”. In his bringing the precautionary principle to bear on a problem in the absence of evidence even existing, Chris Rapley did not disappoint.
At the beginning of the discussion, Rapley agrees with Lawson that the 21st century shows no warming trend. But this is not significant in the longer, 30-year time frame, he suggests…
Quite how the last decade’s non-warming is supposed to corroborate climate models, we are not sure, especially since the Hadley Centre have postponed warming until 2010, and told us that the recent cold snap is natural variation caused by La Nina, which logically means that the 97-98 El Nino too must have been ‘natural variation’. In other words, 13 years of either natural variation or no warming are less significant to our understanding of the future climate than the previous 17 years. No cause for not worrying, “doing nothing” is not an option, Rapley reminds us…
Catastrophe is just around the corner… Except it isn’t, because, as Lawson rightly points out, it is not obviously true that climate change means disaster. It just means change. Put another way, what Rapley is asking us to consider is not the facts of climate change, but the possibilities that might unfold, if climate change is being caused by humans. Waiting and seeing is not an adequate response, says Rapley, in the face of the possibility of such danger. But, as we have argued before, what determines the vulnerability of humans to climate is not the climate itself – civilisation endures a vast range of conditions – but our ability to organise ourselves against the elements.
The precautionary principle looms large in this argument. And Rapley finishes by again emphasising not what what we do know, but what we don’t.
…now that April’s there.
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!
- Robert Browning
British Airways has cancelled more than 120 flights after snow added to the list of woes at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. With 12 flights scrapped from the schedule because of ongoing problems with the automated baggage system, another 126 were axed because of the cold weather.
The record-breaking cold weather recently afflicting China, the Middle East, and Europe, amongst others, has led some to ask questions about what’s going on when we were expecting global warming. Luckily, the experts are on hand to make sure that we don’t stop panicking.
Adam Scaife, lead scientist for Modelling Climate Variability at the Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK, said their best estimate for 2008 was about 0.4C above the 1961-1990 average, and higher than this if you compared it with further back in the 20th Century. Mr Scaife told the BBC: “What’s happened now is that La Nina has come along and depressed temperatures slightly but these changes are very small compared to the long-term climate change signal, and in a few years time we are confident that the current record temperature of 1998 will be beaten when the La Nina has ended.”
It’s all “natural variability”, and La Nina, apparently, this cold spell. But hang on a minute… Wasn’t there an El Nino in 1998 – the year that we’re supposed to get back to once La Nina is over?
There was indeed. So why are the low temperatures in 2007/8 attributed to “natural variability”, while the 1998 heatwave – which coincided with one of the most significant El Nino events in history – is attributed to global warming?
The world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007, the UK’s Met Office says.
An extended warming period, resulting from an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean, will probably push up global temperatures, experts forecast. [Jan 4 2007.]
The weather is nearly as variable as those trying to predict it. By August that year, and during one of the wettest UK summers ever, the Hadley Centre had dampened their expectations for the immediate future following the revision of their climate models. As the Guardian reported:
The forecast from researchers at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter reveals that natural shifts in climate will cancel out warming produced by greenhouse gas emissions and other human activity until 2009, but from then on, temperatures will rise steadily. Temperatures are set to rise over the 10-year period by 0.3C.
Team leader, Dr Doug Smith said: “Occurrences of El Nino, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions. By including such internal variability, we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature.” Dr Smith continues: “Observed relative cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific over the last couple of years was correctly predicted by the new system, giving us greater confidence in the model’s performance”.
To re-cap, the new system had, we are told, correctly predicted the last couple of years, but in January 2007, the group were predicting the warmest year on record, and then, following an atrocious “summer”, they have postponed global warming until 2009, set to return in 2010. Here are those events, placed on the NINO graphic…
By August 2007, it was apparent that the El Nino was over, and not as significant as Hadley had predicted it would be in January. It was also apparent that La Nina was well underway, and this would have the consequence of driving down temperatures for 2008. From here, it is likely that temperatures will rise after 2010, and that an El Nino event would follow, driving temperatures up again. Safe to say that the MET is on the money when it predicts an increase in 2010. Possibly. Maybe. either way, we have to wait… and remember… until 2010 to see if the gamble pays off.
All of this is not to knock meteorology or anything. We are well aware that an unseasonal cold snap says little about whether global warming is or isn’t happening, or what we should do about it if it is or isn’t. What is well worth knocking, however, is the message provided by meteorologists. They, like Oreskes et al, are increasingly relying on messages of certainty when it suits them, and doubt, or “natural variability” where they can’t provide answers. But this isn’t meteorology; it’s rumour, folklore – the whittling down of complex dynamic systems to simple rules of thumb. And when it comes to folklore, others do it better than the Met.
Back in the olden days, in the days when they had the sort of “stable” climate we are all now expected to aspire to, long before anyone had thunk up global warming or anything, they used to amuse themselves of an evening by singing about how natural variability is always going to happen whether the models be right or wrong. We like to think this one is probably called Climate is a Complex Non-linear Multifactorial System.
Whether the weather be hot, or whether the weather be not, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not!