Unsustain-Nobility

Posted by admin on April 27, 2009
Apr 272009

According to CNN, Prince Charles, who at some point in the future can look forward to inheriting the United Kingdom, has just signed a book and film deal. Yes, the Prince of Wales is Britain’s answer to Al Gore.

“I believe that true sustainability depends fundamentally upon us shifting our perception and widening our focus, so that we understand, again, that we have a sacred duty of stewardship of the natural order of things,” Prince Charles said in a statement.

“If we could rediscover that sense of harmony; that sense of being a part of, rather than apart from nature, we would perhaps be less likely to see the world as some sort of gigantic production system, capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit — at no cost.”

Now why would the future monarch of a country of 60 million people have such an inclination towards ideas about ‘the natural order of things’, eh?

Even more bizarre is Charles’s bedfellow in all this, former Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper.

The co-author of the book is former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper, who, since leaving the organization in 2008, has been critical of a number of celebrities who promote environmental issues.

Juniper criticized model Naomi Campbell and actress Sienna Miller for not practicing what they preach on the environment, and in an article he accused mogul Richard Branson of “jumping on the global warming bandwagon.”

“The prince and I share similar views on issues of sustainability and the environment. He is in a unique position to express his concern for unsustainable economics, and is committed to highlighting the crisis of our disconnection from nature,” Juniper told CNN.

Juniper has singled out supermodels and Branson – who at least do something – for their hypocrisy, and yet leaves intact the reputation of the prince. This is odd.

The prince is ‘in a unique position to express his concern for unsustainable economics’ mainly because protocol, in theory, precludes him from making political statements. And yet here he is, about to make political statements. Just because it’s ‘green’, it doesn’t mean it’s not political.

As the beneficiary of one the largest estates in England, he also has a unique position on ‘sustainability’, because it increases the value of that estate, the proceeds of which are exempt from corporation and capital gains tax. Lucky, lucky him.

As we have pointed out before, it’s not easy being green… unless you’re filthy stinking rich.

Even more weird is that Juniper should be getting into bed with the future king of England given the number of claims that environmentalism is synonymous with anti-capitalism. It seems that Juniper is more interested in pre-capitalist… feudal… society than anti-capitalist or communist society. Maybe he shares Charles’s keenness for ‘natural orders’.

“Harmony” will warn of the threat big business poses to the environment, HarperCollins said.

If Charles carries on with this preaching to a country experiencing perhaps its most severe recession ever, while sitting on top of a massive stack of cash, he is likely to become an inconvenient monarch. The prince, who reportedly runs his cars on wine… seriously… is going to be making statements equivalent to ‘can’t they eat cake?’. Some might shout, ‘off with his head’. But Charles, the vocal advocate of homeopathy and talking to flowers to encourage their growth… is already off his head.

Beware: Health Warnings

Posted by admin on April 25, 2009
Apr 252009

Speaking of self-fulfilling prophecies, which we often are, Stu has a feature in today’s FT magazine about the negative impacts on our health of precautionary health advice:

Worried Sick
What if health warnings could make us ill? Actually, they can – it’s called the “nocebo effect” and there’s a lot of it about

It’s mostly about medical advice, but it also touches on how encouraging negative expectations about the state of the planet can be asking for trouble:

Even non-specific worries about the state of the world in general can be enough to make us ill, according to research from the University of Auckland. Prior to a huge pesticide-spraying programme in New Zealand, people were asked about their attitudes towards new technologies and environmental threats. After the spraying, those who were most concerned about the health risks reported the greatest number of symptoms.

There’s an online version here.

Of course, in the case of environmentalism, the self-fulfilling prophecy is mediated more by politics than physiology – environmental politics creates conditions that leave us more vulnerable to environmental problems. Both, however, are responses to the same institutionalised, precautionary fear-mongering.

Apr 252009

Our last post concerned the New York Times article by Andrew Revkin, about allegations of a ‘tobacco strategy’ conspiracy to distort the climate debate in the interests of energy companies.

The story was used by Al Gore in testimony to congress, in which he accuses the group of a fraud larger than that committed by Bernie Madoff, as Think Progress reports. They also upload a video and transcript of Gore’s speech, which makes this post much easier to write.

Gore says:

The largest corporate carbon polluters in America, 14 years ago, asked their own people to conduct a review of all of this science. And their own people told them, “What the international scientific community is saying is correct, there is no legitimate basis for denying it.” Then, these large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff’s fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted, and like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money.

But as we point out, this is just wrong. Here’s a quick recap of why.

  • The review took place in 1995,  but the information it allegedly contradicts was circulated in the early 1990′s, according to the evidence. Logically, therefore, no contradiction emerges from the evidence. 
  • The documents only contradict each other when quoted from selectively. (See below for quotes).
  • The claim of fraud can only be made
    • by blurring distinctions between logically distinct categories of knowledge
    • by ignoring the order of events
    • by reducing matters of degree to binary true/false axioms
    • by exaggerating the influence of the alleged conspiracy. 

The allegation made in the NYT article focuses on two quotes, one in the material published by the group, the other is from the review. 

[Published, early 1990s] “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

[Review, 1995] “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

But the full paragraph from the review reveals that no contradiction exists in the evidence given. 

The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied. While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today’s concern is about net warming. However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased  greenhouse gas concentrations.

Read the links in the previous post for more background.

But here’s the most absurd thing. Gore begins his account of the alleged fraud with these words:

I believe it is important to look at the sources of the science that we rely on. With all due respect, I believe that you have relied on people you have trusted who have given you bad information. I do not blame the investors who trusted Bernie Madoff, but he gave them bad information.

If it needs pointing out: 1) Gore has bad information from the NYT article. 2) Gore has not ‘looked at the sources of the science’ to check their reliability. (Neither did Revkin).

Let’s put this into perspective. Rumour-mongering about special-interests paying to distort the debate began on the Internet as the site exxonsecrets.org – a petty rumour-mill operated by Greenpeace. This inconsequential muck-raking has been given superficial journalistic and academic credibility by activists such as George Monbiot and academic activists such as Naomi Oreskes, and lastly by Andrew Revkin. Through a process that owes more to the party game ‘Chinese whispers’ than academic or scientific rigour, unfounded rumour and innuendo has been regurgitated onto the floor of perhaps the most influential democratic institution in the world. 

This is climate politics. It pretends to be about saving the planet. But in reality, it is crass, petty, and self-interested. 

Climate sceptics ought to take two messages from this. 

First, it is clear that environmentalists are clutching at straws to make their case. 

Second, that climate politics of this kind has achieved this level of prominence therefore cannot be blamed solely on climate activists. It cannot be argued that environmentalism has risen under its own steam. It’s momentum has been generated by a vacuum of ideas that all political parties suffer from. This is the issue that needs addressing.

Know Your Times

Posted by admin on April 24, 2009
Apr 242009

>> UPDATE: Gore uses the flawed NYT article in his testimony to congress. READ MORE. <<

New York Times journalist, Andrew Revkin, generally writes thoughtfully in the paper, and on his Dot Earth blog, even if we generally disagree with him.

However, writing for the paper yesterday, he lowers himself to the level of debate we’re used to seeing from the likes of George Monbiot, who we frequently mention. Indeed, Revkin even quotes Monbiot.

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

This is the ‘tobacco strategy’ thesis that Monbiot has taken from Naomi Oreskes. We’ve written about it on several occasions

The thesis needs no exposition here – read the links. Suffice it to say that it attempts (but also fails comprehensively) to show exactly what Revkin aims to show.

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

That is – a conspiracy to subvert the truth according to environmentalism using those vicious weapons, argument and science within democratic debate! Bastards! How dare they?

The demonstration of the conspiracy’s weight rests on the ‘discovery’ of information (actually it was in the public domain) relating to its budget.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.

That’s right folks, this conspiracy was financed to the tune of a whopping great big massive huge giant vast $1.68 million dollars! A year! Wow, that’s nearly enough money for… erm… a couple of adverts!

As we’ve pointed out, $1.68 million is absolute peanuts in comparison to the spend on propaganda from environmental organisations. But these groups can’t even claim to be providing a useful service, like fuel. 

As we’ve also pointed out, many times, the efforts of these organisations is usually well out of kilter with anything that emerges from the scientific literature.

Revkin:

Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. 

We have also pointed out that the tobacco-strategy-conspiracy-theory as put forward by Oreskes substantially depends on a re-writing of scientific history: that it has long been ‘known’ as ‘fact’ that mankind is influencing the climate. In fact, the IPCC process did not produce any putative ‘certainty’ until TAR2001.

Similarly focussing on what was known by the conspiracy, and what it published, Revkin compares two statements, one public, distributed in the early 1990s, and the other private, produced in 1995:

[PUBLIC, early 1990s] “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

[PRIVATE, 1995] “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

This is silly. Even if the private memo wasn’t written AFTER the first, the two statements are not incompatible. The role of greenhouse gasses in climate change ARE NOT well understood, even if the POTENTIAL impact of human emissions has been documented. That is why the Kyoto protocol was advanced, under the terms of the Rio Declaration, not on the basis of knowledge or of certainty, but according to the precautionary principle. The ‘potential impact’ of anthropogenic climate change has, since the dawn of climate alarmism, been understood as anything between slightly better conditions for agriculture, and total annihilation of life on Earth.

The Environmentalists’ case rests on the claim that the knowledge of the fact that CO2 can influence climate is equivalent to knowledge that it will produce widespread effects, not just to climate, but to society.

Moreover, Revkin, seemingly in search of a scoop, quotes selectively from the private document. In context, the apparent contradiction evaporates:

The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied. While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today’s concern is about net warming. However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased  greenhouse gas concentrations.

The New York Times publish this comment attached to the documents.

The Public Message: Climate Uncertainty: In the early 1990s, the Global Climate Coalition was the leading voice for industries concerned that a prompt push to cut heat-trapping emissions could raise energy costs. It produced a series of “backgrounders” available to the press and policymakers. This flier appears to contradict what the coalition’s science and technology advisers were saying about the basic science pointing to substantial warming from a buildup of such gases.

 Revkin has failed to notice the incoherence of the arguments made by environmentalists. 

In summary:

1. Environmentalists confuse the ‘fact’ of anthropogenic CO2′s unquantified influence with the range of nth-order effects that it may (or may not) cause. But the fact of the influence of anthropogenic CO2 on the climate is distinct to facts of the degree of that effect, which is again logically distinct from the facts relating to the effects produced as second, third, and fourth order effects on climate systems, ecosystems, species, primary industry and civil infrastructure, economy, and society. 

2. The document contradicting the claims made in the briefing document was written after the briefing document was circulated. Therefore, no contradiction emerges from the evidence. 

3. The documents only contradict each other when quoted from selectively. 

4. The environmentalists’ case only exists by blurring distinctions between logically distinct categories of knowledge, by ignoring the order of events, by reducing matters of degree to binary true/false axioms, and by exaggerating the influence of the alleged conspiracy. 

[ETA: We have been unclear in the above post. There are two sentences which appear in the document published by the NYT.

The first says "The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

The second says "The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied."

The first sentence appears ahead of the second in the document. The second paragraph is part of the larger paragraph, as quoted.

This changes nothing about the meaning, nor of the failure of the NYT to check their story but we thought we ought to draw people's attention to the two instances. - Editors]

Hogging the Climate Change Gravy Train

Posted by admin on April 23, 2009
Apr 232009

Nearly two years ago, we wrote a post about ‘research’ emerging from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, showing that fat people contribute disproportionately to climate change.

True to the commandments of environmentalism – Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle – the researchers have put a new spin on their old stuff. Why bother doing new research when you can pass the same old leftovers to hungry newsrooms? The BBC wolfed it down whole without chewing, for their article 1970s lifestyle ‘protects planet’:

Getting back to the relatively slim, trim days of the 1970s would help to tackle climate change, researchers say.

The rising numbers of people who are overweight and obese in the UK means the nation uses 19% more food than 40 years ago, a study suggests.

That could equate to an extra 60 mega tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the team calculated.

This ‘calculation’ must come at the end of a great deal of science… you would expect, wouldn’t you? But the article published in this month’s issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology (full paper available here) might just as well have been written in ketchup on the back of a hamburger wrapper. It simply puts a few theoretically not-entirely-implausible numbers to the same old argument that fat people are killing the polar bears:

In 2000, the total global emission of GHGs was 42 Giga tonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalents, for a world population of 6 billion. One billion people might therefore be considered responsible for 7 GT of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. Since food production by the agricultural sector accounts for 20% of total GHG emissions, food production might account for 1.4 GT (20%) of the 7 GT per year for the normal population. A 19% increase in food consumption by an overweight population would therefore result in an increase in GHG emissions to 1.67 GT per year—an absolute increase of 0.27 GT per year.

A snarktastic commentary from The Register exposes how the researchers’ calculations are fraught with technical problems:

Public-health researchers in London have come up with a new plan to save the planet: wealthy westerners should all reduce by several inches in height by starving their children. This would not only save food, but make people much lighter, meaning that cars and buses would use less fuel. [etc]

The research paper itself is only marginally less funny:

Compared with the normal population, we would expect the overweight population to have higher transportation fuel energy use because of the additional fuel energy needed to transport heavier people. The proportionate increase in fuel energy use (and thus GHG emissions) due to a person’s weight per kilometre is estimated as car weight plus half the mass of the person, divided by car weight (Leonard Evans, personal communication) [...] we assumed that all individuals with BMI < 30 kg/m2 use an average small car (e.g. Ford Fiesta) and that individuals with BMI 30 kg/m2 use a car with more internal space (e.g. Ford Galaxy). The Ford Fiesta weighs 1530 kg and produces 147 gCO2 per km, whereas the Ford Galaxy weighs 2415 kg and produces 197 gCO2 per km.

Heavier people tend to eat more, and require more energy to move, you see? And to drive cars named after chocolate bars.

But it’s not the numbers that are important here. The authors conclude:

We argue that increased population adiposity, because of its contribution to climate change from additional food and transport GHG emissions, should be recognized as an environmental problem.

These researchers made their point several years ago. Yes, in some very theoretical way, fat people must indeed contribute disproportionately to climate change. But it is at this inconsequential factoid that this inconsequential research ceases to be of use to mankind’s progress. That its producers trot it out again, and again, and again, each time to a press that laps up with credulity the salacious headline that fat-people are planet-killers, surely represents one thing: the desire to explain everything in terms of its relation to the issue of climate change.

At one end, this tendency represents a rather naked attempt to position oneself as a relevant player in the climate debate to secure a research budget. But there may be more to it, because at the other end, this may reflect the increasing influence of environmental ideology. Accordingly, this research is either a self-serving, cynical attempt to use the obesity issue for self-gain, or it is the ignorant work of ‘scientists’ who have failed to eliminate the social prejudice and values they bring to their research.

It might also be wondered what was so good about the 1970s. It was a terrible decade for people throughout the world, but especially in the UK. Things got so bad that the country had to ask the IMF for a loan, and businesses were instructed to operate for only three days a week. The decade was characterised by strike after strike after strike. Even gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool, meaning coffins were literally stacked up while the families of the bereaved waited to give them funerals. London’s landmarks were used as storage for rubbish, because refuse collection workers went on strike, leading to an epidemic of rats. Manufacturing decline and economic stagnation left millions unemployed, and the political conflicts endured well into the 80s. These are the circumstances which produced the ‘healthy’ diet of the 1970s – perhaps it was because people were poor that they ate less meat and fat. That is not a good thing, and arguably, it is a worse thing than being slim is good. The myopia of the researchers intending to bring public health and environmental issues to bear on public policy is similarly a dangerous thing. Bloated on their own self-importance, they create the basis on which authority can interfere with people’s lives while simultaneously relinquishing themselves of the responsibility for improving their conditions.

B*llsh*t B*ll*cks Cr*p

Posted by admin on April 22, 2009
Apr 222009

Some journalists are supposed to be critical of government. It is their job. Some journalists are supposed to make arguments in favour of government policy. It is their job, even if the result is bland and inconsequential. Some journalists feign ‘balance’ by reporting what both sides of a ‘debate’ have to say.

It is easy to criticise journalists for their biases. But bias is part of the job of reporting. If journalists had no perspective to offer, there would be no point in the news.

But the BBC’s coverage of events is curious. It reported today that:

The chancellor has announced measures aimed at cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – as part of £1bn spending to tackle climate change.

The Budget commits the UK to cut CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020.

There is much to say about the Government’s campaign to make the UK greener. For instance, it could be asked what kind of legitimacy its policies have, since environmentalism has never been tested by the UK’s democratic process. Neither has it been established exactly whose interests green policies have been designed to serve.

These things don’t interest the journalists at the BBC:

Industry has pushed for the measures, saying it will allow them to invest in “greener” technologies, but scientists say the targets do not go far enough.

Which ‘industry’? When? More to the point, which scientists?

Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the emissions cuts were far too weak to allow the UK to “play its part in avoiding dangerous climate change”.

But Friends of the Earth aren’t scientists.

The New Economics Foundation dismissed the Budget as being “more beige than green”.

But the New Economics Foundation aren’t scientists either.

Christian Aid’s climate policy expert Dr Alison Doig said the UK and other industrialised nations needed to urgently commit to deeper emissions cuts ahead of a climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

Last time we checked, Christian Aid weren’t scientists.

The offer of taxpayer money to support carbon capture and storage would put pressure on government to make sure such projects were delivered on time to the benefit of the UK consumer, said Jim Fitzgerald, a director at Ernst & Young.

Ernst & Young aren’t scientists.

The article does not quote a single scientist.

This is the curious thing: the BBC reporter seems to imagine that these various special interest groups speak ‘for science’. Even more curious is that, in terms of ideological bias, neither the reporter, the Government, nor the interest groups represent opposing ‘sides’. The differences between them only amount to theoretical degrees of commitment to the same ideas. At the same time that the journalist has written an article critical of the government, he or she has written something that is sympathetic.

If you wanted to know what the NEF, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth were saying about today’s budget, you’d have been better off visiting their websites. The BBC seemingly presents these activists’ views, not only as scientific authorities, but as though they – the BBC – had gone to the trouble of soliciting these organisations for their opinion, and that the quotes are responses to their own probing questions. And yet all the quotes are in fact simply lifted word-for-word from press releases. Not only does the BBC pander to the shrillest voices, but it apparently does so by design.

The anonymous BBC journalist hack gives the authority of science to these special interests, as though they were neutral, objective and disinterested observers of the government, not the ideologically-driven, unaccountable, and undemocratic activists which they are. This frames the debate as though it were itself between a government dragging its feet, and pure objectivity.

Even more curious, we’re supposed to think that a green budget would be a good thing, because it is something ‘industry has pushed for’, and the ‘scientists’ (aka activist organisations) have said that ‘the first ever carbon budgets is a ground-breaking step’. But what about you and I? When do our views on environmental policies get checked? Not at the ballot box. Not in Parliament. Not on the BBC.

The halfwit hack cannot even tell the difference between a scientist and a campaigning organisation. What hope has he or she of producing an informative article, with or without bias?

Messianic green activist Al Gore is credited with raising the profile of the ‘balance as bias’ hypothesis, which posits that the perception of the climate debate has been distorted by giving air time to ‘deniers’, giving the impression that there still exists a debate within the scientific community. Of course, it works the other way too, but Gore conveniently forgets that.

Let us propose another hypothesis. The bullshit-as-bias hypothesis. The perception of the climate debate is distorted by bollocks journalism, such as the BBC exhibits today. It cannot bring any intelligence to its reporting, cannot reflect critically on any of the opinions it reports, and is entirely credulous about whatever it sees or hears. It is the slack-jawed, hollow-headed cretin it imagines its audience to be. News: digested and delivered in exactly the way that excessive dietary fibre is. Complete crap.

Psycho-Activists' Lack-of-Substance Abuse

Posted by admin on April 19, 2009
Apr 192009

Last month, we mentioned a conference at the University of the West of England, which set out to diagnose the debilitating condition suffered by those who fail to subscribe to the environmental orthodoxy.

We suggested that it’s a sure sign that environmentalism’s political arguments are failing when its adherents resort to the pathologisation of dissenters. Climate psycho-activist George Marshall had followed up his opening address to the conference with a Guardian piece explaining that ‘the greatest obstacles to action are not technical, economic or political — they are the denial strategies that we adopt to protect ourselves from unwelcome information’.

What he meant by ‘we’ was ‘them’. But that’s the trouble with psychology: we all have one. If scepticism can be reduced to a psycho-pathological phenomenon, then so too can willingness to toe the line of green orthodoxy. Things get even more difficult for Marshall because, given that the majority of the world’s population would count as sceptics (and Marshall’s despair over the results of various opinion polls would suggest that he’d agree with this), it seems rather odd to be writing off such views as an aberration.

We suggested that his analysis could be thrown right back at him just by reversing the meaning of each of his arguments. The same goes for a similar analysis from green campaigning philosopher James Garvey, which we missed at the time. Garvey drew on Mayer Hillman’s ten excuses for inaction on climate change:

1. I don’t believe in climate change.
2. Technology will be able to halt climate change.
3. Others are to blame.
4. Various ad hominems directed at those calling for action.
5. It’s not my problem.
6. There’s nothing I can do about it.
7. How I run my life is my business.
8. There are more important problems to tackle.
9. At least I am doing something.
10. We are already making real progress on climate change.

Once again, with just a modicum of tweaking, these can be transformed into ten excuses to do ‘something’ on climate change:

1. I believe in climate change.
2. Technology won’t be able to halt climate change.
3. I am to blame.
4. Various ad hominems directed at those criticising action for its own sake.
5. This is personal.
6. There’s something I can do to make myself feel better about it.
7. How I run my life is everyone’s business, and theirs mine.
8. I haven’t got anything better to do.
9. At least I am doing something.
10. Climate change is worse than previously thought.

Meanwhile, Marshall continues to clutch at the straws offered by eco-psychology. He has recently posted his Guardian piece on his blog with a postscript in which he lists some of the responses made to the original ‘which are mostly text book examples of the various denial strategies we know only too well’. It’s all he can do; he has nowhere else to go. No point countering with political arguments. Because the outcome of Marshall’s argument is that politics itself is reducible to the sum of the expression of our psychological idiosyncrasies. It’s the only way to resolve the conflict between his statements that A) psychology is the biggest determinant of one’s willingness to act on climate change, and B) ‘political world view is by far the greatest determinant of attitudes to climate change’:

Climate change is invariably presented as an overwhelming threat requiring unprecedented restraint, sacrifice, and government intervention. The metaphors it invokes are poisonous to people who feel rewarded by free market capitalism and distrust government interference. It is hardly surprising that political world view is by far the greatest determinant of attitudes to climate change, especially in the US where three times more Republicans than Democrats believe that “too much fuss is made about global warming”

If ‘denialism’ is a pathology, so too is Republicanism. And who argues with madmen? Handy.

Last year, Ben wrote a review of Garvey’s book The Ethics of Climate Change. Since then, Garvey’s argument hasn’t got any more sophisticated, nor even more philosophical.

A more philosophical question might be ‘what are the ethics of treating people with different views as though they had a psychological disorder?’ But indeed, the tendency to psychologise political difference rather than face awkward philosophical and political questions is symptomatic of what we have described as the orthodox-interested category of players in the climate change debate. If it is possible to characterise climate change ‘denial’ with a list of symptoms, then it is legitimate to do the same with their counterparts, as above.

Garvey, like many climate change activists, hides his ethics (or equally possibly, his lack of them) behind scientific authority. But he escapes being head-shrinked into a category by claiming that ‘the science’ justifies his outlook – even though, as he admits, he doesn’t actually understand the science. Knowledge of the material world that informs his ethical perspective comes to him from authority – science academies, the IPCC. Garvey might wish to consult a number of philosophers who point out that experience is prior to science. Science’s aim is to build an objective picture of the world. But it is not executed by objective beings. Nor is it viewed by objective beings.

Hillman’s ten arguments give us a view of what a ‘sceptic’ might say, each implying that the individual hasn’t been sufficiently exposed to the official scientific truth. But as our own ten points demonstrate, it is easy to form an equally ill-informed perspective the other way. Garvey, like Hillman takes what he understands to be an objective, scientific fact – climate change is dangerous and is happening – and runs with it. Where does it take him?

It takes him, Hillman, and Marshall to a view of other people. The prospect of catastrophe allows Garvey to reinvent a system of ethics to explain how people ought to behave. It allows Hillman to speculate on the nature of other people’s ignorance. It allows Marshall to peer inside the heads of his political opposition. It allows the creation of a form of politics which sees people as little more than a collection of animal drives and instincts – objects, which they have studied, that need to be managed lest they unleash thermageddon.

This is what people object to. It is not an objection that appears on Hilman’s list. He obviously hasn’t reflected very deeply on what an objection to his own view might be. Naturally, this is because he denies that there can be an objection. Science says so. Let us correct him. Garvey’s, Hillman’s and Marshall’s arguments are not formed from objectivity. They are formed at a time in which men such as these struggle to find any way of elevating themselves. They have very little to offer the world in terms of ideas about how to make it a better place. So they instead tell us that it is much much worse place than we can possibly contemplate, and worsening. It is only from their privileged standpoint that the danger can be seen. These three men demonstrate their inability to communicate with the public. Their shrill voices represent an increasingly desperate attempt to shout instructions across the distance between them and the rest of the world.

People can see that this is what environmental politics, ethics and psychology are about. That is because they have a subjective position on the world; they are not mere collections of animal drives. And as subjective beings, it is easy to imagine things from a different perspective. It is easy to sense, if not recognise, that what lies behind environmental catastrophism is a desire to control. Once the subjective position of eco-zealots is understood, it is easy to see that there is not only a way of explaining their alarmism, but also a substantial disparity between what emerges from the ‘objective’ scientific process and the bleak environmental orthodoxy they produce.

Attenborough & the Descent of Man

Posted by admin on April 13, 2009
Apr 132009

Sir David Attenborough, the face and voice of quality BBC natural history programmes, controller of BBC2 during the ‘golden age’ of British television, national treasure, has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, the organisation that campaigns for reductions in the human population.

For a long time, Sir David refused to campaign on environmental matters, maintaining that he was there only to show the wonders of life on Earth. It was almost as if he credited audiences with the ability to draw their own conclusions.

Not any more. In his dotage, he has been trading on that trust. Take his closing remarks to his 2002 flagship BBC series The Life of Mammals:

Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time to control the population to allow the survival of the environment.

In a statement, Sir David said:

I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.

Perhaps we can be of assistance…

How many cavemen does it take to build a Large Hadron Collider?

Did few hands make light work of this?

Was this just some garage project?

How many cooks can it take to write a recipe book?

It takes millions to make a president

Or to break a monarch

Is JR Killing the Polar Bears?

Posted by admin on April 11, 2009
Apr 112009

‘Tis the season of resurrections. And right on cue, science PR is working overtime to bring the polar-ice soap opera back from the dead.

Following a disappointing summer of 2008, in which the ‘worst ever’ Arctic ice scenarios prophesied at the start of the year failed to materialise, there was the danger that viewers would start channel-hopping. Something had to be done.

To get things rolling, the scriptwriters at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have introduced a couple of new characters for the 2009 season – winter maximum sea ice extent and ice thickness, both of which made an appearance in the first episode aired this week by the BBC:

The Arctic sea-ice reached its maximum extent this year on 28 February, slightly earlier than usual, and remained roughly constant through March.

Averaged over March, the sea-ice covered 15.16 million sq km (5.85 million sq miles).

By comparison, this was 590,000 sq km (228,000 sq miles) below the average for the years 1979 to 2000, and 730,000 sq km (282,000 sq miles) above the record low of 2006.

and

“Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover,” said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier.

“As the ice cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it grows more vulnerable to melting in the summer.”

In the 1980s, thick multi-year ice made up 30-40% of the cover, the scientists say.

The summer minimum area is changing much faster than the winter maxima, shrinking by about 0.7% per year. Last year UK researchers showed that the ice has also markedly thinned in recent years.

The BBC story followed a series of press releases that the NSIDC started pumping out to journalists just as soon as the melt season had begun. This is what has popped up in our inbox this month so far:

April 1, 2009
Sea ice cover over the Arctic Ocean typically reaches its maximum geographic extent and thickness just as spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the winter maximum extent has been lower during the last six winters than at any other time during thirty years of satellite records. Scientists have also observed that ice thickness and age are changing. They will present their analyses of Arctic ice cover for the 2008 to 2009 winter season at the briefing.

6 April 2009
MEDIA ADVISORY: Update on Arctic Sea Ice Conditions
In conjunction with a NASA/NSIDC media teleconference today, NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean. To read the full analysis from NSIDC scientists, see http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2009/040609.html
Supporting information for the media briefing is available on the NASA Web site at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/seaice_status09.html. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the NASA Web site at http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.

April 8, 2009
Media Advisory: Ice Bridge Supporting Wilkins Ice Shelf Collapses
An ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula to Charcot Island has disintegrated. The event continues a series of breakups that began in March 2008 on the ice shelf, and highlights the effect that climate change is having on the region… [etc]

The press, of course, lap up these plot twists like there’s no tomorrow, using them to pack out column inches with stories about how there’s no tomorrow. Take the opening paragraph of the BBC piece:

Arctic ice reached a larger maximum area this winter than in the last few years, scientists say, but the long-term trend still shows it declining.

This is such an utter non-story – amounting to no more than ‘NSIDC have another year’s worth of winter Arctic ice data’ – that the only reason we can see for the BBC giving it the time of day is to guard against the possibility that people start filling their pretty heads with silly notions that the extent of summer Arctic sea ice varies from year to year, and that while it seems to have been reducing a bit over the last few decades, it hardly follows that it spells the end of the world as we know it.

We mentioned recently that climatological natural variation comes in two varieties. To repeat ourselves, there is the type that is ignored by ‘deniers’ asking awkward questions about recent temperature plateaus. And there’s the type that is to be disregarded for the sake of alarmist stories about single, aberrant weather events.

Both scientists and journalists are guilty of these double standards. And in the BBC piece, we have another prime example. While bending over backwards to stress that, due to natural variation, a single data point that is not as ominous as it could have been in an ideal world does not mean there’s nothing to worry about, the BBC is entirely reliant on ignoring that very same natural variation in order write something – anything – about the latest installment from the NSIDC. It regurgitates NSIDC graphs, complete with lines of best fit that reveal the underlying downward trend towards inevitable oblivion, without wondering why scientific predictions from the NSIDC and elsewhere about the future of Arctic ice are spread across a whole continent of ball parks each the size of Wales. (Estimates for the date of an ice-free Arctic summer – an arbitrary milestone that has nonetheless come to be understood as the signal hailing the Horsemen (Norsemen?) of the Arctic Apocalypse – range from 2008 to 2013, through 2030 to 2100 to some time in the next century, or some time after that.)

This NSIDC graph used by the BBC shows winter maximum sea ice extent:

Ignore natural variation, and what remains is a shallow downward trend that looks vaguely scary only because of the scale of the y axis. We’re just surprised that no one has thought to extrapolate it to come up with a date for when there’ll be no Arctic sea ice even in winter. (2320, by our reckoning. That’s got be worth a press release.)

Meanwhile, the x-axis comprises 30 years of satellite data, a period of time that barely even qualifies as a timescale over which changes in climate can be assessed with confidence. According to the UK Met Office:

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) requires the calculation of averages for consecutive periods of 30 years, with the latest covering the 1961-1990 period. However, many WMO members, including the UK, update their averages at the completion of each decade. Thirty years was chosen as a period long enough to eliminate year-to-year variations.

The NSIDC, like the BBC, has its own love-hate relationship with natural variation. Last year, we quoted from a classic NSIDC presser in which, in a single short paragraph comprising three sentences, they managed to both sex up 2008 as a potential record-breaker and warn us off getting over-excited by a single year’s data:

Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. We will know if the 2008 record will also fall in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.

The NSIDC is happy to provide a running commentary on the monthly ebbs and floes (ho ho) of ice behaviour, while simultaneously maintaining that only the long-term trend is important. It even goes as far as to provide daily pictorial updates of the state of the ice. As the link on the NSIDC homepage puts it:

Read year-round scientific analysis and see daily image updates of Arctic sea ice

We can certainly appreciate that updating the data set regularly is a great service for working scientists, but it is far less obvious how the pictures help anything. It’s a cheap exercise in outreach. Effectively, it just serves to turn esoteric research data into the subject of a salacious rolling news channel. It’s not as if NSIDC are not conscious of the problems involved in disseminating complex science to non-specialist audiences. When, last year, we asked the NSIDC’s Walt Meier why the center chose to present data showing only one of the two measures of Arctic ice cover that they collect (respectively known as ‘extent’ and ‘area’), when the presentation of both would perhaps reflect more realistically the complexity involved in taking such measurements (let alone using them to make predictions,), he told us:

When you’re talking to the public and the press and so forth [...] adding ‘area’ into the discussion can cause confusion. So we’ve kept to ‘extent’ to keep things consistent in how we’re reporting things and reporting one parameter instead of two [...] We’ve chosen to not include the ‘area’ [data], even though there are interesting things to say about it, just because, for a lot of people, it does tend to muddy the water.

We wonder what could muddy the water of 30-year trends more than making a pictorial feature of daily installments of ice behaviour.

To an extent, the NSIDC’s hand has been forced. The Arctic has proved such fertile ground for alarmist opportunists (especially when terrestrial and orbiting thermometers are failing to provide headlines) that the NSIDC’s little blue lines on graphs are no longer the only game in town. Last year, self-proclaimed Arctic ambassador Lewis Pugh hit the headlines when he set off to canoe to the North Pole to raise awareness of the shrinking summer ice, although he went rather quiet – as did the media – after he failed miserably in his mission, having been blocked by summer ice. The NSIDC is also facing hot competition from the British Catlin Arctic Survey, which employs good old-fashioned Arctic explorers to do, we are told, what satellites cannot, which is to measure the thickness of Arctic sea ice. That’s the same thickness of Arctic sea ice that NSIDC tells us, without qualification, that satellites tell us is declining. No doubt the current state of knowledge regarding ice thickness lies somewhere between the two contrasting pictures painted by NSIDC and Catlin. But that these organisations are prepared to paint such simplistic pictures to raise awareness of their respective missions should itself set alarm bells ringing.

Who knows what twists and turns the NSIDC’s little blue line(s) will take this year? But it will be well worth tuning in to find out. It’s set to be good viewing. And don’t forget the Antarctic, which is now starting to feature in NSIDC press releases again having waited patiently in the wings for several seasons. The Wilkins ice shelf in particular is showing signs of restlesseness, a sub-plot that will no doubt feature more prominently should the Arctic not come up with the goods again.

Finally, as in all the best soap operas, the BBC leaves us with a cliff-hanger, courtesy of NSIDC’s Walt Meier:

NSIDC researchers believe that a warm summer could see a major melt.
“We’re not set up well for summertime,” said Dr Meier. “We’re in a very precarious situation.”

Precarious situation indeed. And not only for the reasons that Meier had in mind. It’s not just Arctic sea ice that’s on the line, but the reputation of a scientific discipline that has got distracted by the need to save us all from our sins. Tune in for the next episode. There might be a crucifixion.

Chromatic Aberration

Posted by admin on April 5, 2009
Apr 052009

Two images, two different claims. Neither of them are ‘new’ as such. The first comes to us from Nathalie Rothschild, commissioning editor of Spiked-Online. It was taken during the “March Against Climate Change Chaos” in 2006. The second was taken during the UK’s 2008 local election campaigns.

 

 

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) say go red to go green, and David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party tells us to vote blue to go green. Which is it? 

Doesn’t this all seem a little familiar?

Neo’s choice was far easier – he trusted Morpheus. And he was actually being offered a choice that he ultimately could take responsibility for having made. He goes on, somewhat ridiculously, to overthrow the tyranny of the computers. The level at which we are being asked to engage with British politics is no less ridiculous, the only differences are that we have no choice and the computer models that determine the scope of British politics remain unchallenged.

It makes no difference whether we take the blue pill, or the red pill. Whatever we swallow, we end up green. Whether we approach the future from the Left or the Right, we end up back in the past.

This is not an attempt to make a ‘we’re-living-in-the-matrix’ kind of argument. The point here is what happens when all political organisations simultaneously attempt to capture –rather than challenge – the sense of crisis that has been generated by environmentalism. The Communists, the Liberals, the Conservatives and whatever it is that New Labour are, all want you to believe the same thing: that unless you support them, you, or more likely your children, will live ,and probably die, in an a chaotic and dangerous world. The radicals, the revolutionaries, and the establishment struggle to identify themselves, and so seek to legitimise themselves by inventing an emergency that they, and only they, can solve.

This is what happens when everything is seen through the prism of climate change. It warps spatial relationships, distorts colours, and narrows depth.

David Cameron said,

Our message in this local election campaign is simple: vote blue, go green – and save money. Why? Because it goes to the heart of what Conservatives believe.

To answer this, we will return David to the Matrix, where he ought to listen to what this annoying bald child has to say about bending reality, and ‘belief’.

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