Our last post got us thinking a bit more about the WHO’s attribution of 150,000 deaths a year to climate change, now superseded by the GHF’s 300,000.

As we said, headlines – thousands and thousands of them – were generated by the ’cause’ that was least significant in the WHO’s own study. The 0.5% of deaths attributed to climate change amounted to around 150,000, while the causes of the remaining 42,157,155 deaths went largely undiscussed, principally because conventional wisdom informs that ‘climate change is the biggest threat facing mankind’ and ‘climate change is worse for the poor’.

The WHO report bases its estimation on the role of climate change in producing conditions which encourage the proliferation of disease vectors: more rain means more stagnant water for mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite, for instance. This seems to be us to be nonsense for two main reasons. First, if we took seriously the issue of malaria, there would have been no deaths caused by it, and many fewer deaths attributable to climate change. Second, the method by which the estimation was turned into raw numbers is highly dubious.

Nonetheless, factoids such as those produced by the WHO operate in the argument of activists such as Franny Armstrong, director of The Age of Stupid, as a form of a priori knowledge that can be used to produce further claims about climate change. For example, we know that gravity causes objects to fall towards the ground – it is a given. Therefore, we know, without needing to see it, that releasing a fragile object at height will cause it to fall and break. The given knowledge about gravity allows necessary conclusions to be drawn. As Armstrong puts it when trying to explain to the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband that he was asking ‘other people in other countries to sacrifice their lives’ to preserve our ‘right to … fly, as many times as [we] want to’, ‘One follows the other’. This is because, in her view, a ‘hundred and fifty thousand people … are already dying from climate change every year, according to the World Health Organisation’. Anything which causes climate change is therefore, in Armstrong’s moral calculus, causing the deaths of thousands of people.

But, it is only necessarily true that climate change causes increased deaths if it is necessarily true that it is not possible to deal with the problem of malaria (for instance) as a first order effect. We know that it is possible to deal with the problem of malaria (it has been abolished from wealthier countries), therefore we know that there is no necessary connection between climate change the 150,000 deaths that the WHO attributed to it. The relationship is contingent. We know, therefore, that Armstrong’s reasoning is bogus: it is not the case that ‘the one follows the other': something else is needed to explain why and how climate change ’causes’ 150,000 deaths.

The arguments that many activists put forward are effectively a cascade of ‘one follows the other’ assumptions that diminish in their necessity and certainty as they move away from what has been established by climate science, into the increasingly contingent domain of Nth-order effects of Nth-order effects.

This chain of reasoning can start out with facts we can be very sure about. The ‘consensus’, in other words. We know, for instance, that we produce CO2, and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. But, in spite of a broad consensus, the effect of that CO2 in terms of likely temperature rise is the subject of some questioning. The subject of more questioning is the likely climate change, such as rainfall patterns, that increased temperatures will cause. Even less certain is how species of animals will respond. Less certain again is the effect that the preceding effects will have on humans. We move from a scientific claim, through increasingly speculative and contingent layers of effect, ultimately to questions about society itself. Of course, we can say that increased precipitation causes better conditions for mosquitoes, generally. But the point is that, such a cascade doesn’t want us to understand simply the relationship between increased precipitation and mosquitoes, but between climate change and death. We could, with the right intervention, abolish the relationship between increased precipitation and mosquitoes altogether. Hence, the relationship between precipitation and malaria is of an entirely different category as the relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature. We can’t stop CO2 being a greenhouse gas. We can stop rainfall creating habitats for mosquitoes, and we can develop a way of preventing malaria entirely through a number of interventions.

The social effects that have been given as reasons to mitigate climate change – climate refugees, resource war, famine, plague, and so on – exist at the end of such chains of reasoning.

Two claims are made about climate politics by many of its adherents.

First, it almost goes without saying that it is the greater-order effects of climate change that are the premise of environmental politics. It is the possibility of catastrophe that drives most environmentalism, particularly in the political mainstream.

Second, it has been long argued that these greater-order effects of climate change have been produced as facts by science – the WHO’s statistic, for instance. As Franny Armstrong puts it in her argument with Ed Miliband, it’s not her wish we reduce the amount of flying we do by 95 per cent, but science which demands it. Miliband responds to Armstrong by agreeing that we need to respond to ‘the science’. This same schematic of demarcated science and politics operates at all levels of debate about climate policies.

But as we have explained, the ‘facts’ relating to the consequences of climate change (e.g. 150,000 deaths), are only contingently true, and may not even be true at all. Something which is contingent cannot be a necessary fact. The effect of climate change on human society is contingent on many factors that cannot be easily (if at all) understood scientifically. It is fundamentally people’s ability to adapt spontaneously and autonomously to climate – changing or not – that explains the outcome of climate change in the world that was looked at by the WHO. The claim that ‘climate change caused X deaths’ is therefore significant only if we can say that the circumstances that allowed climate change to claim so many lives – poverty – are an unchangeable fact about the world. But the fact of poverty owes very little to science, and very much to politics. We cannot explain poverty scientifically. We can explain it politically, even if it is harder to reach an agreement about how best to remedy it.

It cannot be argued, therefore, that the premise of climate politics (catastrophe) is the conclusion of climate science. Between the start of the scientific evaluation of climate science, and its conclusion is an assumption that is deeply political: that the poverty that allows climate change to cause deaths from malaria is a natural phenomenon. The claim that climate science is prior to, and distinct from climate politics therefore cannot be sustained.

In order to make the argument for the mitigation of climate change on the basis of its consequences, it is necessary to argue that the relationship between anthropogenic CO2 and its catastrophic Nth order effects is necessary. But the only reason that it is necessary that climate change will increase the number of deaths from Nth order effects is because the environmental movement have displaced from the political agenda any possibility of technological advance and economic development that doesn’t meet their requirements of ‘sustainability’.

We have long argued here on Climate Resistance that two things can be said about what emerges from the climate debate:

1. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It rules out the possibility that the world can continue to improve, which carries the consequence of making people ever more subject to environmental changes, whatever the cause of that change.

2. Climate politics are prior to climate science. Although environmentalists argue that they are responding to climate change, it is transparently the case that catastrophe is the premise of climate politics, and more significantly, it is the premise of any scientific research which posits a necessary relationship between climate change and the social-effects of climate change.

In other words, the argument for action to mitigate climate change takes its own conclusion as its premise. It makes it necessary that climate change will cause Nth order effects simply by positing that it is necessary that climate change will cause Nth order effects.

That is why we argue here for politics to be put back at the centre of the climate debate. In part, because it is clear that the expectation of science to be decisive and instructive is beyond its means. Consequently, vaguely plausible theoretical projections get passed off as empirical facts as the environmental agenda seeks to satisfy its claims to objectivity, further confusing the boundaries between politics and science. What organisations such as the WHO, GHF and the IPCC are engaged in is less the generation of evidence for evidence-based policy-making, and more policy-based evidence-making.

But more importantly, accepting the putative necessity of the relationship between the climate and the health of human society rules out human interests being the organising principle of politics. If we accept that there are ‘natural’ and necessary relationships between the environment and social effects then we rule out the discussion about how to abolish effects such as poverty, famine, malaria, in favour of merely mediating them by reducing quality of life elsewhere. That is why the 42 million+ deaths due to non-climate effects get ignored in favour of the claim that our profligate use of carbon causes 150,000 (or 300,000, take your pick, or simply pluck a number out of thin air) deaths in the developing world.

These 150/300 thousand deaths are not used out of sympathy. They are used as moral weapons in a debate that lacks substance. Already, the figure of 300,000 deaths has been used in Parliament to encourage the UK’s commitment to the Copenhagen conference later this year. There is no doubt that the dubious figure will resurface again, stripped of all the caution that its authors attached to their findings, and in the style of Franny Armstrong, it will be used to arm arguments for an international response to climate change that will, necessarily, cause more problems for poor people than it will solve.

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Update:

Roger Pielke Jr. has a number of interesting posts on the subject of the 300,000 deaths statistic over at his Prometheus blog.

19 Responses to The Illusion and Politics of Necessity

  • Excellent article.
    A technical criticism: “Necessary” and ”contingent” are terms with a specific meaning in philosophical discourse. Using them in the context of serious real world problems like poverty and avoidable death invites confusion. Nothing is ever “necessarily true” (in the philosophical sense) in the real world, (except the trivial, such as “Milliband is Milliband”, and even then …)
    The important point is that the causal connections have not been made, ever, by anyone. Not by the IPCC, and certainly not by the hordes of tap-dancing lemmings in what passes for the scientific press. This will have to be pointed out time and time again in the months leading up to Copenhagen. Keep passing the ammunition…

  • Isn’t the real nightmare posited by the climate alarmists not something as puny as a relatively small percentage increase in deaths from malaria, but rather global famine caused by the desertification of huge areas of the planet?

  • George, it has merely been presumed that desertification would ensue. But increased precipitation has demonstrably reduced the extent of the Sahara. Indeed I’ve not yet discovered any proposed harmful effect of warming or of increased CO2. So far it’s mostly net positive or null. Perhaps the only concern is Greenland melting but even there we know it has been just as warm in the 30’s and 40’s and there are many studies now that say the melt isn’t apparently due to CO2 induced warming but is due to winds and/or black carbon.

    Meantime there are real environmental problems out there which need urgent attention. They don’t get the attention because “climate change” siphons off all media interest and all the available funds while giving the real polluters a ready-made excuse.

  • I read somewhere that the “warmer = drier” assumption is made on the basis of paleoclimatological data collected in the Mediterranean and the western United States, which is not representative of the planet as a whole.

    Was the Islamic Golden Age coterminous with the Medieval Warm Period? If so, that would be a powerful argument against the “warmer = drier” hypothesis, as the Muslims were based in a part of the world that is arid at the best of times…

  • Overall I love the figure – it is a very effective way to show that this is not just basic physics. The key point for me is that decreasing certainty = greater degree of interpretation. Where there is interpretation of the facts there is a higher possibility of misinterpretation based on bias whether overt or not.

    Looking at the steps from 1 to 2, I think that 2nd order should actually be “modifies composition of the atmosphere”

    3rd order could then be a fuzzy-edged larger box with many other side boxes feeding into it such as – solar fluctuations, orbital, periodic sea surface etc stuff (EnSO, AMDO, PDO, QBO), albedo, water vapour, geomagnetic, GCR etc entitled “resultant impact and timing”. This is important to show that we’re not just examining a linear chain as many incorrectly think.

    The 4th order might then be ‘Global warming/ Increased temperatures’ and so on.

    Just my first thoughts on this. Might revisit.

    PS Pielke’s 3 posts, William Connolly (the stoat), Revkin etc all seem to be kicking Kofi Annan’s report in the head, as it deserves, especially as it now looks to be a simple 2 X WHO.

  • A rather uncomfortable result of rereading this article (for me) is the thought that maybe the Watermelon theorists are right; that ecology as “scientifically based” politics is just Marxism reborn.

    Since at least Marx there have been two views of how to alleviate poverty. The reformist (whether social democrat, Christian, or Lady Bountiful) said: the problem with the Poor is that they’ve got no money. give them some. The Marxist said: the prime cause is further back, within the capitalist system itself; eliminate it.

    Attempts to alleviate the problems of third world poverty meet with similar divergent views. Groups such as Oxfam which began by simply raising money to counter starvation soon discovered that things were not so simple, and got into politics, ethnology, sociology, etc. where, of course, no simple answers are to be found.

    The appeal of Global Warming Alarmism to people genuinely concerned by the intractable problems of our injust world is obvious; it claims to be based on hard science, and can therefore be tackled by the methods of (hard, but measurable) social engineering. The corollary of their insane belief that x molecules of CO2 cause y deaths is that, by reducing your airmiles by z, you can save w lives. Gives you a warm glow inside, doesn’t it? And all you’ve had to do is make a marginal change in your lifestyle, spending a week planting organic vegetables on your allotment instead of sunning yourself in the Maldives. Easy, isn’t it?

    The only dissidence on global warming permitted within the politically correct media is the Lomborg position, which is essentially economic:- that adaptation is cheaper and easier than mitigation. Here’s a slightly more difficult position to defend: We don’t know whether adaptation will be cheaper or easier than mitigation, but, since it is the only one likely to be acceptable to voters in a democratic society, it is the only morally acceptable one.

  • While I applaud your investigation of this matter, you seem to have cleverly complicated it so that it appears to be a good argument, when in fact what you’re saying is very simple – you don’t believe in climate change.
    You list 7 levels of uncertainty. Some people disagree that anthropogenic releases of CO2 are affecting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere at all, so there could be 8 or more from their perspective. Likewise the ‘consensus’ (by which I mean the IPCC consensus) is that steps 1 to 2 are true so from their perspective there are only 6 steps.
    In fact though you have obviously created some steps that don’t really exist.
    Steps 2 to 3 are non-existent – what’s the physical (rather than conceptual) difference between global warming and climate change? Likewise steps 3 – 4 are non-existent, increased precipitation is climate change. So really there are only one or two steps here – antropogenic CO2 leads to increased precipitation in some parts of the world, or anthropogenic CO2 leads to increased temperature which leads to increased precipitation.
    The final three steps are sound, but I assume the reason for the WHO making this correlation between increased precipitation and increased malaria is based upon scientific evidence from studies of malaria incidence related to precipitation rather than just conjecture.

    It’s true that you have to believe one step to accept the next but it’s not so important how many steps there are, only how certain we are of each step. If we are 100% certain of each step then we can be 100% certain of the final conclusion if we are only 25% certain of each step the final argument is unlikely to be true. So basically you’re argument is based upon your disbelief in certain steps and you have artificially increased the number of steps to give a greater sense of uncertainty when in fact the movement from one step to another in some instances is absolutely certain.

  • Jugglia – ‘in fact what you’re saying is very simple – you don’t believe in climate change.’

    We are agnostic about climate change. If you read our many other posts on this site, you will see that our argument is that the fact (or otherwise) of climate change isn’t a good basis for special climate change politics, and special political institutions, and for the reorganisation of global society according to the demands of environmentalists. We argue that the urgency that the case for action to prevent climate change is presented with is often unfounded (or deeply confused), not that ‘there is no such thing as climate change’. We’re happy to take, as our starting point, that there is ‘such a thing as climate change’. But we can accept the premise of climate change without accepting the conclusion of climate change activists.

    Curiously, you seem to be criticising us because there could be more than the 7 levels of uncertainty whilst simultaneously arguing that there are fewer…

    ‘Likewise the ‘consensus’ (by which I mean the IPCC consensus) is that steps 1 to 2 are true so from their perspective there are only 6 steps.’

    This simply isn’t true. The fact of anthropogenic CO2 is not equivalent to the fact of anthropogenic climate change. There is argument about the degree to which CO2 causes global warming, even between members of ‘the consensus’. The values ‘true’ and ‘false’ are not sufficient to understand the relationship between any – least of all the first two – steps in the chain of reasoning. It may well be ‘true’ that CO2 causes global warming… But the difference is between an account of 100% of all measured warming, or equally possibly, a mere fraction of it. The range of possible figures carry different consequences at either end. We often argue on this site that one of the main problems with environmentalists’ arguments is that they treat nuanced and complex, and highly context-sensitive scientific claims as through they could be reduced to ‘true/false’ axioms, meaning that error cascades through their own argument. Hence, Franny Armstrong makes the moral equivalent of airport expansion, and sacrificing lives in the developing world.

    ‘Steps 2 to 3 are non-existent – what’s the physical (rather than conceptual) difference between global warming and climate change?… Likewise steps 3 – 4 are non-existent, increased precipitation is climate change.’

    If ‘global warming is climate change’, and ‘climate change is increased precipitation’, then ‘global warming is increased precipitation’. But global warming isn’t increased precipitation. They mean different things, even if they may be the consequence of each other. This is complicated further by the matter of degree. You may well have a point if you were arguing that ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ are rather nebulous definitions, rather than relate to specific physical processes… but it’s rather our point, also.

    ‘antropogenic CO2 leads to increased precipitation in some parts of the world, or anthropogenic CO2 leads to increased temperature which leads to increased precipitation.’

    Or anthropogenic CO2 leads to greater temperatures which leads to greater evaporation, both of which lead to altered weather systems, which lead to greater precipitation… But if you can lump or split categories at will, just to prove the point, you might as well say ‘starting your car kills children’. The point remains, climate change isn’t equivalent to global warming, and global warming isn’t equivalent to a’genic CO2, which isn’t equivalent to increased precipitation. But you can be surer about climate change than you can be sure about increased precipitation. And you can be surer of global warming than you can be sure about climate change. And you can be surer of anthropogenic CO2 than you can be sure about global warming.

    ‘I assume the reason for the WHO making this correlation between increased precipitation and increased malaria is based upon scientific evidence from studies of malaria incidence related to precipitation rather than just conjecture.

    As has been discussed at the links at the bottom of our post, and in the post itself, there is good reason to think that the figures produced by the WHO and GHF were as good as arbitrary. And as was pointed out, the process by which the figures for the estimation were achieved were not explained… It’s therefore not ‘science’. Your assumption is not safe. More to the point, it’s an assumption that often escapes attention and scrutiny because to highlight it is to identify as a ‘denier’ who makes ‘cleverly complicated’ arguments in order to appear to hide the fact that they ‘don’t believe in climate change’. You see the problem, we hope.

    So basically you’re argument is based upon your disbelief in certain steps and you have artificially increased the number of steps to give a greater sense of uncertainty when in fact the movement from one step to another in some instances is absolutely certain.

    There is no step in the chain that is absolutely certain. Even if we’re allow ourselves to be absolutely certain that a’genic CO2 causes global warming, we don’t know, absolutely, how much global warming is caused by CO2. We don’t know how much climate change will be caused by X amount of CO2, nor how much of that climate change will manifest as increased precipitation, and where.

    We dealt with the point that there may exist strong relationships between steps. We said that it seems intuitively the case that increased precipitation is obviously very likely to provide better habitats for mosquitoes. But, we also said that by virtue of it getting closer to the possibility of human intervention, the ‘necessity’ of the claim is reduced. We could stop increased precipitation creating good habitats for mosquitoes, for instance, by draining land, or by using pesticide. The point is not that there is no relationship between precipitation and habitat. The point is that, as links in the chain (of moral reasoning) between airport expansion and deaths in the developing world, it is entirely unsafe.

  • Editors – I agree with your comments – keep up the good work stripping the bull from the spin.

    Geoff – see the book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo for a recent skeptical view of aid unsurprisingly hated by the aid community. (For more see Bill Easterley and his blog aidwatch and Peter Bauer).

    The attempts by Kofi Annan, Gore, Bono, Oxfam, Christian Aid etc to link (African)poverty to climate change shows their opportunistic streak. As has been pointed out on this blog before the development of “big ngo” (or even “big aid”) as a new vested interest is one that many people seem blinded to.

  • to Luke Warmer at #9
    Many thanks for the references, especially to aidwatch, and I love the idea of Big NGO. The latter I see personified – Big ‘Ngo, six foot three, with his flowing traditional robes and Boston accent picked up at Harvard Business School. A Graham Greene character – the Quiet African – genial front man for more sinister forces working behind the scenes.
    Over at Guardian Environment there’s an abnormally civilised debate going on at an article called Blame Games on Climate Change, with not a warmist in sight. I got in a shameless plug for C-R (since I shamelessly lift ideas from you). Hope it works.

  • Is climate change causing problems, or even deaths or not? Or is it just impossible to determine?

  • “Is climate change causing problems, or even deaths or not? Or is it just impossible to determine?”

    Why are you asking us?

    Do you think that deaths can and have been successfully attributed to climate change?

    Our argument is that if there was a response to the real problem of malaria, and development generally, there would not only have been 150/315 thousand fewer deaths, there may well have been 42 million fewer deaths a year.

    Therefore, the important question in our view isn’t ‘does climate change cause deaths’, but ‘why is climate change a political priority’?

  • An excellent response. I see I’m going to have to keep my wits about me when I make posts on this site.
    I agree with several of the statements that you have made with a few exceptions. You’re right about the links between some steps not being certain, and I retract some of the statements I made. The first paragraph of your statement is particularly interesting and I’m not sure about how I feel about this – I will have to read more of your website. I also like how you have placed the term ‘denier’ in inverted commas – I also think that this term is unfair and an inappropriate use of language to describe people who are sceptical about climate change.
    Nevertheless my arguments remain and I will attempt to clarify what I said in my last post. The number of steps that you have placed between a’genic CO2 and increased mosquitoes is (a bit) arbitrary. The reason I mentioned that there could be more steps was to demonstrate that this was the case – there could be two or three steps (although I would argue more), or one could break it down into tiny parts and create any number of steps. If I wanted to make the end result seem to be less likely I would add as many steps as possible to give the impression that there was more uncertainty than there actually was (e.g 1. increased anthropogenic CO2 2. reducion in long wave radiation leaving the atmosphere 3. temperature increase in lower atmosphere 4. increased humidity 5. global warming etc.). These steps do exist, but if we were to use your car analogy, breaking down the first steps in turning the key (1. turn key, 2. electrical current flows to starter engine etc) doesn’t make it any less likely that the car will start, it just makes the process appear to be less certain.
    I don’t see how the difference between global warming and climate change makes any difference to the end result (if by global warming you mean the planet getting hotter, and by climate change you mean the planet getting unusually hotter or hotter for a prolonged amount of time) the end result is the same; a hotter planet. It is this that will affect the amount of precipitation, and therefore the number of mosquitoes and so the difference between climate change and global warming is irrelevant. Maybe I’ve misunderstood what you mean by ‘climate change’?
    I think the reason that I have assumed that you don’t believe in climate change is because of the title of the website (‘…challenging climate orthodoxy’), and the articles that I have so far read all appear to be pointing out what’s wrong with the current climate change conclusions rather than pointing out the problems with sceptics arguments. I have to explore your website further, but at first glance it appears to be a sceptics website. Do you have any articles that criticise sceptics arguments?
    “As has been discussed at the links at the bottom of our post, and in the post itself, there is good reason to think that the figures produced by the WHO and GHF were as good as arbitrary. And as was pointed out, the process by which the figures for the estimation were achieved were not explained… It’s therefore not ’science’. Your assumption is not safe. More to the point, it’s an assumption that often escapes attention and scrutiny because to highlight it is to identify as a ‘denier’ who makes ‘cleverly complicated’ arguments in order to appear to hide the fact that they ‘don’t believe in climate change’. You see the problem, we hope.”
    I’m slightly confused about this. The links that you post are to another article about another article rather than to the report that the WHO article was based upon. I trust that you have taken your information from the actual WHO report? I found the 2003 report (http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/climchange.pdf) which clearly states how the figures were obtained at this stage – based upon models that were validated against actual cases of malaria incidence in Africa. It includes a thorough description of the difficulties with using these and other models to make worldwide predictions (Page 150 – 152). I must admit I don’t fully understand what the figures in the table mean, or how this relates to 150,000 deaths or more but I trust if you were to contact the WHO they could explain it to you.
    Thanks. I’m enjoying reading through your articles.

  • Jugglia.

    On steps in the chain of reasoning. It really doesn’t affect our point. The purpose of the diagram is not to offer an exposition of the argument in question, but to show the general problem with reasoning from given ‘scientific’ axioms to make moral and political arguments.

    If you remember, it was Franny Armstrong’s argument that ‘one [asking people in the developing world to sacrifice their lives] follows the other [building the third runway at heathrow]’. She believed that she could reason with the given a priori knowledge, to a necessary conclusion, in just one step. (We were quite generous to her in unpacking it and actually giving it any semblance of rationality at all). The number of steps between the premise and the conclusion isn’t the point. The point is that the claims which are made ‘in the name of science’ do not carry the necessity that is claimed. That Armstrong had never stopped to subject the 150,000 deaths figure to any scrutiny is key here. She says ‘science says…’. But it’s got nothing to do with science – it’s not a scientific result. Miliband cannot answer her.

    “I don’t see how the difference between global warming and climate change makes any difference to the end result”

    The point ultimately is that there are differences between the two terms. They are used interchangeably, but global warming is more precise, but less consequential. Climate change is more vague, but more consequential. It will probably trouble you less if you stop thinking about it as an attempt to ‘disprove’ the anthropogenic global warming/climate change hypothesis, and an attempt to offer an exposition of a specific argument, and more of an attempt to show how we think chains of reasoning are constructed in moral and political environmental arguments.

    If we wanted to understand what the chain of reasoning was, and to understand how a political argument for mitigation was founded (or not) on science, then it would be essential to assess the plausibility of each step. The argument is put forward that ‘global warming causes climate change’. This features in a broader argument that CO2 causes deaths in the developing world. In order to assess either argument’s plausibility, it is always necessary to unpack each premise, to see how the conclusion was arrived at safely (or not).

    You can have one unsafe premise in a chain of three premises, or one unsafe premise in a chain of a hundred premises. Our argument is not that error is proportionate to number of premises.

    I think the reason that I have assumed that you don’t believe in climate change is because of the title of the website (‘…challenging climate orthodoxy’), and the articles that I have so far read all appear to be pointing out what’s wrong with the current climate change conclusions rather than pointing out the problems with sceptics arguments. I have to explore your website further, but at first glance it appears to be a sceptics website. Do you have any articles that criticise sceptics arguments?

    We have on occasion, criticised our ‘fellow sceptics’. Our arguments are that environmentalism isn’t a new form of Left-wing ideology, and that the climate debate won’t be settled by science, because environmentalism is a political phenomenon. We’re not particularly interested in challenging ‘sceptics’’ arguments, because they don’t have any influence over the political agenda. Climate scepticism is inconsequential in this respect. Environmentalism, on the other hand, is deeply political. It asks for the reorganisation of the world. We also argue that dividing the debate into ‘sceptics/deniers’ and ‘scientists’ is really very unhelpful, and it lumps people together who really don’t share much. Would you really lump Franny Armstrong, or, for that matter, the likes of George Monbiot, in with respected climate scientists, for instance?

    I found the 2003 report (http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/climchange.pdf) which clearly states how the figures were obtained at this stage – based upon models that were validated against actual cases of malaria incidence in Africa. It includes a thorough description of the difficulties with using these and other models to make worldwide predictions (Page 150 – 152)

    So you’ve seen that the WHO acknowledges the great deal of uncertainty that is present in their estimation, and the number of assumptions that they have made. Now go and read the press releases that announced the study, and you will notice that any such caution will have disappeared. Then read the stories in the press, and you will see another level of caution removed again. Finally, read the words of activists such as Armstrong, and you will see that it has become an incontrovertible fact that ‘science’ has ‘proved’ that climate change causes 150,000 deaths a year. You will see that this kind of argument, put to Ed Miliband, carries some weight. He’s not able to say, ‘Look, Franny, you’ve overstated the significance and certainty of this study, and anyway, 42 million people die of other preventable causes, none of whom, including the 150,000, would have died prematurely, if we took development seriously’. He’s a senior politician. He won’t debate with the likes of us, but will happily take flack from Armstrong. This is because, ultimately, he’s happy that unfounded climate change alarmism legitimises his public role.

    We are very clear about the possible value of the WHO’s method. We say in the post above:

    Of course, we can say that increased precipitation causes better conditions for mosquitoes, generally. But the point is that, such a cascade doesn’t want us to understand simply the relationship between increased precipitation and mosquitoes, but between climate change and death.

    And we said in the preceding post:

    Perhaps there is a value in estimating the influence of climate changes on disease, based on assumptions. It might open up some discussion about strategies that might be followed to confront malaria, and where investments might be best made. Theoretical models aren’t in themselves, ‘bad’, and can be useful to testing existing knowledge, perhaps between different disciplines. But, look, these researchers aren’t as interested in the 98% of malaria cases which aren’t ’caused’ by climate change as the 2% that they assume is caused by climate change.

    This systematic removal of the product of the WHO’s study from the context in which its terms make sense is what we’re looking at. Why aren’t they present in Armstrong’s argument, or her chain of reasoning? Why isn’t the possibility of abolishing malaria at the forefront of the WHO’s reports, and why do its press releases instead focus on the far less significant, and ultimately less safe attribution of deaths to climate change? Why are 150,000 theoretical deaths of greater significance than 42 million preventable deaths?

  • editors, the last sentence of your last comment is the wrong way round

    —-

    Thanks Geoff – changed.

  • Sorry, long post again.

    So I think I’m beginning to understand your point. The number of links in the chain of reasoning is not what is important, it is the degree of uncertainty. We are led to believe by the media and environmentalists that what is posited as a possibility is a fact. OK agreed.

    “Our arguments are that environmentalism isn’t a new form of Left-wing ideology,”

    Agreed – environmentalism has been around for centuries and one of the major proponents last century was Adolf Hitler. The hijacking of environmentalism by the left wing has caused me to write posts on many different websites, and I think that the dreadlocked Earth mother/Gaia hippies have set back legitimate concerns for the environment by decades.

    “We’re not particularly interested in challenging ‘sceptics’’ arguments, because they don’t have any influence over the political agenda. Climate scepticism is inconsequential in this respect.”

    The fact that scepticism stands against climate change arguments means that it is extremely important in this debate; merely criticising one viewpoint does not substantiate the alternative. The idea that they don’t have any influence over the political agenda is untrue. The US listened to sceptics rather than the majority of climatologists for many years and as a result did not ratify the Kyoto protocol. Adverts by CEI aired in the US “they call it pollution, we call it life” have greatly influenced the state of public opinion over there and added legitimacy to the Bush administrations lack of action. Statements given by the novelist Michael Crichton were taken into account when congress debated climate change in 2005 (why should a novelist have any influence on the US policy on climate change?).

    “Environmentalism, on the other hand, is deeply political. It asks for the reorganisation of the world” (and other comments to that effect)

    This is an extremely complex debate. Firstly though let me point out that environmentalism is based upon the science of ecology in the same way that other political ideas are based upon the science of economics. Admittedly neither of these sciences are ‘hard’ sciences and it is difficult to use ecological or economic models to make realistic predictions. I think in both cases there are end points on a scale; in economics at one end there are infinite riches and the other bankruptcy, in ecology there is infinite ecological diversity and at the other there is planetary destruction. The two are obviously very different in a number of ways, but they are similar in that environmentalism seeks to improve our planet/standard of living through improving the environment in the same way that capitalism seeks to improve our planet/standard of living through wealth. Often the two political agendas collide and there are those who believe that one is more important than the other, but most rational people would agree that improving the environment where it has been degraded would be a good thing.

    “So you’ve seen that the WHO acknowledges the great deal of uncertainty that is present in their estimation, and the number of assumptions that they have made. Now go and read the press releases that announced the study, and you will notice that any such caution will have disappeared. Then read the stories in the press, and you will see another level of caution removed again. Finally, read the words of activists such as Armstrong, and you will see that it has become an incontrovertible fact that ‘science’ has ‘proved’ that climate change causes 150,000 deaths a year.”

    You’re right – the media don’t tell the whole story and it becomes exaggerated and distorted through successive retellings. But in my opinion that’s one of the reasons why there are sceptics – because intelligent people don’t get told the whole story and don’t believe the rubbish that the media spit out. I’m sure you’d agree with me that just because the media exaggerate a story, it doesn’t mean that the underlying science is bad.

    It’s interesting that you point out how stories grow in a kind of Chinese whispers fashion from saying one thing is possible to it becoming an incontrovertible fact. Likewise on your site you have two articles, the first is called “56% of you are stupid” and the next is called “56% of you are fascist B***ards” the links in these articles don’t seem to work, but it would appear that unless I am mistaken you have taken what was said and turned it into something much more explosive for the sake of creating an interesting story or proving your point. Isn’t that exactly what Armstrong has done?

    Like you, I want an honest media and an honest debate. But as far as I can tell there are no regulations on the media that require them to tell the real story. The problem here goes far beyond the climate change debate. Our very democratic system is strongly influenced by the media, and it seems no coincidence to me that whoever ‘the Sun’ supports gets into parliament at the next elections. I am very pleased that I can make posts on your website without being shouted down, and I’m very glad that you’ve taken the time to respond to my comments courteously.

    In your “About” section you write

    “demands for urgent action to mitigate climate change thrive at the expense of genuine, illuminating, nuanced debate about how to make the best of an uncertain future.”

    Genuine, illuminating, nuanced debate. While you claim to be ‘agnostic’ about climate change what you don’t say is as important as what you do. At the risk of appearing rude; how can you claim to have a genuine debate when there are no articles supporting the opinions of climate change proponents? There is definite bias on this website which I would imagine deters climate change supporters and attracts sceptics. I am learning from this website and I’m very pleased that I have taken the time to look through it – but don’t you think that a more constructive, honest debate could be had if both sides were given a more equal say?

  • Dear Editors: you ask “Do you think that deaths can and have been successfully attributed to climate change?”

    This is difficult to anwer. I am no expert in this field and like many people I rely on the reports from organisations such as WHO and Oxfam to provide the information. I imagine it is problematic to attempt to attribute deaths to climate change with sufficient precision to satisfy scientific rigour. Which seems to be your point. Does this invalidate the report or does it mean that more research is required?

    You also ask ” ‘why is climate change a political priority’?”

    From what I understand from reading reports from Oxfam and other aid agencies, climate change is seen as not only excerbating poverty but also hampering efforts to alleviate it.

    It stems from the premise that human activities of burning fossil fuels and deforestation are contributing to changing the climate in ways that are detrimental to the most vunerable people. And will ultimately be detrimental for the not so vunerable.

    This is why, I imagine, climate change is a political priority. But I am interested to know other viewpoints on this question.

  • Jugglia,

    We were not emphasising uncertainty in and of itself. The problem is the way that seemingly a priori facts operated within the environmentalist’s argument, and stood against any possibility of alternative. The argument for climate change mitigation, for instance, holds more currency than the possibility of abolishing malaria. The phenomenon of malaria, in the argument offered, is almost a given, therefore – an inevitability.

    The idea that scepticism has been influential seems to us to lack any basis whatsoever. It isn’t, as such, something which reproduces itself in political institutions. That ‘the US listened to sceptics’ is interesting only to the extent that the contrast between the UK and US says something about the failure of UK democratic institutions to have such a debate! It didn’t take organised scepticism for the US to fail to ratify the Kyoto protocol, and the influence of ‘well-funded denial-machines’ is much over stated. As we’ve mentioned a lot here on this blog, the ‘evidence’ offered by Greenpeace is that little more than $45 million was made available to lobbying organisations, over the course of a decade. One only needs to compare that to the amount Greeenpeace – just one lobbying organisation – spent on its own campaigning effort ($2.2 billion) to see the disproportion at play. Moreover, in spite of the claim that denial acts in the interests of certain industries is not as clear cut as is widely claimed. Bush didn’t need to legitimise his inaction. It was the environmental movement that failed to make a sufficiently persuasive argument, not a conspiracy of deniers that ‘distorted’ the ‘debate’.

    “environmentalism is based upon the science of ecology in the same way that other political ideas are based upon the science of economics.”

    You might notice that there has been a move towards creating an economic basis for the mitigation of climate change – Stern, etc. More to the point, you only need to look to Malthus to find a classical political economist making ‘ecological’ arguments, many years ago. Our argument is that ecologists/greens/environmentalists posit the inevitability of catastrophe to legitimise their political agenda, and to close down debate about its terms, and therefore to close down the possibility of alternatives to the problems it identifies. We might ask, therefore, whether environmentalism, at least insofar as it influences the mainstream really has ‘ecological science’ as its antecedent, or whether its politics is prior to ’the science’. We think the politics of environmentalism are prior to the science, but that it is expedient to the existing political establishment, as are any other forms of ‘the politics of fear’.

    “environmentalism seeks to improve our planet/standard of living through improving the environment in the same way that capitalism seeks to improve our planet/standard of living through wealth.”

    We think this is a rather generous account of environmentalism. The concept of ‘standard of living’ rarely enters the environmental debate except as frankly rather spurious claims about how much better our lives would be if we had greater access to more green space. Instead, environmentalism is premised on a catastrophe occurring if we do not observe its imperatives. It’s not as if there was a choice given about what kind of future we want.

    “ it doesn’t mean that the underlying science is bad.”

    What ‘underlying science’? The ‘science’ that ‘says’ ‘300 thousand people a year die of climate change’? The ‘science’ that ‘says’ that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’? The ‘science’ that ‘says’ there are only X ‘years left to save mankind’?

    “ unless I am mistaken you have taken what was said and turned it into something much more explosive for the sake of creating an interesting story or proving your point. Isn’t that exactly what Armstrong has done?”

    If you think we’ve exaggerated the story, perhaps you could explain how in the comments section under the post in question. The links have probably expired.

    “While you claim to be ‘agnostic’ about climate change what you don’t say is as important as what you do. At the risk of appearing rude; how can you claim to have a genuine debate when there are no articles supporting the opinions of climate change proponents?”

    Well, we’re debating with you, aren’t we?

  • Let’s take it as given that climate change would be worse for the poor, however relatively small that effect. The counter-argument is that if they weren’t poor then there would be little problem. So the underlying problem is poverty rather than climate change. Unfortunately the proposed solutions to climate change are very likely to make things worse. That is, better access to fossil fuels stimulates development and helps alleviate poverty. Alternative fuels can help only if they are just as cheap, otherwise they make us all poorer. So why do all these well-meaning people not realize this?

    I believe they do and they merely jump on the climate change bandwagon because it is the most effective way to get headlines. Simply talking about poverty reduction or a sensible renewable energy policy has been tried and it failed. Hence the more alarmist the message the better, regardless of the actual truth.

    So why is climate change a priority? Because it is so easy to blame everything on it, however tenuously, and thereby attach your own agenda – even a nuclear energy or a trading paper agenda. However the downside that few people want to look for is the huge chance of unintended consequences from bad policy. One example is that an African authoritarian regime recently imposed a ban on traditional cooking stoves without actually giving people any alternative.

    I personally see most of the basic science as naked opportunism masquerading genuine uncertainties with very poor stats and even poorer models based on very crude assumptions. That really wouldn’t matter though if it were all for the greater good. But the bad policy stemming from this grossly overhyped science can and will kill people a lot quicker than any small future effect from any supposed unnatural climate change.

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