Climategate and a Tale of Two Georges

Posted by admin on November 24, 2009
Nov 242009

One event, seen by two environmental activists called George, produces two, contradicting stories in the Guardian.

George Marshall, suggests that CRU email hacking was ‘orchestrated smear campaign’, but one which yielded no evidence of anything questionable, but that ‘an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning’ seeks to undermine the upcoming Copenhagen conference. Innocent scientists, who know little about communication, have unwittingly handled the affair badly, causing a PR disaster for themselves.

George Monbiot, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically reflective, and ‘dismayed and deeply shaken by’ the emails. ‘There are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad’, he says.

There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request. Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Monbiot then calls for head of the CRU, Phil Jones, to resign. Nonetheless, this doesn’t support the conspiracy-theories about the hockey stick and widespread scientific fraud, he concludes, before giving a ‘satirical’ example of what it would take to convince him that such a conspiracy did exist. Most notably, however, he answers a commenter to the site:

I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.

This is, of course, what we’ve been telling Monbiot for several years now.

The point here is that the two Georges seem to have very different takes on what the CRU hacking has revealed. Marshall believes that the attempt to prove a conspiracy reveals a conspiracy. Monbiot says that the hacking has not substantiated the conspiracy-theory, but that certain scientists are culpable. It’s worth pointing out that, although Marshall and Monbiot accuse sceptics of conspiracy-theorising, their own arguments about ‘deniers’ and ‘well funded denial machines’ are also conspiracy theories.

We have argued here on Climate Resistance that it is a mistake to see the ascendency of environmentalism’s influence as the fruit of a conspiracy. This, we have argued, credits the environmental movement with too much. What we have said is that environmentalism has become mainstream because of the failure of the political parties, individuals, organisations, and institutions to sustain coherent political ideas and to share them with the public. The environmentalist’s tendency to see scepticism as the expression of a conspiracy owes itself, we think, to this same symptom. Climate change denial is discussed in terms of secret deals between trans-national corporations and think-tanks to subvert the public’s understanding of ‘the science’. Whereas such networks that they do manage to ‘expose’ turn out to be barely funded at all (especially by contrast to green lobbying and PR efforts), not at all hidden from view, and entirely consistent with the way the business of politics is done in today’s world. The point is that it is because environmentalists start from a position of disorientation that they tend to see any political relationship or connection as evidence of a conspiracy. The 9/11 ‘truthers’ offer us a useful metaphor: it is what isn’t said that often counts for more than what is said.

But let’s be fair. It isn’t just environmental activists who are conspiracy-mongering. The increasingly prominent climate sceptic Christopher Monckton wrote yesterday:

This is what they did — these climate “scientists” on whose unsupported word the world’s classe politique proposes to set up an unelected global government this December in Copenhagen, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all formerly free markets, to tax wealthy nations and all of their financial transactions, to regulate the economic and environmental affairs of all nations, and to confiscate and extinguish all patent and intellectual property rights.

Monckton is right that this is a phenomenon relating to the ‘classe politique’, but he again makes the mistake of attributing to it far too much intentionality. The objectives of environmentalism are not deliberate, nor about purposively engineering a social order as such. They are not ‘about’ realising any political project. There is certainly a concerted effort to build supra-national institutions that will control, regulate and manage every level of public and private life. But the ‘classe politique’s’ desire for these institutions is unfocussed, and the result of its attempting to manage its own crises. What Monckton sees as an attempt to establish a ‘global government’ are the desperate attempts of governments to rescue themselves from their own failure of purpose. As we are fond of saying, ‘the crisis is in politics, not in the skies’. Politicians and political movements project their own failures – their loss of identity, and their inability to communicate with constituencies and to explain the world – out into the world. They respond to their own failure, by creating institutions that are ‘above’ them, to which they defer.

The unconscious logic is this… Politicians (and movements, etc) borrow authority from science, because they cannot create their own. As such, any political project that this process produces is necessarily negative – the avoidance of catastrophe, terrorism, epidemics, etc. In short, politicians borrow ‘objectivity’ from science because of a lack of faith in the inherently subjective nature of democratic politics – the need for political engagement and discussion. But the loan of credibility from science to politics is not sufficient to sustain the legitimacy of political institutions, because of the problem of democratic accountability and legitimacy. As we can see, this form of politics has failed to connect with the public. So, on the basis of the looming catastrophe, institutions are established above politics, which it putatively ‘answers to’. Contemporary politics (ie, politicians) cannot cope with accountability, and so defers sovereignty away from ‘the people’ (to whom they are accountable) to a higher agency, such that it can be made ‘necessary’ to meet ‘international obligations’ (and to avert catastrophe) before meeting demands ‘from below’. In short, this is about managing people’s expectations of politics and politicians.

Monckton’s criticism is expressed as concern about the vulnerability of ‘free trade’ to environmental institutions, taxation, and regulation. But it is during an era in which the idea of free markets have become orthodoxy that the conditions for environmentalism’s ascendancy have been created. In that same era, communism has virtually disappeared, socialism too. What remains of the ‘left’ – social democracy – has embraced market principles. Moreover, it is as much conservatives as ossified leftists who have attempted to reinvent themselves as ‘green’. The climate debate simply does not divide on either left/right or pro-market/anti-market lines. The UK conservatives have fully embraced the sustainability agenda, and its emphasis on localism. Moreover, schemes such as cap-and-trade, albeit while regulating a market, nonetheless use the market to provide putative solutions to putative climate problems. And it should not be forgotten that it was Monckton’s former boss, Thatcher, who was instrumental in bringing climate change to the attention of the world’s governments, and the creation of UK and international institutions to combat climate change. As the website of the exposed CRU itself explains:

The UK Government became a strong supporter of climate research in the mid-1980s, following a meeting between Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and a small number of climate researchers, which included Tom Wigley, the CRU director at the time. This and other meetings eventually led to the setting up of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, within the Met Office. At the same time, other governments were also taking notice and wanted more information. As this need was not being met by international scientific bodies and institutions at the time, they set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This was under the United Nations Framework (later the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) and led to assessments being produced in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. CRU staff have been heavily involved in all four assessments, probably more than anywhere else relative to the size of an institution (see IPCC AR4 Authors).

The ‘classe politique’ began its greening, and its borrowing from scientific authority more than 25 years ago – during which time Monckton himself was an active member of that same ‘classe politique’ he now shouts at. Yet he spoke to it, and influenced it. He cannot have it both ways. The history of contemporary environmentalism is as much the history of contemporary conservatism as it is the history of the contemporary, yet now equally defunct, Left. That it has taken him this long to see what kind of monster has been created is surely something on which he needs to reflect a little more deeply than he has done. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters… It is not enough to say ‘environmentalism is communism’, because he must know it is not true – he was there at the former’s birth, if not its conception, and the latter’s comprehensive death. Such an ahistorical perspective is precisely the symptom of the Georges, and their paranoid conspiracy-mongering. Yet the Georges can be let off the hook – slightly – because it cannot be claimed that they were there, at number 10 Downing Street, as environmentalism’s seeds were being sown.

Our argument thus far, then, can be summarised as follows. It is disorientation that causes debate to be seen as consisting of good guys beset by political conspiracies. The loss of historical perspective causes attempts to give a coherent account of the opposing argument to fail. Both ‘sides’ lack the means to explain the other, and to positively express themselves. Thus each side becomes the side that wants to save the world, the other the one that intends to destroy it. Yet, no doubt, both sides act out of conviction, and in good faith, even if they would deny the other. Their problem is their inability to self-reflect.

Curiously, the responses to the ‘Climategate’ mess similarly do not divide according to ‘sides’ taken in the debate. Monbiot thinks that those involved need to be punished:

I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, believes that ‘only a thorough investigation could now clear [the CRU researchers'] names.’

The selective disclosure and dissemination of the messages has created the impression of impropriety, and the only way of clearing the air now would be through a rigorous investigation.

Nigel Lawson, another conservative-from-the-Thatcher-administration-turned-climate-sceptic similarly feels there is a need for such a process:

The integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay.

On each side of the debate, there are those for, and those against such an investigation, and those who think that the CRU researchers need to be either punished, or exonerated. No clear lines emerge.

Ward, characteristically, presupposes the findings of any such investigation. If it’s green, it’s right, in his view of the world. Monbiot and Lawson, to different extents, believe that clarity needs to be recovered. Marshall takes a different view, saying that:

Jones should speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend his science.

Before we agree with Marshall, we shall point out that if Jones had taken this advice years ago, there would be no Climategate now. It’s a bit late to start being ‘transparent’, now that it is clear that he has gone out of his way to be opaque.

The Guardian article from which many of these quotes were taken, goes on to cite another opinion.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, also dismissed calls for an inquiry. He said: “Calls for an inquiry look suspiciously like an attempt to cast doubt on the science of climate change ahead of crucial UN negotiations. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that climate change is happening, that it is man-made, and that it poses a major threat to people across the planet. We can’t afford to be distracted from the need for urgent action to combat global warming – rich countries must lead the way by agreeing to slash their emissions when they meet in Copenhagen next month.

… In other words, the stakes are too high to allow an investigation to create the idea in the public mind that there is any reason to doubt the certainty that the CRU have seemingly produced.

If there were such an inquiry, it would certainly not be the first of its kind.

Bjorn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist attracted much angry attention earlier this decade, prompting an investigation by the Orwellian-sounding Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). They found Lomborg guilty of ‘dishonesty’ in 2003, but later that year, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation overturned the ruling, finding it dishonest itself.

After McCintyre and McKitrick’s efforts to replicate the methodology of the iconic ‘hockey-stick’ graph and subject it to the scrutiny it deserved, the US congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States National Academy of Sciences to investigate the plausibility of such historical reconstructions (the North Report). Simultaneously, another report was instigated by Congressman, Joe Barton, focusing more specifically on the work behind the Hockey Stick (the Wegman Report).

Speaking in the aftermath of the recent leak (but before the discussion of an inquiry), Bob Ward brings up what he presents as ‘attacks’ on the Hockey-stick’s authors.

The attacks on the hockey stick graph led the United States National Academy of Sciences to carry out an investigation, concluding in 2006 that although there had been no improper conduct by the researchers, they may have expressed higher levels of confidence in their main conclusions than was warranted by the evidence.

In fact, the reports and their meanings are far less easy to parse than Ward claims. For McIntrye’s perspective on the reports and their findings, read here.

The fact is that institutional modes of ‘clearing up’ controversies fail comprehensively. Critics of Lomborg will cite the initial DSCD finding, rather than its parent organisations retraction. Similarly, the reports that followed in the wake of McIntyre and McKitrick are not as conclusive as their detractors (or their supporters) often claim. Arguably these kind of reports merely muddy the waters, entrench positions, demonstrate the paucity of clear evidence, and, far from convincing the public of the stainless character of those implicated, such inquiries just generate suspicion about the execution of the process, and alienate the public from the debate. Lack of facts provoke an argument, and rather than drawing a line under sordid affairs, inquiries have a tendency to amplify them.

Moreover, an inquiry into Climategate would be truly Kafkaesque. Politicians, deferring the business of democratic politics to scientific and supra-national institutions, commissioning inquiries when that process generates controversy… It’s easy to imagine an infinite regress of deferments… commissions, inquiries, reports, organisations… none of which ever resolve the increasingly surreal problematic created by the previous layer of spin, intrigue, sleaze and abrogations of responsibility.

No, the problem begins with this. There is no need for an inquiry into the behaviour of the CRU staff, because what is really at issue is not ‘is the world really warming, and is it our fault?’. Creating institution after inquiry after organisation after report after commission after committee, after international treaty, after ‘science’ to answer this question is the reason this whole debacle stinks. The farce began with politics being deferred to ‘science’. Instead of a public contest of values and ideas, vapid and gutless politicians outsourced their responsibilities to scientific academies, hoping that it would rescue their own legitimacy. It failed. An inquiry will shed no light on the matter as much as it would extend the symptom, because, as we said in our previous post:

There is no need for sceptics to attempt to locate conspiracies, fraud, or deception. Because the reality is that environmentalism has thrived in an era in which any purposive political action – least of all the execution of a conspiracy – is impossible. Environmentalism has influenced public policy not because of fraud, but because of the intellectual vacuity of politicians. And it is beyond the ken of most commentators, journalists, and eco-PR bods such as Ward to deceive the public, because they don’t even reflect on the coherence, consequences, or political character of their own ideas. Fecklessness is rife, and that is why the world is greening.

  24 Responses to “Climategate and a Tale of Two Georges”

  1. From a Jul 22 blog of mine:

    [...] very pertinent to the AGW skepticism case is that the history of Science is full of examples where quite large “whoppers” have been “sold to the public” by scientists building up and then defending a flawed consensus. Perfectly honest scientists, one can safely assume, with a deeply-held belief that their consensual understanding of the world was the right one.

    We know now that such a “consensus” attitude has hindered the scientific careers of scientists, among them Galileo Galilei, Alfred L Wegener, J Harlan Bretz, Sir Gilbert Walker, Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum, Reg Sprigg. Recent Nobel Prize winners Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren may have been just lucky to see their consensus-busting findings recognized whilst still alive.

    Still, the fact that scientists fall repeatedly and across the centuries in the trap of “consensus” needs no conspiracy. It cannot be interpreted in any other way than as demonstration that scientists are human beings and that like all other human beings they introduce their subjective feelings, emotions, tribal drive, and who knows what else in the purportedly objective scientific process. [...]

  2. Great post.

    I know I’ve talked about “big NGO” before but I had to cringe when I saw one article about Copenhagen saying it was “too big to fail”.

  3. A guest poster on Bishop Hill undercovers some interesting background re George Marshall here

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/11/25/whos-been-spinning-in-my-newspaper.html

  4. Jones, Mann et.al. may not have had political objectives in mind. But they were explicitly responsive to extrascientific bodies that did. I believe this is called being co-opted.

  5. Bob, you are right that those scientists were co-opted. However, we can only really hold them to greater account by virtue of their roles as scientists if we accept the premise that environmental politics emerges from environmental science. But we don’t beleive this to be the case. They were merely responding to environmental orthodoxy/determinism, as it had been established in the political mainstream.

    Monbiot’s response is therefore particularly interesting. Should Jones be blaming Monbiot, or is Monbiot right to blame Jones, as he has? In fact, neither… both reflect the problem of the time. There is a duality to environmentalism. Although we argue that it has a political, or ideological form, it is more a symptom than it is a cause.

    Something we feel we might need to clear up… We are not pooh-poohing the efforts that have been made to make sense of the leaked mails and data. It may well produce insight into what has happened. We just think that there is currently far too much focus on uncovering the shortcomings of climate research in the hope will terminate the climate debate, which we don’t think will be the outcome.

  6. Editors, re: the last line in your Nov 25, 11:19am comment: “We just think that there is currently far too much focus on uncovering the shortcomings of climate research in the hope will terminate the climate debate, which we don’t think will be the outcome.”

    Personally, the last thing I want is to terminate the debate. Instead, I want to kickstart a REAL debate. We’re frequently told “the debate is over” and yet I don’t know a single person who has actually witnessed a debate in which two or more parties with distinct perspectives on climate change have participated – and where everyone was clear that THE AUDIENCE (aka the voting public) therefore gets to choose from amongst a slate of views and policy options.

    Rather, via the media, the public has been exposed to only one side of what is, in fact, a multi-faceted, multi-layered discussion. Even if we accept that science “proves” CO2 is a baddie, HOW we should respond is an entirely different discussion. Yet the public is being told there’s only one acceptable response – drastic emission cuts.

    In order to challenge the average person’s certainty that the experts must know what they’re talking about when they say the planet is in peril, we must take up the unpleasant task of exposing said experts. If we can demonstrate persuasively that they are not the dispassionate, neutral actors the public assumes them to be, I believe it then becomes possible for multiple perspectives to find a foothold. Ordinary people deserve to be presented with real choices rather than a single course of action predetermined by an unholy alliance of activist scientists, professional environmentalists, and vacuous politicians.

    From my perspective, therefore, the CRU material is a goldmine.

  7. Donna’s point, that the debate hasn’t begun, is an excellent one. It follows logically from your contention that the politicians have renounced their role in favour of “objective” science. If a major area of government policy is declared to be the domain of experts, and no meaningful debate is possible between experts and non-experts, then democracy is subverted.

    Which in a roundabout way justifies my obsession with Guardian Environment and CommentisFree, where the debating format at least is respected. Any idiot can express himself. The result is messy, but so is democracy.
    It’s clear from the voluminous comment to Monbiot’s article that most regular sceptics like myself have been banned. The sceptics whose comments get through are newcomers, who repeat the wellworn phrases, unaware that the same points have been argued over a thousand times. Thus the Guardian maintains the appearance of free discussion, while eliminating any serious opposition to the official line.

    To see how it works, see Monbiot’s new article on Guardian Environment in which he says:
    “Nothing has been learnt by climate scientists in this country from 20 years of assaults on their discipline … Their opponents might be scumbags, but their media strategy is exemplary”.

    Here are the kinds of comments which is being disallowed:

    “George, you describe the opponents of the climate scientists involved in this scandal as scumbags. Is that Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts you’re talking about? Because they (plus many others working with them) are the only opponents who matter”.

    “George, we sceptics have been warning you for ages about what Prof. Jones and his colleagues were up to. Now you admit we were right, and you call us scumbags. What’s going on?”

    If such mild comments can’t get through, then CommentisFree is a charade. All George’s breast-beating won’t alter the fact that a supposedly open forum is no more open than RealClimate or the Guardian’s Anglo-Chinese Environment blog. The science brought in to give democratically elected politicians a break from the difficult problems of policymaking has resulted in the repression of dissenting opinions.

    I’m whingeing here about a couple of my comments which didn’t get through; but I’m also giving a concrete example to support the thesis of the above article. We can be called scumbags by a major newspaper with a long radical tradition, with no redress. It doesn’t take a conspiracy, or a policy agreed by the Guardian, CRU, the Royal Society, etc. That’s not how it works. We’ve become scumbags by default, by the dereliction of the politicians.

    If politicians are wholly behind the scientific consensus, then those who reject the consensus are outside politics. It’s a commonplace of British politics that an MP represents all his constituents, whoever they voted for. But a politician who signs on to an absolute truth cannot represent those who reject that truth. I’m a slow learner, but I’m gradually coming round to the (catastrophic) view that the environmentalist agenda represents something like the death of democracy.

  8. We have argued here on Climate Resistance that it is a mistake to see the ascendency of environmentalism’s influence as the fruit of a conspiracy. This, we have argued, credits the environmental movement with too much. What we have said is that environmentalism has become mainstream because of the failure of the political parties, individuals, organisations, and institutions to sustain coherent political ideas and to share them with the public.

    I don’t know if you cover this elsewhere, but from what little I know about this, environmentalism grows as a cultural movement because the psychology of individual people has been changing from one generation to the next. Previous generations wanted financial security. Later generations wanted more. They wanted their own lives to be more than just a bank account. They wanted their life to have more meaning. And to this they subscribed to the project of “saving the world”.

    They want to save the world so that they get to be the people who save the world.

    It is driven by ego needs. Just consider how many environmentalists want to do something even if there is no practical solution available. I don’t know about you, but if a problem has no solution, I just let it go, and practice acceptance. (It is called the Serenity Prayer)

    Instead, these people are driven to impractical projects, so that they get to feel that they are doing something, anything, even something token and symbolic; it gives their lives meaning, it satisfies their (rather sophisticated) ego needs.

    I say this coming from a Buddhist perspective; in spiritual circles this is sometimes called “spiritual materialism”. It is people who want “enlightenment”. Note the word “want”. Not too far from “greed”, is it? These are people who want to be “free” of their egos, because it satisfies their egos to be doing something so “noble”.

    This is why it seems so religious. Consider, there are people who want global warming to be true, and there are people who don’t want it to be true. The environmentalist will claim that many people are “denialists”. OK, so we agree that people are perfectly capable of denial. So tell me Mr. Environmentalist, why aren’t you also a denialist? You say people have many incentives to be denialists. So why aren’t you also a denialist? I think their answer is “because I’m a better person” (but go see if you can get one to admit it).

    That is the implicit core belief that their egos cling to–by being environmentalists, they are in principle better people. That’s why they can dismiss the climategate emails. The hack was just the work of the “bad” people trying to discredit us, and check Monbiot’s defence–gee, we poor climate people are so persecuted by the bad people, that sure, we resort to bending the rules a little, and it isn’t even anything technically wrong in the emails, we should be able to keep skeptical papers out of the Journals, because it is just fodder for the bad people. But unfortunately, evn though we’re doing the right thing (we’re better people), it just looks wrong to the unwashed masses, it damages our good image. Monbiot doesn’t say that the climategate scientists are “wrong”, he just says they “look wrong” and for that reason, in this horrible political climate, they have to resign.

    You will never get past these people’s egos, because their ego is who they are. To kill their notion of being better by saving the world, you’d be killing their egos, you’d be killing them.

  9. In the longer version of his article appearing on his site: http://climatedenial.org/
    George Marshall ends his advice to scientists on how to deal with sceptics like this:
    “If he [the owner of the site http://www.anelegantchaos.org had my private emails splattered all over his site he would be hearing from my lawyers – if he was lucky”.
    A rather simpler message than that conveyed in the Guardian article. A threat of libel action and … something else.
    Is that the kind of advice DEFRA is handing out £700,000 for?

  10. There seems to be more and more coming out about all the information that was hacked. I’m reading some of the code reviews and analysis of the error margins (go to climatedebatedaily.com for some excellent links.

    Despite me (sort of) wanting to agree that their was no conspiracy, that scientists were naive etc., I’m frankly having trouble believing this.

    Such an important issue has obviously taken on a life of its own and there was a concerted effort to keep producing results that backed up the earlier (dodgy) analysis. This ties in with the increasing alarmist “we’ve only n days/months/years to save the planet” hysteria that has been prevalent in the media for the last few years.

    I think perhaps that here on C-R you are being far too uncritical of this ‘Climategate’ scandal. I fully understand the desire not to appear high and mighty, and not to be seen to be arrogant about it. However, its becoming abundantly clear that a vastly important part of the ‘evidence’ had been systematically abused, deleted and changed to suit their purposes.

    From a scientific point of view, this is becoming a scandal that makes me agree (for once) with George Monbiot that the head of this organisation should resign.

  11. I write as another scumbag. What an excellent post with much food for thought. What excellent replies with that from Donna LaFramboise being closet to my general views. I would make two further points. First, in line with your general thesis, I do not think “environmentalism as conspiracy” started out that way, particularly this sorry but possibly highly damaging business over so-called man-made climate change. The failure of politicians to grasp opportunities for progress after the demise of the threat from the Soviet Union led to the rise of a new existential threat, namely, that we are killing the planet. Nevertheless, aspects of environmentalism have developed into conspiracies. I have no doubt that the usual suspects of Greenpeace and so on are stoking the boilers, funding the radicals, and paying the fines. Governments and the main stream media in this country are colluding in this activism, riding a tiger they hope they control. I doubt that they will or that they ever did have such control.

    The second point I would make is that politicians have no sense of loyalty. Consequently, as we saw recently with the unfortunate Professor Nutt, when the usefulness of a scientific view is seen to run counter to a desired political goal, the science is dumped, along with the scientists. Global warming may have an ascendancy at present, but if it becomes a vote loser then Professor Jones and his crew will be history. So we should be ready to welcome them back as sad but wiser scientists. When science and politics mix, there is only one winner and it is not science.

  12. Ian,

    “its becoming abundantly clear that a vastly important part of the ‘evidence’ had been systematically abused, deleted and changed to suit their purposes.”

    Our argument is that we didn’t need a hacking to reveal that science had been politicised.

    For instance, Hugh Hewitt interviews Mark Steyn at http://hughhewitt.com/transcripts.aspx?id=5f9f2448-aa3d-40cb-8e8f-e167d0e06863 . Steyn quotes Iain Murray,

    He says that the CRU is basically the Pentagon of the climate change business, and these are the Pentagon papers. And that’s basically true. It’s the clearing house for a climate change orthodoxy. So everything from Kyoto, Copenhagen, the IPCC, as you mentioned, the cap and trade monstrosity in Congress, all depends on figures that have been run through the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia.

    So, our point is that the CRU, as with the Pentagon, didn’t not create itself. It did not set itself up to become such an institution. Ditto, the IPCC. Murray and Steyn are entirely correct to say that such institutions are established essentially to reproduce the orthodoxy, but that, as such, they were established to meet political needs, to achieve political ends.

    All the substance needed to demonstrate the ‘scandal’ (so to speak) was already in the public domain. The problem for climate sceptics (in the broadest sense of the category) happens when they expect science to un-do the work that it didn’t do in the first place. I.e. that demonstrating a fraud (or, to put it less strongly, demonstrating that liberties have been taken with ‘science’) will prove to be decisive. ‘Science’, we have argued, is environmentalism’s fig leaf: it is expected to do political and moral work. We shouldn’t expect it to do the same for us.

    We think it is a ‘fraud’ every time the claim is made in support of political action to mitigate climate change that “climate change will be worse for the poor”, or that “climate change causes war/famine/disease/etc…”. (We use the term ‘fraud’ here, with poetic license, mostly). You don’t need to have the statistical qualifications of Steve McIntyre to pick these arguments apart.

    We are not attempting to pooh-pooh the work of people like McIntyre here, in their efforts to unpack the scientific claims made in the climate debate, before, or after the revelations from the CRU hacking. On the contrary, scientific claims are made in support of environmental arguments, and it is essential to understand what the claims are, on their own terms. But, as has been discussed recently here, too much store is put by warmers variously that “climate change is happening”, such that once it is shown to be true, all of the moral imperatives that this seemingly generates also become true, by virtue of the premise being true. All that demonstrating the fraud does is to put a question mark over the claim, without ever interrogating the chain of reasoning between the fact-or-not of climate-change and its putative material and moral consequences.

    In short, putting the Hockey-Stick and the small number of people involved in climate gate at the centre of the debate may only reproduce the error made by alarmists – it all hangs on the ‘proof’ of something which isn’t even the fundamental premise. As we discussed in the previous post, it is not the case that environmentalism became the organising philosophy of local, national, and supra-national governance on the basis of scientific certainty. Such institutions are founded instead on the precautionary principle and a specific conception of humanity’s relationship with the natural order, and it is only relatively recently that certainty was provided to just one, albeit significant, claim – that climate change is happening, and is man-made.

    Perhaps there are two (main) kinds of ‘sceptic’… We’ve always emphasised that we are sceptical of climate politics, rather than climate science. Our starting point for this view is that even if it is true that climate change is real”, it doesn’t make eco-centric politics any more legitimate.

    The other kind of scepticism might hold that “if climate change is real”, then the consequences automatically follow, as per the environmentalist’s claim… It all hangs on the ‘if’.

    Donna,

    In order to challenge the average person’s certainty that the experts must know what they’re talking about when they say the planet is in peril, we must take up the unpleasant task of exposing said experts.

    But the calls for an inquiry, etc, would surely just merely defer the task to experts, rather than opens up a public debate. Even a complete and total conclusive debunking of all of the scientific claims of climate alarmism won’t explain environmentalism’s ascendency. The rot is deeper than that. However, you are right that it might begin to create a basis for a discussion that might go in that direction. But this would need to consist of an argument that is more than one which points and shouts at ‘fraud!’.

  13. We don’t know what actually happened (yet), but I think it very unlikely that the release of the emails etc. was a “hack”, and that you are falling for the spin in using that term.

    I take the opposite position to you regarding the relationship between science and politics. The recent sacking of Professor Nutt should give you a clue where the authority really lies. The desperate measures resorted to by the CRU cabal to provide the “evidence” to bolster the politics should give you another clue that your thesis is upside down. It is clear from the leaked emails (and the code) that the CRU is principly a ministry of misinformation.

    Fundamentally, science is about achieving the best explanations that describe the word around us, and therefore cannot in the long run be bent to political will. It is in the end objective! So, when CO2-theory of global warming proves insufficient to explain the current climate, you either move on, or cook the books to pretend it still works. The second option being ultimately doomed to failure.

    The leaked emails provide an opportunity to demand a look beneath the surface of the CRU, and perhaps related alarmist institutions. Time and again they have been caught foisting propaganda on the public. The hockey stick, the deletion of the climate record, the Yamal fabrication, etc. would be credibility-destroying events if they didn’t support the current political climate. To change the politics of the day, scientific evidence is not enough. Graphs and statistics are pointless; the lack of warming, or any other predicted calamity is insufficient. What we need are a few salacious emails to spark us into a ferment of indignation. What we need is the mob, and a Public Inquiry!

  14. Tom, you seem to have misunderstood our argument.

    I take the opposite position to you regarding the relationship between science and politics. The recent sacking of Professor Nutt should give you a clue where the authority really lies.

    Above, we say,

    Politicians (and movements, etc) borrow authority from science, because they cannot create their own. As such, any political project that this process produces is necessarily negative – the avoidance of catastrophe, terrorism, epidemics, etc. In short, politicians borrow ‘objectivity’ from science because of a lack of faith in the inherently subjective nature of democratic politics – the need for political engagement and discussion. But the loan of credibility from science to politics is not sufficient to sustain the legitimacy of political institutions, because of the problem of democratic accountability and legitimacy.

    This appears to be the passage that has caused the problem. We may not have been clear about the distinction between moral and political authority. The argument is not that politicians borrow ‘authority’ as in ‘political power’ from ‘science’, but that their inability to generate moral authority for their own arguments inclines them towards seeking “objectively defined” purpose. The case of Nutt certainly highlights the problems of the sham that is ‘evidence-based policy-making’, in that it shows more generally that the interest is in policy-based evidence-making… In fact, the Nutt case (oh dear) really demonstrates the problem.

    The issue of making drugs policies really ought to consist of discussions about the rights and wrongs of either prohibition or permissiveness – i.e. subjective judgements, rather than claims to ‘objectivity’. Who didn’t know that drug-taking carries risk? Who needs a list of substances arranged according to their risk to decide whether or not to indulge in them? Science, again, is expected here to do political, moral, and even legal work here. Can science really say that the individual is not capable of determining for himself what level of risk is appropriate, and what is wrong with living your life under the constant influence of drugs?

    We would argue that ‘science’ enters the discussion to the extent that it has, because contemporary politicians can’t make the case, either way. Yet, as we say above, the problem of persuading the public still exists… If politicians really were to accept the advice of scientists and made policy accordingly, they would have to do so against what the public mood appears to desire. In the climate debate, this is overcome by creating supra-national institutions; Kyoto, Copenhagen, IPCC, UNFCCC. Regan’s war on drugs attempted to do a similar thing, more unilaterally, but perhaps on a less ambitious scale. Nonetheless, it internationalised a domestic issue, the real solution to which demanded far more thought that the administration was capable of.

    The desperate measures resorted to by the CRU cabal to provide the “evidence” to bolster the politics should give you another clue that your thesis is upside down. It is clear from the leaked emails (and the code) that the CRU is principly a ministry of misinformation.

    Notwithstanding that Climategate raises questions that those involved need to answer, the claim that it, itself, makes it clear that there was something untoward going on is premature. Rather, there is no need of a case of fraud to demonstrate that institutions such as the CRU (and its ilk) were largely about substantiating the political argument. We already knew that. There is already the ‘evidence’ for it. That’s what we were arguing in our previous post about the Rio Declaration.

    science is about achieving the best explanations that describe the word around us, and therefore cannot in the long run be bent to political will.

    Of course it can. Science is a human enterprise, no matter how much it strives towards objectivity.

    It is in the end objective! So, when CO2-theory of global warming proves insufficient to explain the current climate, you either move on, or cook the books to pretend it still works. The second option being ultimately doomed to failure.

    Well, science still requires subjective agents to carry it forward. It is a process, not a force in itself. And as we pointed out in the previous post, there was no need for scientific certainty to put in place frameworks for international deals on climate change, and to begin to construct political institutions premised on environmental axioms, e.g. ‘sustainability’, ‘balance’, etc. These were the political precepts which existed prior to the science (or ‘the Science’).

    The leaked emails provide an opportunity to demand a look beneath the surface of the CRU, and perhaps related alarmist institutions.

    Of course. But what we’re saying is that this wont tell us anything we didn’t really know, and won’t really go as far as is hoped in resolving the problems which existed prior to the science in the first place. You rightly point to the instrumental use of science as and when it is convenient to politics. But you seem to not follow us when we say that drawing a line under the science doesn’t help us to understand the political context which lead to the issue developing.

    To change the politics of the day, scientific evidence is not enough. Graphs and statistics are pointless; the lack of warming, or any other predicted calamity is insufficient.

    Well, we agree, but it makes your argument inconsistent. One can’t claim simultaneously that a scientific fraud (consisting principally of graphs and statistics) has been perpetrated, leading to the dominance of environmental politics, and that graphs and statistics aren’t sufficient to change the politics of the day. Either they are – and what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – or they’re not, and the sceptics pinning their hopes on Climategate are making the same mistake as the environmentalists.

    What we need is the mob, and a Public Inquiry!

    Two of the worst things in the world! Group-think driven by an elite committee…. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?

  15. Editors,

    Perhaps there are two (main) kinds of ’sceptic’… We’ve always emphasised that we are sceptical of climate politics, rather than climate science.

    This is a good point, and is perhaps why I find myself not disagreeing with your posts, but sometimes not fully understanding them. I said in a comment some months ago that I think I’m fairly straight talking, and frankly I despise politics in all its guises and forms, since that is as far from straight talking as it is possible to be.

    I firmly hope that a systematic review of the data that has been leaked (it must be a leak not a hack) continues to be undertaken (as it appears to be being done dillegently by a number of skeptics on the internet). The climate (science) skeptic in me wants to see clear hard facts and evidence (I’m a mathematician by qualification and I know perfectly well how to manipulate statistics and data). I know you say that this has been known for some time, which it has by us on this side of the fence, but only until these cover ups are systematically exposed by evidence is there actually the possibility of persuading people on the other side of the fence.

    I don’t however think it will change much. The news this morning goes on again about Copenhagen with never a mention of all the tainted data. The juggernaut is rolling and I don’t think it can be stopped – that is (I think) your point about climate politics and the other type of skeptic – and one which I’ll leave you to continue to argue far more eloquently than I can manage.

    Keep up the excellent blog.

  16. George Monbiot, in the peculiar satire which follows his noble mea culpa, reveals a rather frightening insight into his soul. The satire is so embarrassingly bad that most of his fans will probably have passed over it and gone on to the article which followed in which, back on form, he is calling us sceptics “scumbags”.
    So who is right, George Monbiot, who thinks Professor Jones is a disgrace to science, or us scumbags, who think Professor Jones is a disgrace to science? Only George can tell.
    Does anyone else remember the post-Watergate press conference, where a trembling Nixon addressed the journalists with: “Why are YOU (pointing a finger at his chest) always picking on ME?” (jabbing a finger at the journalists)?

  17. Just got the tweet – George Monbiot takes to the air again. But “flying across the Atlantic is as unacceptable, in terms of its impact on human well-being, as child abuse.”

    Should we call the police?

  18. Incidentally, in my own ignorance i just stumbled upon the Gapminder tool, and noticed how India’s population grew rapidly after 1960. I googled why this might be and stumbled across the Green Revolution, which not only saved India from the brink of starvation, but allowed their rapid growth thereafter. What raised my eyebrows is how Norman Borlaug is apparently criticised by Environmentalists, and how they apparently have blocked his methods from being applied in Africa.

    I mean, I guess if you see human consumption as a problem, you want to reduce human numbers, and where are those numbers growing most rapidly? Well, in the Third World. Basically, environmentalists are against the Third World having the same population density and infrastructure as we do, and you know, it is hard to discern how that isn’t just a little bit racist.

    But I can really see where the Environmentalist’s antithesis to any technological fix or any new technology, especially bioengineering, and cheap energy, may come from—not to mention, what are all those fertilizers made of? They have seen what it did to India—made sudden growth possible. And they don’t want any more of that. By definition, only SLOW technologies are permitted.

    The fact is, if the world overstretches its capacity, there is no telling which countries might perish. It could even be European countries. But if we can slow down everyone else, and maintain the status quo, remain “conservative”, then we at least know that we will stay on top of the pile and have enough for ourselves. So what if Africans starve. “They” shouldn’t be born anyway.

    I’m sorry to post such a dark speculation and image, but there it is.

  19. This was fun: Dr Doug Parr takes a mauling;
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qk11

  20. I’ve been trying to come to terms with your thesis that it’s environmentalism which is the problem, and not the political misuse of bad science. You seem to be arguing that environmentalism is somehow illegitimate as a political idea. I can agree with you 100% that the adoption of a green agenda by all political parties can be seen as both cause and effect of the current vacuity of much political debate. But what follows, if not the need to oppose green ideas? And how best to oppose them, if not by attacking them at their weakest point, which is currently the climategate scandal?
    You seem to be suggesting that there is some greater battle to be fought, at some deeper level While I agree entirely in your characterisation of eco-politics, I cannot see how you can counteract an abstraction on the political level, within the limits of democratic action.

    Having said that, today’s Observer editorial seems to agree with you that it’s environmentalism, and not just action on climate change, which is at stake at Copenhagen. Here, shorn of subsidiary argument, is their analysis, under the title “ The truth about climate: Copenhagen isn’t enough”.

    “… The problems divide into three broad categories.
    “First is money. On a simple cost-benefit analysis, the best value lies in substantial and early action, as Sir Nicholas Stern’s landmark report in 2006 found…
    “There lies the second problem: politics… Meanwhile, the prospect, however distant, of a global climate governance regime will surely fire the growing anti-environmentalism movement to new excesses of paranoia.
    “And that is the third problem: denial of the science. ..the emails… prove nothing. Man-made climate change is real … The scientific case for action is irrefutable. So is the economic case. That just leaves the politics …”

    Note how the economics and the science are presented as irrefutable truths, leaving just the politics as problematical. And the political problem is defined as anti-environmentalism. That’s us folks. We’re defined as being opponents of truth, and therefore outside the limits of political discourse. And that, I suppose, is the problem with environmentalism.

  21. Geoff, ‘You seem to be arguing that environmentalism is somehow illegitimate as a political idea.’

    We prefer to say that it is a phenomenon more than it is an idea. As ‘movements’ go, environmentalism is much less coherent than political movements before. More to the point, it is principally a phenomenon of the political establishment than any kind of grass-roots, or otherwise spontaneous expression of political voices. It is illegitimate we argue, not because of any of its premises, but by virtue of the fact that it has installed itself within political institutions without due process, so to speak. It has never been tested democratically, and so on.

    “how best to oppose them, if not by attacking them at their weakest point, which is currently the climategate scandal?”

    This is the subject of a post coming soon, other deadlines willing. We’re not saying, by the way, that climategate ought to be ignored. Our criticism was about expecting another layer of officialdom to come and sort the whole mess out. Of course it wont.

    On the subject of the Guardian’s editorial. It stinks, of course, and it is almost funny to see how easily and quickly it appeals to inquries that have gone before, i.e. Stern. It is also interesting to see how democratic politics is itself the subject of the Guardian’s criticism, as you say. The Guardian presents itself as radical and even edgy, but in reality, it’s doing the establishment’s bidding.

    It is, as usual, as if Stern had no critics. Has the Guardian ever been so uncritical of any previous government-commissioned review, report, or inquiry? And the usual confusion about what ‘facts’ are ‘science’ and which are politics are again, routinely confused. The 2 degrees target, for instance, has no basis in science, but is a political goal that ultimately has no more meaning than 2.1 or 3 or 1.5 degrees.

    The phenomenon in journalism is the same as in politics. Without the issue of climate change to see the world through, Guardian hacks are as disorientated about the world as politicians are. Thus scepticism appears to them as an existential threat. They cannot tell the difference between loosing their purchase on the world and the world ending. The result is an angry and infantile tantrum.

  22. Editors,
    Thanks for the reply, most of which I agree with wholeheartedly, and which goes further than I would dare to in some respects. In characterising the response of the Guardian as “an angry and infantile tantrum” you wave goodbye to two centuries of radical mainstream journalism in our country. I’m older than you, and I find it rather more difficult to say farewell to a tradition that stretches from Hazlitt to Paul Foot and – dare I say? – Monbiot, so casually. I thought the Guardian and the Observer were broad churches capable of tolerating dissent. I was wrong.
    In your second paragraph you identify exactly where we disagree. I suggested that you see Environmentalism as illegitimate, and you don’t deny this. You say: “it is a phenomenon more than it is an idea. As ‘movements’ go, environmentalism is much less coherent than political movements before”.
    As a matter of historical fact, I’d dispute that. Socialism, to take the last big political idea, was espoused by Marx, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, and a million others, and it would be vain to try and find a ‘coherent’ common ground between them all.
    But my real disagreement is with the idea of legitimacy. Granted, environmentalism receives a pathetic number of votes, in relation to its influence in the media and with the mainstream political parties. So what? In this, British politics is simply conforming to the European model, where proportional representation and the existence of multiple mini-parties gives a disproportionate power to any 5% of the electorate who are up for grabs.
    It seems to me that any party which presents itself before the electorate is legitimate. Before the Green Party, the joker in the British Political Party Pack was the Monster Raving Loony Party. Then one day (before you were born, maybe..) they beat the SDLP into fourth place in a by-election, and destroyed a party which was promoted by the Guardian, among others, as the future of Britsh politics.
    Once the insanity of global warming alarmism is defeated, I’d be happy to vote for a Green Party which defended badgers, footpaths, and Bangla Deshis (not necessarily in that order). I probably wouldn’t, because I like the British first-past-the-post system, but that wouldn’t render a clean Green Party illegitimate.

  23. Geoff – ‘It seems to me that any party which presents itself before the electorate is legitimate.’

    We’re not arguing that environmentalism as a political philosophy is illegitimate (even if we argue that it is ill-conceived). We are arguing that its influence has not been legitimate.

    It is illegitimate we argue, not because of any of its premises, but by virtue of the fact that it has installed itself within political institutions without due process, so to speak. It has never been tested democratically, and so on.

    Environmental ideas are even used as arguments against democracy proper. For instance the idea that democracy is inadequate to meet the challenges of a changing climate. Environmentalists demand that ‘brave’ governments create legislation that will punish non-conforming lifestyles. We argue that supra-national institutions are sought in order to establish legitimacy for environmental ideas, because contemporary politicians – never mind the environmental argument – cannot move the public mind at all. Environmental ideas are convenient, in other words, to those with only a fragile hold on their public roles.

    You are probably right that we over-state the coherence of yesterday’s political movements to some extent. Nonetheless, they were actually movements, and they were moved by ideas. Any old pseudo-scientific factoid passes for an argument against capitalism and economic growth today. There were theoretical foundations to movements comprising the various parts of the Left and (probably to a lesser extent) the Right, even though they didn’t form a coherent unit. They contained numbers who were more or less conversant with the philosophy they had attached themselves to in the form of a movement. But for today’s movements… IPCC reports, Stern Reviews, and sheer innuendo take the place of Das Kapital, Little Red Book, the Wealth of Nations… whatever… A million prejudices whinges and grumbles find expression through the language of environmental apocalypse, with ‘data’ tagged on, almost as an afterthought. So Johann Hari (see our latest post) gets to make up his own stats on the hoof, about ‘by 2012, the north pole will be a point in the open ocean’. The double-first Cambridge grad makes shite up, not even to score points. What does it say that someone so seemingly intellectually capable as Hari is incoherent by himself, never mind as part of a movement?

  24. Monbiot is off again, on a Savonarolan roll, at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/14/climate-change-battle-redefine-humanity
    He’s caught the mood of the Copenhagen negotiations with all the flair of a tone deaf busker in a crowded tube train. Go to the comments thread and add your voices to the storm of derision. Give him one for Gaia.

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