Monthly Archives: February 2010
It’s a familiar refrain…
Without hard evidence to support their claims, climate denialists are attacking the process of climate-change science.
This is the line that appears before Bill McKibben’s article, “Climate Change’s OJ Simpson Moment“, which is currently touring the alarmist circuit.
It’s already a statement that only functions as an alarmist shibboleth, because it only makes sense when alarmist presuppositions are held. Let’s start at the top, then.
First, “climate denialists”… Who are they? Well, the names, Bush, Palin, Monckton, Morano, and Exxon appear. That’s about it. You can see the parameters of the narrative unfolding already. Don’t expect it to get any more sophisticated. “You can judge a man by his enemies”, someone once said. Similarly, a story that chooses such cartoonish bogeymen will undoubtedly fail to paint the world more deeply than in stark black and white.
They have no “hard evidence”, these deniers, screams the subtitle. But, as we’ve said before, this kind is an incoherent conception of “evidence”, which plays an even more confused role in McKribben’s argument. McKribben clearly uses the concept of “evidence” to speak less about material, objective truth – science, perhaps – than to establish the guilt of “deniers”. The crude polarisation of the debate into goodies and baddies (McKibben and his kind versus “the Deniers”) needs supplying with more binary categories. The goodies fight with “evidence” and “proof”. The Deniers, meanwhile, fight with only doubt. More on that in a moment.
There is a problem already with McKibben’s argument. Evidence neither speaks for itself, nor “belongs” to one camp or another. Even in a legal trial – which is the allusion really being made by McKribben – “evidence” isn’t what convicts the defendant. It is the argument – the case – which interprets evidence. McKibben, like so many climate alarmists, confuses the basis for his political ideas with the “science”. McKribben is blind to the presuppositions of his own argument. As we’ve pointed out, even if we accept that “anthropogenic climate change is happening” and that these changes are likely to cause problems, we are still not yet committed to environmental ethical imperatives, nor to its politics. This is because, as we have argued at length, the catastrophist’s presupposition is that we are impotent to cope with climate change. This presupposition contradicts the evidence from history: we have and we do cope with climate change where we are wealthy enough to do so. The catastrophist asserts his impotence over the evidence, and imposes it on the poor; he exploits their poverty for his own moral currency and unleashes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To point this out is to be a “denier” of “the science”. But in reality, all it takes to defeat McKibben is to demonstrate that a more nuanced perspective can exist. Suddenly, his prophecies are revealed for what they are: mere projections of his own political impotence and failure of imagination.
KcKibben’s article has not yet begun – we’re still at the subtitle. How does he explain his claim? What is the problem?
the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the US, never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet. At least partly as a result, Congress feels little need to consider global-warming legislation, no less pass it; and as a result of that failure, progress towards any kind of international agreement on climate change has essentially ground to a halt.
McKibben confuses the political argument with its putative scientific basis. The possibility that the US public have not been convinced of the political argument is not considered. No, McKibben prefers to explain the failure of his political argument as the consequence of an “onslaught against the science of climate change”. He sees his argument as scientific and the “deniers as having waged a successful propaganda war against the scientific truth. McKibben is blind to the nature of his own argument and its presuppositions.
This inability to self-reflect is characteristic of the environmental movement. Another characteristic is that it is not a mass or popular movement. That the public don’t see things the way McKibben wants them to, should come as no surprise. It might be much more a case of his argument failing than it being successfully challenged by the deniers. The public might have simply responded to environmental politics by virtue of having sufficient wit to see when the pudding has been over-egged, and when hollow political arguments are hidden behind claims to scientific authority.
That would surely be the most simple explanation. McKibben has an alternative.
The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede into our collective memory. […]The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: it was pretty clear their guy was guilty. […] So [Simpson’s legal team] decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. […]If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside.
McKibben is suggesting that the more overwhelming the quantity of evidence that exists, the more it is possible for Deniers to find problems with it, and so to marshal public opinion through the fog, to doubt..
Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming and it’s unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.
Leaving aside the implications of this argument for a moment (we’ll come back to them shortly), the IPCC’s mistakes are not insubstantial, and made for some of the loudest headlines, encouraged by senior IPCC members. The claim that the melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 would deprive over a billion people of their water supply has been found to have been bunk in two respects – barely 1% of that number depend on glacial water, and the date of 2035 has no scientific basis. McKibben may want to say that this is trivial stuff, but the lives of 1 billion people – not the binary fact of climate change – was the basis for political action. Climate change may well still be happening, but the estimation of its effects of its effects is now substantially reduced.
Of course, according to McKribben it wasn’t this fact being revealed to intelligent, thinking people which caused the perception of climate change to shift after it had caused people to think more deeply about the claims that had been made. It was clever stunts organised by the deniers.
For a gifted political operative like, say, Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website, the massive snowfalls this winter became the grist for a hundred posts poking fun at the very idea that anyone could still possibly believe in, you know, physics. Morano, who really is good, posted a link to a live webcam so readers could watch snow coming down; his former boss, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), had his grandchildren build an igloo on the Capitol grounds, with a sign that read: “Al Gore’s New Home.” These are the things that stick in people’s heads. If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.
Then comes more of what we’ve heard before. The deniers’ “think tanks are well-funded by Exxon”. Blah blah blah. They have their own TV news channel: Fox. Blah blah blah. “Right wing British tabloids”. Blah blah blah.
What the Deniers do, says McKribben, is appeal to our unthinking selves. We don’t want to believe in climate change, and so it’s easier for the Deniers to manipulate public opinion than it is for the good guys to persuade us of the truth. They have captured the disconnect between elite and public, and the sense that they have been ripped off. And yet he still refuses to accept that the public might just have made a good call.
And in the process, McKribben, by arguing that “the more evidence there is, the more the public are mislead” only expresses his contempt for the public for his own failure to make a convincing argument. This is absurd. One moment he recognises the problem of elitism and the public’s perception of it. And the next moment, he’s steepening that gulf by making an argument which flatters the elite. He explains the failure of the political ideas he embraces as the consequence of the public’s shortcomings: their vulnerability to manipulation of the “growing body of evidence” by “deniers”.
their skepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change. That’s what gives the climate cynics ground to operate.
The shortcoming is somehow a weakness of human nature. And so, the ultimate object of his political project – which, remember, nobody wants – is this aspect of human nature…
That’s what we need to overcome, and at bottom that’s a battle as much about courage and hope as about data.
This retrogressive and elitist view of the public is not even a secret.
those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew.
McKibben seems to want each generation to reproduce in the next, the same experiences, in some kind of ahistorical ecological utopia. He fails to reflect on why his own ideas fail to find purchase in the public, and thus he blames the public. This is characteristic of the elitism of environmental politics. McKibben considers himself to be amongst the elite – those who have overcome the aspect of human nature that makes the hoi-polloi vulnerable to the “deniers”. This setting him and his political movement apart from the remainder of humanity allows him to design the Utopia – the order of social institutions and experiences that they will be subject to – that will contain their excessive wants and nature. And who are they to disagree? McKibben assumes to speak “above” politics, and “above” humanity”.
The context of his article is the establishment’s embrace of the climate issue in lieu of a mass (as opposed to an elite) movement that does the same. This creates a serious problem for environmental politics. How can the reorganisation of public institutions according to the tenets of environmentalism be legitimate? E.g. All of the main UK political parties are now “green”, and all public institutions are now committed to “tackling climate change”, yet not after some mass political movement exerting pressure.
People like McKibben overcome this problem by indirectly attacking the concept of legitimacy. “Science” hides the environmentalist’s shame. It is used to make an attack ultimately on democracy, because it allows the expression of human shortcomings – greed, etc – to reign, so to speak, during (and causing) the manifestation of ecological crisis. It allows even the stupid and the ignorant to have their say. McKibben sits above politics, and above democracy.
This is in fact a very old political idea which holds that human nature is so weakened by original sin that, unconstrained by institutions (i.e. Church, family, state, work), humans will run amock in nature, precluding the possibility of salvation. Humans need protection from themselves, in other words. And McKibben appoints himself as your protector. Curiously, he doesn’t seem to understand when people ignore him.
Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts
The scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.
Climate sceptics are recycled critics of controls on tobacco and acid rain. We must not be distracted from science’s urgent message: we are fuelling dangerous changes in Earth’s climate.
Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels.
Do climate change sceptics give scepticism a bad name? There is a crucial difference between scepticism and non-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Sachs and Corner, like many alarmists, are continuing to hide behind the idea that the climate debate divides on a single point of difference: “Climate change is happening” versus “climate change isn’t happening”.
Even as shorthand, this is a clumsy, clumsy polarisation of the debate. There are many points of disagreement between perspectives within each putative ‘side’, and many points of agreement across them.
The implication is that people framing the debate in this way – as between people saying “climate change is happening”, and “climate change isn’t happening” reduce themselves to the level of their least sophisticated opposition. Very, very few commentators in the ‘sceptic’ camp in fact make such an argument.
The argument is really about how climate ‘science’ turns into ethical imperatives and politics. Our argument here is that ‘catastrophe’ is the premise of climate politics, not the conclusion of climate science. It is only if we presuppose certain things that we can see agreement between what “science says” and what climate alarmists say. But science is expected to do much of the ethical and political work for those investing their moral authority in the inevitability of looming catastrophe.
Since ‘Climategate’ we have seen problems emerge with the catastrophic storyline. Suddenly, the human cost of Himalayan glacial melt, and reduced rainfall in Africa have been substantially diminished, if not completely dissolved. And now sea level rise has been reconsidered. These first order effects of anthropogenic climate change have been challenged, and so, logically, the effects that they are understood to cause need to be reconsidered. Yet Sachs and Corner pretend that the debate is still about the principle cause of so many Nth-order effects. This has another curious implication.
It has for a while been the argument of such people that ‘the debate is over’, and the science is in’. We can see clearly now that the science is not in. Yet the debate that Sachs and Corner seem to want to have is the one that they have already had, and it is claimed has been won. Sachs and Corner do not want to move on.
And it is easy to see why.
Head to the profiles of the authors in question, and you will learn that
Adam Corner is a research associate at Cardiff University. His interests include the psychology of communicating climate change
Jeffrey Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to United Nations secretary-general on the millennium development goals.
Take “the science” away from these two non-scientists, and what would they be left with? The prospect of climate catastrophe has been used to construct a ‘special’ perspective on economics and human psychology. It is this perspective – not “science”, and not “the planet” – which Corner and Sachs are protecting. Yet notice how they cannot do it on the terms of their own disciplines.
Sachs: Today’s campaigners against action on climate change are in many cases backed by the same lobbies, individuals, and organisations that sided with the tobacco industry to discredit the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Later, they fought the scientific evidence that sulphur oxides from coal-fired power plants were causing “acid rain.”
Corner: But embarrassingly for climate change sceptics, the people who have thought longest and hardest about what it means to be a truly sceptical thinker seem in a hurry to distance themselves from their fellow sceptics. Michael Marshall, from the Merseyside Skeptics group that organised the homeopathy overdose is clear about the legitimacy of climate change sceptics: “In our view, climate change sceptics are not sceptics. A sceptic looks at the available evidence and makes a decision, and for homeopathy the evidence is that it doesn’t work. But the sceptical position on climate change is that it is happening.”
Corner and the sceptics he chooses to qualify his opinion share the same tragic conceit. “where are the voices of the truly sceptical thinkers that the climate sceptics claim to represent?”, he asks, rhetorically, to imply that ‘true’ sceptics aren’t on the side of the climate sceptics. It turns out that they – the true sceptics – are busy organising protest-stunts against homeopathy – a die-in “homeopathy overdose”. It’s not even climate change – the “most important issue facing mankind” – which moves these “defenders of science”. They are too busy trying to save people who think that sugar pills might cure them of trivial maladies from themselves. Oh, what important work!
It would be easier to believe that Corner was a paid, academic, researcher of psychology and communication if his own communication didn’t communicate such an inane psychology all of his own, not to mention his desperately shallow research. Sachs too, makes a facile argument to defend the ground he stands on. We’ve covered the “tobacco” argument before, here and here. How can an academic in such a prestigious and privileged role make such a bullshit argument – the kind that you’d be disappointed to hear in a pub, never mind uttered in the academy?
With arguments like this emerging from academia, it is no surprise that people sense the snake oil, and head for the science as the object of the debate. We’ve said before that this is a mistake that sceptics make. They mirror their counterparts such as Sachs and Corner, who believe that the debate begins and ends in “the science”. As we point out, probably too often, the politics is prior. It is Sachs and Corner’s politics which stinks. “The science” is an afterthought.
In our previous post, we argued that ‘Without WGII and WGIII, there is no grounds for alarm’. Our point being that WGII and WGIII take certain premises for granted in order to be able to talk about the inevitability of Nth-order effects of climate change, especially the human cost. The nature of these presuppositions is the subject of Ben’s recent article on Spiked-Online. Briefly, confusion exists between the ideas of climate’s sensitivity to CO2 on the one hand, and society’s sensitivity to climate on the other.
That post was a response to stories being published in The Guardian – a newspaper with a clear and distinct editorial line that emphasises the catastrophic narrative and the necessity of a far-reaching political response. David Adam – one of the journalists we singled out for criticism – had written a piece about how certain climate scientists were blaming their colleagues from the softer social and biological sciences for the cock-ups recently exposed in the IPCC’s AR4. He has now dropped by to comment:
hello again guys
i think i may have worked out why we disagree on this
“Without WGII and WGIII, there is no grounds for alarm. All the promises, projections and prophecies are contained in WGII and III.”
Have you read WG1? Please take a look at chapter 10 (not the SPM). There’s no politics in there just science. If you find the non-mitigation scenario contains no grounds for alarm then as I said last year, good luck.
Chapter 10 of IPCC WGI is concerned with ‘Global Climate Projections’. It takes a range of climate models and looks for agreement between them, to produce a range of scenarios depicting climate changes most over the next century. It emphasises the following:
- increases in global mean surface air temperature - “heat waves will be more intense, more frequent and longer lasting.”
- precipitation extremes and droughts - “Globally averaged mean water vapour, evaporation and precipitation are projected to increase.”
- snow cover and sea ice extent decrease – glaciers and ice caps lose mass owing to a dominance of summer melting over winter precipitation increases.
- positive climate-carbon cycle feedback – reduc[ed …] efficiency of the Earth system (land and ocean) to absorb anthropogenic CO2.
- increasing acidification of the surface ocean – “dissolution of shallow-water carbonate sediments and could affect marine calcifying organisms”
- sea level rise – between 18cm and 59cm.
- increases in climate system intensity – Monsoons, sea level pressure, tropical cyclones, fewer mid-latitude storms,
As we have discussed, increases in the severity and frequency of heat waves, storms, and rain or drought – if they really are what the planet faces – are easily seen as mere technical challenges. All you need to demonstrate this is to compare the outcome of such events in regions that differ in their levels of economic and industrial development. Natural phenomena are, and always have been catastrophic in regions that lack wealth, sometimes killing tens of thousands of people, and leaving a terrible legacy for generations. But the human cost of these events are mitigated almost entirely by development. Properly designed and constructed buildings withstand floods, storms and quakes; emergency services respond to people in danger; funds exist for the rehabilitation of an area; skills and resources can be utilised in reconstruction
Therefore, to make the case that there is cause for alarm on the basis of these projections is to bring presuppositions to bear on them, ie, to project the political premise of catastrophism through the scientific projection. There is no reason why any area prone to drought now or in the future cannot be provided with potable water. There is no reason why any population of an area prone to flooding cannot engineer a solution. There is no reason why regions prone to increasing frequency and intensity of storms cannot build on stronger foundations and with materials that offer better climate resistance. (See what we did there?) No reason, that is, except for the lack of wealth. Again, it is the alarmist’s presupposition which says that sufficient wealth cannot be generated. Again, this is a projection of a political premise. And again, this makes alarmism a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether or not the climate is changing, and whether or not that change has been caused by humans.
That is not to say that there is no cause for concern. Indeed, it is a cause for concern – but a cause for concern that ought to demand emphasis on development, especially in poorer parts of the world, rather than the pursuit of a myth: climatic stability, whether or not the climate is changing. But concern is not equivalent to alarm. Likewise, ocean acidification and sea level rise may be causes for concern. This concern ought to be mediated by the uncertainty about acidification – the IPCC agree that it “is not well understood” – and the observation that sea levels have been rising for longer than can be accounted for by anthropogenic global warming. Controversy has raged about the IPCC’s range of projections (18-59cm). Critics, such as James Hansen argue that this massively underestimates the likely sea level rise. This raises an interesting problem for alarmists such as Adam. Suddenly, Hansen – a favourite of the Guardian, who publish him regularly – becomes an outlier, as far away from ‘the consensus’ as any ‘denier’. The IPCC are too conservative in their estimations and projections, the argument runs. But this too only serves to undermine the ‘consensus’ argument. Why should one outlier (an unmitigated alarmist) shade our view of the consensus more than another (a mild sceptic, for instance, who would no doubt be called an ‘industry-funded climate denier’)?
Let us imagine that we face the upper range of sea level rise of 59cm. Would it be catastrophic? Still, it is only as catastrophic as our inability to cope with it. Still, it is a question that is answered by development. People living in such regions have 100 years to walk away from a rise of 69cm, to move inland, to build coastal defences, to find alternative places to produce food, and so on.
Adam reads WGI and finds cause for alarm precisely because he, and more generally, the institution he works for – and more generally still, the environmental orthodoxy in which the Guardian is embedded – is incapable of entertaining the possibility of developing our way out of the problems posed by climate change. As they see it, development is the cause of problems, not the solution. And development requires that we use more resources, not fewer. The likes of the Guardian dislike economic development as much as they dislike poverty. Which limits their options somewhat. Hence they must fall back on token efforts to reduce poverty, such as Fairtrade, which don’t threaten to make the poor any more of a burden on the world’s resources, while at the same time campaigning against climate change in the hope that a marginally different future climate will prevent poverty getting even worse. In much the same way, we find the Third World development charity Oxfam, another stalwart of modern environmentalism, increasingly campaigning against both climate change and Third World development.
Meanwhile, Adam insists that Chapter 10 is politics free. ‘There’s no politics in there just science’, he says. Is that even true? As we can see, alarmism projects itself through the seemingly scientific projection. Might this have been made possible because of the way Ch.10 itself has come into existence? For example, an interesting bias emerges when Ch.10’s authors are surveyed…
|Country||# researchers||Secondary affiliation|
|Non – US/UK||49|
|US / UK
(Some contributors to ch10 are listed as belonging to 2 countries).
Climate modelling, it seems, is a very Northern Atlantic pastime (as we’ve noted before). In the case of the UK, at least, this must be owed to the two decades of emphasis that politicians have placed on climate research, starting with Thatcher in the 1980s. Also interesting is that it is the country which for a long time has been considered the enemy of action to prevent climate change – the USA – which appears to have contributed most to the development of climate models. But on an per-capita basis, no country rivals the UK.
That the UK is a world leader in a field of climate research is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does speak about the priorities and prejudices that dominate the political sphere here, which are reflected in the constitution of academic climate science, represented in Ch.10. The UK, since Thatcher, and increasingly in recent years, has sought to establish its moral authority on the world stage by embracing the climate issue, and making it the principle substance of international relations, and latterly its domestic polices: its ‘Green New Deal’, its Industrial Strategy, its ‘sustainability agenda’, its energy policy, and so on . Whether or not these politics are expressed in the science, it somehow leaves a footprint that is politically-shaped, if it isn’t politically-driven.
It is a mainstay of the argument for action on climate change that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of climate scientists are in agreement on the need for it. Yet as the table above shows, there are just 94 authors responsible for compiling the report in which, Adam argues, the case for alarm rests. ‘Ah, but…’, says the alarmist, ‘it’s the weight of evidence that counts’. Never mind that there is no evidence for something that hasn’t happened yet – the catastrophe which is the object of the alarmism – these 94 researchers do not draw from a wealth of research, but manage instead to cite themselves a whopping 317 times in a document that contains references to just 550 papers (including references to previous IPCC reports). If we excluded those papers in which the chapter’s authors were directly involved, there would be just 292. Just eight researchers manage to cite themselves no less than 110 times – over a third of the chapter’s self-citations, and a fifth of the total.
|Jonathan M Gregory||UK||19|
|Gerald A Meehl||USA||17|
|Thomas F Stocker||Switzerland||13|
|T M L Wigley||USA||13|
|Sarah C B Raper||UK||12|
|R J Stouffer||USA||12|
Between the USA and UK, there are 208 self-citations from the 45 researchers. Authors from just two countries produced nearly half the entire body of ‘evidence’ for alarmism, which they ‘review’ for themselves.
The population of self-citing climate modeller-projectionists are so small in number, and so interconnected that there may be an argument that it constitutes a community with its own insular politics. Given the predominance of certain individuals from that population in the climate debate, it seems hard to argue otherwise. That’s one for sociologists to mull over, perhaps.
Please don’t think we are tossing out these numbers in order to argue that the science presented in ch.10 is rubbish. There is nothing strange about self-citations or geographical bias or the dominance of small subsets of individuals in science. We suspect you’d find similar dynamics in pretty much any other specialist field. We toss out these numbers to give an idea of the workings of a research community that has provided the raw material on which Adam bases his alarmism. The alarmist’s case does not reflect the opinion of an ‘overwhelming majority of scientists’, and there is not an ‘overwhelming’ body of evidence. There is clearly a political dimension to the constitution of both the body of WGI Ch.10 authors, and the research it draws from.
And what about Adam’s claim that the content (rather than constitution) of Ch.10 is politics-free?
It would be hard to argue that to extrapolate from A to B and onwards (ie, projection) is inherently political. But Ch.10 does more than project. For example:
Frequently Asked Question 10.1 – Are Extreme Events, Like Heat Waves, Droughts or Floods, Expected to Change as the Earth’s Climate Changes?
In a warmer future climate, there will be an increased risk of more intense, more frequent and longer-lasting heat waves. The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event lasting from several days to over a week that is likely to become more common in a warmer future climate.
The 2003 heatwave is regularly cited as a cause of many thousands of deaths across Europe – in France, particularly – more than would otherwise have been expected. But is that the whole picture? In fact, such heatwaves are only problematic for old people, just as with cold, when there is no help available to them. Again, we have to ask, is the problem really the climate? If there was no climate to attribute such deaths to, we might instead argue that old people died in 2003 as a result of neglect.
The FAQs of Ch.10 continue:
… over NH land, an increase in the likelihood of very wet winters is projected over much of central and northern Europe due to the increase in intense precipitation during storm events, suggesting an increased chance of flooding over Europe and other mid-latitude regions due to more intense rainfall and snowfall events producing more runoff. […] Some of these changes would be extensions of trends already underway.
This is discussed later in the report:
A number of studies have noted the connection between increased rainfall intensity and an implied increase in flooding. McCabe et al. (2001) and Watterson (2005) show a projected increase in extreme rainfall intensity with the extra-tropical surface lows, particularly over NH land, with an implied increase in flooding. In a multi-model analysis of the CMIP models, Palmer and Räisänen (2002) show an increased likelihood of very wet winters over much of central and northern Europe due to an increase in intense precipitation associated with mid-latitude storms, suggesting more floods across Europe (see also Chapter 11). […] Christensen and Christensen (2003) conclude that there could be an increased risk of summer flooding in Europe.
It really should not be beyond the abilities of Europeans to cope with the ‘increased risk’ of more rain than normal. In particular, the landscape of Western Europe is perhaps the most man-made anywhere on the planet. It is densely-populated, and has a long industrial history, and an even longer history of dealing with its floods, and engineering flood prevention. Such are the skills and abilities of the population of the Dutch, for instance, that 20% of the Netherlands lies beneath sea level, much of it reclaimed from beneath the water.
Why has the IPCC cited such things, seemingly in order to make the case for alarm – if Adam is correct – when there exist the means to overcome them relatively simply? When did a bit more rain than usual become a ‘risk’ that calls for international negotiations, treaties, and supranational political institutions? More to the point, what is true of Europe’s ability to cope with increased ‘risks’ (and risk is an inherently political concept) ought to be true of less industrialised regions. There is only an ‘increased risk’ here, there, or anywhere, if we presuppose that our ability to cope has decreased. The dark implication here is that much of the world is going to be denied any opportunity to cope with any ‘increased risk’ – to develop. That reflects a lack of imagination in Western politics, as well as the assumption underlying all discussion of environmental issues that development is bad for the planet. Without development, you are left with climatic determinism; and it is only climatic determinism that gives cause for alarm.
So, there are three ways in which Ch.10 of WGI AR4 can be seen ‘politically’. There are the politics that are brought to it, eg, Adam brings his own catastrophism. Then there are the politics which shaped the make up of the chapter – such as the proximity of the UK’s establishment to eco-centric political ideas, for instance. Then there are the implicit politics of its claims, projections, and conception of ‘risk’, such as its discussions about heatwaves and floods in Europe.
No doubt, little of this will put Adam’s mind at ease. Maybe we’ve missed what he finds alarming. He is most welcome to tell us. The onus really ought to be on Adam to explain what he thinks is alarming. Ch.10 is 100 pages long, and contains more than we’ve got time for just now. Meanwhile, we won’t be holding our breath.
Published on Spiked-Online at http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/debates/copenhagen_article/8057
A sixth of the world’s population – the billion or so people who live downstream of Himalayan glaciers and depend on them for water – must surely be relieved. Just a few months ago, ‘consensus science’ held that these vast tracts of ice would be gone in just a few decades. The implications were stark. Water wars and climate refugees would spread out from the region, consuming society in Gaia’s revenge. If the direct effects of climate change didn’t kill you, the social chaos they unleashed would.
Now that the death of the Himalayan glaciers has been deferred by some three centuries, we can take a sober look at the situation facing people living in the region. The truth is that they have more years ahead of them to find alternatives to relying on Himalayan meltwater than have passed since the Industrial Revolution began to transform our own landscape. That should be plenty of time.
For the furore around ‘Glaciergate’, we didn’t actually need to know that Himalayan glacial retreat was exaggerated to know that the disaster story it seemingly produced was pseudo-scientific bunk. The plots of such disaster stories are written well before any evidence of looming doom emerges from ‘science’. What really underpins the climate change panic is the way in which politicians have justified their own impotence by appealing to catastophe.
This helps to explain the reaction of the political establishment to the various scandals that have beset the IPCC and leading climate scientists in recent weeks. In response to the allegations levelled at individuals and institutions in the climate establishment, the UK climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, has declared war on climate sceptics on both Channel 4 News and in the Observer. But the ironic consequence of Miliband’s intervention has been to acknowledge that disagreement exists. Miliband now recognises an enemy that only a few months ago consisted of a tiny number of ‘flat-earthers’, according to his boss, Gordon Brown. Given that sceptics are not usually engaged, just ignored, a declaration of war is a sure sign that he is on the defensive.
Miliband says, ‘I think the science and the precautionary principle, which says that there’s at the very least a huge risk if we don’t act, mean that we should be acting’. This use of the precautionary principle puts the position of climate alarmists back by a decade. The argument for action on climate change once depended on just the possibility that changes in climate could cause devastating problems for humans. Scientists had not yet produced a consensus. The political stalemate seemingly ended after the infamous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph was published in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (TAR) in 2001. It was held to be, at last, the conclusive evidence that man indeed had altered the climate. Here was the fingerprint on the ‘smoking gun’ that pointed towards our imminent demise.
By retreating to the precautionary principle rather than simply defending the notion of scientific consensus, Miliband concedes a lot. The scientific consensus around climate change has stood as a powerful source of political authority in lieu of democratic legitimacy. In the light of events and arguments which undermine this authority, Miliband is fighting for his government’s credibility, not to save the planet.
He protests that, in spite of the new climate scandals, the ‘overwhelming majority’ of scientists nonetheless still hold with the idea that mankind has altered the climate. The recent revelations are just dents, caused by procedural oversight, in an otherwise robust case, he seems to say. But actually, this does not really get to the heart of the discussion about climate. A scientific consensus about the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions is not equivalent to a scientific consensus about human society’s sensitivity to climate. There is a huge difference between these two ideas, yet Miliband’s argument rests on the idea that they are equivalent. And it is on this point that sceptics have not yet made much progress. While banging away at the science of climate change, they have failed to tackle the wider argument about our capacity to deal with the unexpected. What sceptics need to explain is how climate and society have become so confused.
This confusion has other ramifications, for example in the familiar claim that Miliband makes, that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. This in turn depends on the reinvention of ‘social justice’ as ‘environmental justice’, as if inequality is a natural phenomenon as inevitable as wind or rain.
But poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It is a tragic conceit to believe that by not driving our cars we will somehow make life better for those who cannot even dream of owning a car – much less having a road to drive it on. The problem is that people are poor, not that their climate is slightly different. We can see this fact demonstrated in the horrific scale of devastation in Haiti. An event of similar magnitude in a more economically developed country would not have claimed so many lives. It is not enough to say that carbon emissions cost lives, or anything like it, because the principal factors that determine the outcome of natural phenomena relate to an area’s level of development.
However, as Miliband’s words reveal, world leaders have given up on the idea of development as the means through which people can enjoy better protected and more rewarding lives. This can only have the consequence of producing and sustaining poverty, making greater numbers of people vulnerable to nature’s indifferent whims. The way in which the political class has surrendered to climate panic is a comprehensive admission of our leaders’ own impotence. Only if we take their inability to produce domestic or international development for granted can we conceive of changes in weather patterns as inevitably catastrophic.
For example, over the next three centuries, the people living beneath Himalayan glaciers might construct dams to collect the rain or snow that falls there, but which does not remain as ice. It is not inconceivable that Asians might also provide a greater proportion of their water needs through desalination plants. The world has been reorganised around the tenets of environmentalism precisely because the notion of using development to provide protection from natural disaster is now deemed to be impossible.
World leaders have projected their catastrophic sense of impotence on to the world. Just to make sure that politics cannot intervene, they have brought forward the date of the ecopalypse, to render any alternative and any debate impossible. It can’t happen soon enough for them. A failure of imagination has been passed off as the conclusion of ‘climate science’ and as the opinion of ‘the overwhelming majority of scientists’, but as we can see, the premise of impotence and catastrophe is a presupposition that is political in its character and not a conclusion produced by science.
In turn, if the notion of catastrophic climate change is reduced to a mere article of (bad) faith, the institutions of climate politics – all of which have been constructed on the premise of catastrophe/impotence – cease to have a legitimate basis. The IPCC, the Stern Review, the Kyoto treaty, Copenhagen, the Climate Change Committee and the legislation and reorganisation of public life that have followed in their wake have not been created to save the planet from climate catastrophe, but to save politicians from the collapse of their own authority. That is what Miliband’s war is about.
The scandal is not really in the fraud, exaggeration, or deceit – if that is what they were – committed by particular researchers, or the failure of the IPCC process to identify that certain claims were false. The scandal is that politicians seek moral authority in crisis. It was not ‘science’ that produced stories of imminent catastrophe; it was the bleak doom-laden politics of this era. Scientists merely extrapolated from this scenario, into the future, taking the logic of the political premises to their conclusion. The politics exists prior to the science. In reply, sceptics, with a more positive vision, ought to demonstrate the gap that exists between the science and the story, and how it might end differently if we start from more positive ground.
If Miliband wants a war, he can have one. But the battle lines should recognise that the politics of catastrophe is prior to the science of catastophe, and that another outlook that emphasises our ability to control events is possible. Environmental problems will always occur, but it is how they are understood that counts. We cannot understand ‘what science says’ until we understand what it has been told, and what it has really been asked. Science has been put to use to turn the billion people living beneath Himalayan glaciers into political capital by the IPCC to prop up the likes of Ed Miliband. It is only now that he has been deprived of the authority that those billion lives – or deaths – gave him, that he wants a war.
Today’s politicians need catastrophes because they have no other way of creating authority for themselves. But the catastrophe is in politics, not in the atmosphere.
It can’t be easy being a climate change alarmist just at the moment. In its desperation to keep the ragged flag flying, the Guardian has run a couple of very strange stories today. First up, in What happened when scientists photoshopped climate sceptics, they’ve rehashed an old story from last November about this image
which was sent as an attachment in an email to Phil Jones by Tom Peterson of NOAA. As you can imagine, Roger Pielke Sr wasn’t too happy with the suggestion that he believes that ‘global warming is a hoax’.
Here’s journalist Jenny Ridley’s intro to her Guardian story:
This collage of ‘marooned’ climate sceptics was one of the leaked documents.It was originally sent as a joke to Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia2007 by the US scientist Thomas Peterson at the National Climatic Data Centre (Noaa) in North Carolina. An editorial from Nature was attached. It read: ‘The IPCC report has served a useful purpose in removing the last ground from under the sceptics’ feet, leaving them looking marooned and ridiculous’
That the Guardian is re-using the image now to cast cheap aspersions on the credentials of sceptics smacks not only of rank desperation, but of straightforward projection. The Guardian looks even sillier for apparently muddling Pielke Sr with his son Roger Pielke Jr. Hover over the image of the former and you get a caption that better describes the latter:
Long-time critic of the IPCC’s stance on the links between climate change and natural disasters. Professor in the environmental studies programmeat the University of Colorado and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES)
The Guardian’s confusion is confirmed by the link provided to an article written by Pielke Jr.
Also strange is the way that Ridley has chosen to describe Pat Michaels:
The eight of spades in George Monbiot’s top 10 climate deniers, Michaels is a senior fellow at the rightwing Cato Institute. He played a starring role in Channel 4’s The Great Global Warming Swindle and is regularly used by the US media, largely because he is one of the very few deniers who has any relevant scientific credentials.
It’s strange, first, because each of the men depicted in the montage has ‘relevant scientific credentials’, with the exception of Inhofe, who is a politician. It’s stranger still because Michaels does not, and has not ever ‘denied’ anthropogenic climate change. He has instead argued, in his scientific research and in – shock, horror, how dare he – the ‘US media’, that the IPCC overestimates the likely warming and its consequences. Again, it seems, Guardian journalists are unable to make a distinction between criticism of the ideas they have embraced, and ‘denial’. Monbiot got it wrong. And Ridley reproduces the error. Have Guardian journalists not learned anything about copying and pasting?
It seems that learning from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others is still beyond them.
In another Guardian article today, we see another sign of the desperation of climate alarmists. Environment correspondent David Adam tells us that scientists from IPCC Working Group I have secretly confided in him:
Climate scientists who worked on the UN panel on global warming have hit out at “sloppy” colleagues from other disciplines who introduced a mistake about melting glaciers into the landmark 2007 report.
The experts, who worked on the section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that considered the physical science of global warming, say the error by “social and biological scientists” has unfairly maligned their work […]
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several lead authors of the working group one (WG1) report, which produced the high-profile scientific conclusions that global warming was unequivocal and very likely down to human activity, told the Guardian they were dismayed by the actions of their colleagues.
But less than a year ago, following the first Copenhagen meeting, Adam could be found speaking for all science in quite a different tone:
The message might sound familiar is that we have to act, and that we have to act now. But I think the scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.
We took issue with Adam’s alarmism, contrasting his comments with those of Professor Mike Hulme: ‘we should let politics decide without being ambushed by a chimera of political prescriptiveness dressed up as (false) scientific unanimity.’ Adam was not amused, and dropped by to let us know:
I can’t follow your argument. I can barely make one out through the rhetorical fog and linguistic gymnastics.
We had suggested – as we always do – that the kind of alarmism he was promulgating had a very political antecedent, and was rooted in his own confusion and his own prejudices. But how could this be? Science had personally told him that climate change is happening and that the orthodox political response followed inescapably. As he put it:
If your argument is only that politicians will exploit and even exaggerate the threat when it suits them then I agree with you. Such is life. Politicians do politics.
But, as I think you do, you want anyone to take seriously the argument that tackling climate change has somehow been constructed as a trojan horse through which politicians achieve goals or promote agendas by proxy, then you’re going to have to come up with some stronger examples that some critiques of newspaper articles on climate science. That’s just standard climate change denial.
You betray your true motives when you argue that you wish to prevent the “seamless flow” from scientific evidence to evidence-based policy making […]
Either climate change is a serious problem that requires a serious political response, with all of its failings, to address or it’s not. I think it is. You seem to think not, fair enough. Like I said at the start, good luck.
Politicians do politics, you see, but Adam is above that sort of thing. The scientists he spoke for, too, were immune to any politics.
But now we see that WGII has – much as Adam has – credulously taken ‘the science’ from wherever it could be found to support the presupposition of catastrophe. The WGII report had taken it from Fred Pearce’s New Scientist article, via a WWF report. Adam had taken his headlines from the scariest of the hundreds of posters presented at the Copenhagen meeting that had worked from assumptions about ‘emissions scenarios’ – projections – towards catastrophic stories about possible outcomes. And he had used it to make a political argument for ‘action’, seemingly in the voice of ‘science’. Science spoke with one voice to Adam last March. This February it is fractured, and Adam cannot make sense of it.
Even more bizarrely, it is Fred Pearce – whose credulousness led to the ‘Glaciergate’ affair in the first place – who is now the Guardian’s star reporter of climate scandal. The latest is the Guardian’s attempt to capture the fallout from the disintegration of climate alarmism:
In a unique experiment, The Guardian has published online the full manuscript of its major investigation into the climate science emails stolen from the University of East Anglia, which revealed apparent attempts to cover up flawed data; moves to prevent access to climate data; and to keep research from climate sceptics out of the scientific literature.
As well as including new information about the emails, we will allow web users to annotate the manuscript to help us in our aim of creating the definitive account of the controversy. This is an attempt at a collaborative route to getting at the truth.
There is nothing ‘unique’ about this ‘experiment’, of course. The Guardian is simply doing what has been happening on blogs for months, if not years. Blogs of one form or another have produced most of the material challenging the establishment view – the orthodoxy reproduced in the Guardian by journalists such as Fred Pearce, James Randerson, and David Adam. It was precisely because journalists such as Pearce, Randerson, and Adam were unable to reflect critically on the climate debate and its terms – framing the debate instead in terms of ‘the science’ versus ‘climate creationism‘, ‘denial’, and ‘corporate funding’ – that the blogosphere is where criticism happened. The Guardian’s experiment reflects what we have been saying for a long time: its journalists’ perspectives are tired reflections of the establishment’s own tired perspective. Just a while ago, the line in the Guardian was that ‘climate change denial’ was confined to the blogosphere, and funded by oil interests. Now, the Guardian are synthesising the very object of their journalists’ scorn.
Pearce oscillates wildly between headlines that proclaim ‘How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies‘ and ‘Climate change emails between scientists reveal flaws in peer review‘. First, he appears to be suggesting that those behind the climate emails are the victims of ‘lies’, and then he ‘reveals how [the same] researchers tried to hide flaws in a key study’. On the one hand, it seems, the Guardian and its journalists want to hold with the political arguments they have long been making. Yet they are having to work doubletime with doublethink to explain what happened to the science that was only yesterday incontrovertible.
Adam’s own Guardian piece is far more revealing than he can imagine. The standard line from alarmists following the various IPCC-gate revelations is that, while it is clear that mistakes have been made, none of those undermine the basic science of climate change that says the world has been warming and that CO2 probably has a lot to do with it. Which might well be true. But it is also a misunderstanding of the real damage that the scandals have inflicted – a mistake that many sceptics have also made in claiming it as evidence that the basic science is wrong. The real casualty is not climate science, but climate alarmism. And in retreating to the firm scientific ground of WGI, Adam demonstrates it clearly. Without WGII and WGIII, there is no grounds for alarm. All the promises, projections and prophecies are contained in WGII and III. And without a scientific basis for alarm, all you have left at your disposal is precaution, as Ed Miliband has discovered.
It’s a bed the alarmists have made for themselves, of course. They wanted a catastrophe, and now they’ve got one.
Ben has an article over at Spiked-Online today,
For the furore around ‘Glaciergate’, we didn’t actually need to know that Himalayan glacial retreat was exaggerated to know that the disaster story it seemingly produced was pseudo-scientific bunk. The plots of such disaster stories are written well before any evidence of looming doom emerges from ‘science’. What really underpins the climate change panic is the way in which politicians have justified their own impotence by appealing to catastophe.
The article cements many of the ideas we’ve been working on here, about the way in which ‘politics is prior’ to ‘the science’ in the climate debate.
Richard North picks up from our post here and Ben’s guest post on Roger Pielke’s blog, which revealed the spurious claim in IPCC AR4 WGII report, concerning rainfall in Africa. The Times also covers the story.
North searches into the background that we have been unable to – hence it was on the to-do list for over a year. Turns out that the ‘original’ research paper (was Agoumi) was, in the words of many an eco-alarmist, “worse than previously thought”.
Therefore, Agoumi’s primary references – which would have qualified as acceptable for the IPCC report – offer a mixed picture from the three countries examined. At worst, we get a 10-50 percent fall in cereal yield, the greater fall occurring only in periods of drought. Alternatively, we see a 5.5-6.8 percent trimmed from what could be a doubling of yields and then, in the third country, rainfall could actually increase – possibly (but not necessarily) improving yields of rain-fed crops.
If reports of things being “worse than previously thought” are themselves, “worse than previously thought”, the implication seems to be that things are better than we previously thought.
Africagate shows how the poor in less industrial countries are used for political ends. The emergence of this “gate”, lilke “Glaciergate” should not be used simply to win the political war with those attaching themselves to climate institutions, such as the IPCC. Instead, the collapsing credibility of climate alarmism, and rank, anti-human pessimism should be used to make a positive case for development, in the third world, in the emerging economies, and here in the “developed” West. There needs to be a real discussion about why poverty exists in the world, and how it can be abolished. Sceptics need to replace the climate story with a much, much better one.
Ben has a brief comment on the credibility of the IPCC and the climate change agenda in The Guardian, today, with a slightly longer version on the Guardian’s site. There are also comments there from some familiar names.
However, Ben’s comment was written in about 5 minutes last night, and had a word limit. The points raised there might do with some clarification.
Sceptics, understandably, have been enjoying the last few months which started with Climategate, which was followed by the failure of Copenhagen and the discovery of questionable sources being included in IPCC reports, and lastly the increasingly bizarre behaviour of IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri. This has led to questions about the members of the climate change establishment that full time warmers have had trouble batting away. There is a curious consensus is emerging between some alarmists and some sceptics, that figures such as Phil Jones and Rajendra Pachauri ought to step down.
On the one hand, this should be welcomed as an acknowledgement that there’s something wrong with the process. But it isn’t.
Instead, it merely suggests that the problem with climate change alarmism has just been the failure of just a few individuals, bending a statistic here and there, or massaging data slightly when it’s inconvenient.
This is not the case. If we start from the argument that the IPCC, and many other climate research institutes have been established (or have moved this way) to fulfil political needs, then the problem is the politics that existed well before that scientific process produced any data, corrupted or not. The problem that turned a science reporter’s failure in 1998 into a dramatic call for action over a decade later was not mere oversight.
We have been arguing here that ‘politics is prior to science’. This will be explained a bit more in the next post, but the point is that it takes a presupposition about society to turn relatively small changes in climate into catastrophes. For instance, it is very hard to argue that a change of a few degrees here or a statistically significant change in the amount of rain we receive here in the UK would be a ‘catastrophe’. We know that we have the means to cope with such change, even if it’s beyond our current generation of planners to cope with snow, rain, and snow. So climate activists of all flavours argue that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. The logic of this is that because life in poorer regions is that much closer to ‘nature’, its changes produce a greater human cost than they do here in the more industrialised world. But in that argument is the presupposition that those poorer regions cannot develop.
Accepting this presupposition is equivalent to making it true, because it precludes the alternative. It is on this basis that the “science” proceeds, and goes in search for the parameters of the ‘tipping point’, to establish just how close we are to Armageddon. This is in contrast to the popular misconception of the climate debate that environmental ethical imperatives have emerged from climate science.
Calling for the resignations of senior staff at climate change institutions is to forget that they were merely “doing their job”. Moreover, they likely took seriously the political premises of the alarmist narrative. It’s that that they ought to be held accountable for, but no more so than any other figure with a public profile. Politicians, for instance, such as Ed Miliband, have capitalised on the scare story, and sought to define themselves, their political agenda, and their legitimacy by it. Miliband might argue in reply “I’m just doing what the scientists say needs to be done”. He forgets to examine that they might have been told what to do, although not explicitly. Even if Miliband was also to resign, the premises of environmentalism and climate alarmism would not be challenged. All that it would mean is that the institutions that have been created by environmentalism were staffed by slightly different people, most likely with the same ideas.
Climate alarmism is a hydra. Cut off its head, and another will rear itself into view. And it will be just as ugly.