Rock… Paper… Scissors… Science

Regular readers of this blog will know that we’re been trying to develop the idea that a great deal of politics exists prior to the science in the argument for a political response to climate change. This was the basis of our criticism of studies such as the GHF’s and WHO’s reports of (respectively) 300,000 and 150,000 deaths a year attributed to climate change – all of them in the world’s poorer regions. You can only make this kind of statement, we argue, if you take for granted that poverty is a ‘natural’ effect. Otherwise, logically, the cause of so many deaths is in fact poverty, not climate change. And on the other hand, we try to point out to sceptics that, as much fun as debunking hockey sticks and exposing Climategate emails is, the political debate does not rest on science. Looking for the ‘smoking gun’ to ‘debunk’ global warming fears merely reproduces the mistake that alarmists make – it expects science to answer the political debate.

When we make this argument elsewhere, it seems to appear to our counterparts as though we are saying that somehow politics is prior even to material reality, which would seem to deny material or formal reality by making it somehow dependent on social reality in some kind of postmodern sleight of hand. This isn’t what we’re arguing. What we are suggesting is that the politics is prior to formal reality in the argument, but not in formal reality. It is a conceit of the warmists that they imagine their own argument to be perfect models of the world, such that to take issue with it them is to deny the causal universe itself.

In the real world, it is possible to presuppose certain things, and to model and project scenarios from these social, or political presuppositions. There is nothing wrong, or unscientific about this. But the assumed premises are easily forgotten, and from these projections, it seems, comes an argument for the politics that the projection presupposed. This in turn is passed off as ‘science’, ‘speaking’. The GHF and WHO’s projections, for instance, have to presuppose that poverty is an immutable fact in order to make the claim that 150,000 / 300,000 deaths a year are caused by climate change (rather than by poverty). This in turn becomes an argument for policies which aim to mitigate climate change for the putative benefit of ‘the poor’, but in reality miss entirely the factor which makes people vulnerable to climate – poverty, and lack of wealth more generally.

Our citing the cases of the GHF and WHO is not intended to make the argument that ‘therefore all climate politics is wrong’, of course. However, this kind of thinking is evident in virtually every argument that we have seen which posits the human consequences of climate change as a basis for political action. It is a mistake that the GHF and WHO make. It is a mistake that was made when it was assumed that the lives of millions of people would be at risk from the exaggerated Himalayan glacial recession. And it seems that it is a mistake that is almost built into the operations of the IPCC.

The next move in any discussion is the trump card… the end-of-the world story that does not depend on modelling projections from presupposed scenarios. There remains a risk that greenhouse gases will cause runaway climate change. There remains the possibility that sea level rise will be so rapid and so high that it really does inundate society’s adaptive capacity. A small rise in temperature might unleash vast clouds of methane from under frozen land. Just a few degrees of warming may cause a mass extinction event, destroying the world’s biodiversity and capacity to support life. And so on. Only scientists can really understand these risks.

It’s a curious thing to happen. Anyone can construct a superficially plausible disaster story and then demand that only the scientist with the exact pertinent qualifications can stand in the way of its moral authority. It is the straightforward application of the precautionary principle.

Such arguments are scientific only in the sense that they are expressed in technical terms, or require some technical knowledge to unpack them. They are not claims of the same order that are made more often in the debate that attempt to match theory with empirical evidence.

It makes no difference what that actual numerical values of such risk calculations are. That the scenario they depict is remotely plausible makes ignoring them – rhetorically speaking – as good as inviting them. The mere possibility that your existence is threatened is held over the debate in much the same way as a gun to the head. Not simply the worst-case scenario, but the worst-possibly-imaginable scenario carries more weight in debate than anything rational. And it is passed off as “science”. To challenge it is to “deny” science. This is not a phenomenon that it is unique to climate politics.

If people want to take issue with our contention that climate politics are prior to climate science, they are most welcome. They could, for example, argue that we are overstating the degree to which the politics is prior. We are unaware of any extant sociological accounts of science that deny any confounding effect of politics in the scientific endeavour. A good argument might be made, for instance, that science’s quality control measures of peer review, replication and the like are more effective than we credit when it comes to squeezing out messy humanity from the process, or that political and scientific institutions are better than we believe at appraising their own biases, fears and desires when commissioning, conducting and interpreting policy-relevant scientific research. But, as a general rule, that is not what happens.

Rather, we are accused of denying material reality, of attacking or disprepecting science… of postmodernism gone mad. Which is as funny as it is infuriating. Because to deny that climate politics is – to a greater or lesser degree – prior to climate science is as at odds with reality (and even the academic consensus) as the notion that the causal universe is merely a product of our collective imaginations. If we are wrong, it is only by degree. It’s an argument we would enjoy having. But it’s not going to happen when just to broach the subject is seen as a sign that we are anti-science. It is those writing us off as such who are wrong in absolute terms.

41 thoughts on “Rock… Paper… Scissors… Science”

  1. 2nd para: “What we are suggesting is that the politics is prior to formal reality in the argument, but not in formal reality”.
    Shouldn’t the first “formal reality” be “science” or “material reality”?
    Otherwise, great. I’m digesting it slowly.

  2. Geoff, in the passage you quote, formal and material are roughly equivalent – or are intended to be. The first instance of ‘formal reality’ is not intended to be equivalent to ‘science’. Science is not formal/material reality (though it might be ‘objective reality’ in a Cartesian sense).

  3. Last para: “disrespecting”.
    There’s a lot here to take issue with. When you say: “Anyone can construct a superficially plausible disaster story and then demand that only the scientist with the exact pertinent qualifications can stand in the way of its moral authority” I imagine you mean for example, that someone worried about runaway warming caused by release of methane from the Arctic tundra, who uses this hypothesis to demand certain political actions (e.g. reduction of CO2 emissions) will only listen to evidence from an expert on Arctic tundra, and not anyone else.
    Then you say “It is the straightforward application of the precautionary principle”. I don’t see how that follows. Isn’t the beauty of the precautionary principle, in the eyes of its fans, that anyone can apply it to anything which is worrying him, independently of the likelihood of it happening? How is this relevant to the appeal to “the scientist with the exact pertinent qualifications”?
    More generally, I feel your case would be more convincing if you used less general terms than “science” and “politics”. Many of us would like to believe (possibly naively) that there is something called “scientific truth” (or better, scientific truths) which exists independently of, and therefore prior to, politics, or any other human activity. Some of these truths might even come under the heading of “climate science”, for all I know. What we are presented with ad nauseam as examples of climate science are often very minor and possibly perverse forms of scientific activity (and I’m not talking about cheating or scientific misbehaviour here). When CRU bought a job lot of tree ring data from a couple of Russian dendrologists and crafted it into a hockeystick, even if they did nothing wrong, it is stretching language to call it climate science. It was straight data processing. It might as well have been sales figures from Siberian B&Q outlets for all it had to do with climate science.
    It would be relatively easy, it seems to me, to make the case of the priority of politics over what you call “the science” if you demonstrated (and this can easily be done) that “the science” in question is not the great search for abstract truth which carries such a weight of reverential awe. It’s just a series of attempts to predict future states of the world in extremely limited ways on the basis of extremely fragile data. It is no different, conceptually, from a marketing manager’s projections of future sales. It wears the mantle of testable science, but the only test is the test of time. It comes true or it doesn’t.
    In other words, I think you are trying to conduct the debate about the relation between politics and climate science on a plane of unnecessary abstraction.
    Anyway, thanks for making me think. Hope the above doesn’t sound too daft.

  4. Geoff – “Isn’t the beauty of the precautionary principle, in the eyes of its fans, that anyone can apply it to anything which is worrying him, independently of the likelihood of it happening?”

    Agreed, yes. We try to say this.

    How is this relevant to the appeal to “the scientist with the exact pertinent qualifications”?

    It was just our experience that this is how the trump card operates (hence the title) in debates in which we try to demonstrate the prior-ness of politics in the debate. It’s a rhetorical “scientist with the exact pertinent qualifications” – he doesn’t exist, he’s just not you, so you’re not allowed to challenge the precautionary principle.

    Many of us would like to believe (possibly naively) that there is something called “scientific truth” (or better, scientific truths) which exists independently of, and therefore prior to, politics, or any other human activity.

    Science is a human activity. We mentioned in the post that formal/material reality is prior to politics – there is an ‘out there’. We also narrowed the discussion here to climate science, rather than science in general.

    , I think you are trying to conduct the debate about the relation between politics and climate science on a plane of unnecessary abstraction.

    We notice the same things come up again and again with claims made about the science with respect to human consequences – especially catastrophism. This leads to arguments about inevitability and the necessity of specific forms of political response. It’s not enough – in our view – simply to say that the science is inadequate, as per your example of marketing. Neither is it necessarily ‘bad’ science. We wanted to show exactly how prejudices are smuggled into the debate as ‘science’.

  5. Precautionary principle…

    Hope I’m not arriving in the middle of an earlier conversation, but I thought the idea was to balance the risk against the harm resulting from the proposed solution. Thus if there is a risk from methane then that risk should be balanced against the harm that results from emission reductions. Generally if the harm were small then it would be a reasonable precaution to take that solution (ban smoking in public buildings) irrespective of how certain the risk is (passive smoking). If the harm is large (emission reductions), then it is best to avoid the solution unless the risk is both certain and deadly. Hence an appropriate response to global warming is to use normal economic practices to encourage development and deployment of low impact energy sources.

  6. Philip, remember that we’re talking about how the precautionary principle is used to trump the debate. The quantity of risk is almost immaterial, because the scale of what it represents is so huge, such that the discussion is about the end of life on earth. Hence, claims about there being “50 days / 4 years / 8 years / 100 months left to save the planet”. Rumsfeld, in the video, is talking about a virtually stone-age army *possibly* having the means to destroy civilisation. It doesn’t matter that they probably don’t. The mere possibility is sufficient to act as though they do. So it is with precaution in the climate debate. Any sensible discussion can be trumped by fantasy.

  7. Yes, you’re right. It’s a pity things get so twisted out of shape in this issue, but there it is. Climate change is a risk for sure, but there are many ways the world could end and I imagine several of them are at least as likely. It bothers me that the fuss is then made about the climate when the proposed solutions seem to enclose a harmful political agenda. To be clear, I like what you are doing here a lot.

  8. It’s getting a little too shouty for me at the Guardian today. I wonder whether the academics who talk about suspending democracy or who sign MO petitions have actually bothered to digest the science they spend so much time supporting? On the whole I doubt it, so presumably it is a shared digestion of politics. But what is the politics? I notice you say here that is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. Is it a form of fascism? Or is it something new? Dear editors, please direct me to any of your articles that will help me to understand!

  9. This article is painfully inane. It is at best a complaint. It presents no new revelations, doesn’t advance any scientific position, but somehow does manage to make the author seem smarter than the people he doesn’t like. At least in his words.

    These annoying “background noise” articles are a dime a million and utterly pointless. You got a computer and a blog and piggybacked on an issue that has some momentum for the moment. Good for you. Sadly this is not enough to make you smart, enlightened, or anyone worth listening to. Especially with articles like this self-serving turd.

    What’s the point man? No scientific debate ever has been or ever will be won with general, philosophical arguments like this. Nobody is enlightened. Nobody learned anything new. No new ground was broken. Its just you calling some other people stupid in a way that you hope will make you look smart.

    Guess what, you failed….

  10. Philip
    It’s always shouty at the Guardian. I posted a link there to Climate Resistance because what the editors do here seemed partiularly relevant to the subject of the Guardian article (the possible need to suspend democracy because of undefined impending doom), and because the author of the article is not your average Guardian Greeny but an Oxford academic. There are plenty of intelligent lurkers at CiF. I hope they may come here and learn something – like the possibility of intelligent dialogue.
    It’s also interesting to poke the warmists and see them wriggle. The consensus view seems to be “Of course I believe I democracy, but …” I imagine the Guardian is running these articles in order to probe the “but…”. I see CiF Environment as Miliband’s informal focus group, probing the post-crisis possibilities for a green politician on the make.

  11. Philip – “I notice you say here that is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. Is it a form of fascism? Or is it something new?”

    We think contemporary environmentalism is something new. To put it into convenient historical categories is most likely to misunderstand it. There’s no doubt that it is authoritarian, elitist, and anti-human. But many -isms have been.

    Dubld D gives us some insight here. He or she says that our post above “doesn’t advance any scientific position”.

    So the question shouldn’t be just about what environmentalism is, but also it’s context. Why does Dubl D think that the debate is “scientific”, and why does he or she get so cross at the suggestion that it might not be? Why do politicians seem to want to use the climate issue to establish supra-democratic institutions? Why is democracy itself seemingly under attack from “scientists”?

    The speed at which climate politics has come to dominate the Western political agenda makes it appear that it has risen under its own steam. Our argument is that this is a misapprehension. Instead, the dynamic driving environmentalism’s ascendency is a vacuum. Politicians have rarely been so distanced from the public, and the public have rarely been so disengaged from political life. In this situation what authority do politicians have? Unable to connect with the public, they instead seek legitimacy in crisis, rather than through democracy. This is why the precautionary principle is such a characteristic of contemporary politics, Right, Centre, and Left.

  12. I also thought it was about science. I am a scientist myself, and therefore my reaction has been to study the science. That is a very good way to find out that it isn’t about science after all. If I’ve understood your replies, scientists have become co-opted by politicians in order to help provide missing authority; to resolve the situation authority instead needs to be returned to politicians through a democratic process. If that’s right, I’m interested to know how it can happen! How can people return authority to politicians? How can working scientists be helped to reclaim traditional virtues of science?

  13. “Why does Dubl D think that the debate is “scientific”, and why does he or she get so cross at the suggestion that it might not be?”

    Because you are just talking to hear yourself talk. If the science is not the central focus then PLEASE tell me what the F you are talking about and what relevance it has to anything? Global Warming is an issue of science. Mass deaths and the reasons behind them are matters of science.

    Are you SERIOUSLY claiming that these are philosophical discussions?

    Are you SERIOUSLY saying that you would still engage in an argument about claims of people dying from Global Warming if Global Warming was proven unequivocably false? If so then congratulations, you are dumber than I originally measured you to be.

    The science is the only thing that should be discussed. The only way that your argument is going to be resolved is by disproving that Global Warming is actually happening at all. The people are dead and the cause is unclear. The only way you can honestly rule out Global Warming is with proof that Global Warming doesn’t exist. Am I wrong? Yet your nonsensical rambling and rebuttal appear to have moved beyond this most significant of points. Instead you digress into some moronic conversation you are having with yourself on some topic ten miles off on some tangent that only you seem to care about.

    From reading your other responses I gather that you feel this debate needs to move beyond science because so many scientists have been corrupted. That of course is the position of a coward. It is also the reason we got to this point. These scientists became corrupted because selling out was more lucrative and easy than the burden of real scientific truth seeking. How funny that you are now trying to make a name for yourself co-opting the debate and shifting the playing field into this little realm of your design where you know everything and can change the rules any time you are pressed for substance? You even call me out for asking you to stick to the facts. Sounds VERY VERY VERY Gore-ish to me.

    We get it. There are more blog hits to be collected if the debate remains open than there will be if the issue is fully resolved. But don’t patronize me with your idiotic commentary like I’m the one missing the mark. This debate is ONLY about the science. NOT wholly unqualified opportunists looking for blog hits by perpeutating inane and irrelevant discussions. Nothing in all the grand wisdom you’ve presented has any more credibility than the claims that 300,000 people died from Global Warming. And I defy you to prove otherwise Mr. Talky…

  14. A precaution, according to the OED, is ‘a measure taken in advance to prevent something undesirable happening’.

    Whatever this event is, we can know that it is an undesired one. A precaution, therefore, could equally be described as ‘a measure taken in advance to ensure something desirable continues happening’ – as the unusual, undesirable event would replace (or disrupt) the current, ongoing desirable ones. As events and objects are the ‘somethings’ we desire as humans, we can apply the definition to both and understand that ‘precaution’ is inextricable from ‘desire’. A good precaution promises we can carry on desiring… and negotiating to get our desires met – before they grow to become intolerable.

    For a person who decides his own having-of-desires is itself intolerable (along with the negotiation required to use the objects the desiring chooses for its satisfaction), a ‘precaution’ may seem like a promising way of getting rid of his (or her) desiring altogether – including any requirement to negotiate its being met. If desiring has itself been deemed undesirable, the universal definition this person might apply to the word could be condensed into ‘a measure taken in advance to prevent desiring’.

    Here, we may wonder what ‘advanced measures’ the precautious person has in mind? After all, an effective way of preventing one’s own desiring is to have it met in advance of it happening (or appearing). So a precaution might entail demanding the (pre-empted) desired object is always immediately available for use and that no negotiation of that use will ever be tolerated. In other words, if that object happens to be a person (or a group of people), the demand – and the desire that causes it – can only be for submission.

    Looking for an ideal of such a submissive other person or group to use, the precautious Environmentalist might privilege those whose own desiring has never had the space to develop. For example, he might elevate in fantasy the relative impoverishment of groups too busy hunting and gathering their immediate needs, whilst railing against those who have used agricultural technology as a remarkably successful precaution against their hunger – and the consequent time and resources this has left them for developing their own desires and negotiating the objects for meeting them.

    If politics is the governance of a space in which our desires exist (along with our fundamental needs), then what use or value is politics to someone who refuses to tolerate desiring?

  15. to resolve the situation authority instead needs to be returned to politicians through a democratic process.

    Politicians still have authority in a literal sense – scientists don’t have any institutional means to intervene in politics as such. It’s simply that the crises which politicians use to generate legitimacy tend to be framed scientifically. The fact that politicians use spurious claims – such as the GHF and WHO’s statistics – demonstrates that they have an inadequate framework through which to understand the world and its problems. Such as poverty and development. “How did it happen” – is a big question. The collapse of institutions, the end of the cold war, shifts in geopolitics, the Right’s failure to build on its victories, the left’s failure to sustain a challenge to the right, postmodernism & relativism… and so on…

    A precaution, according to the OED, is ‘a measure taken in advance to prevent something undesirable happening’.

    A good way to think about the precautionary principle is “risk analysis without numbers”.

    Your observation that “‘precaution’ is inextricable from ‘desire'” is really interesting. It starts to show why democratic politics are difficult for environmentalists, and why they try to assert something above them. Human ambitions are the object of environmental politics. In the Green view, they have to be contained, because otherwise base instincts may be unleashed, which in turn unleash carbon into the atmosphere.

  16. PeterS’s contribution is fascinating. Like all psychoanalytic discourse though, it seems to run parallel to socio-political analysis without intersecting. Since it probes into the unconscious motivations of the individual, it can’t be used directly in reasoned argument without the discussion degenerating into an ad hominem slanging match (“you’re projecting” “no, you are”).
    One can imagine it informing the debate indirectly, however. Imagine taking PeterS’s above analysis and applying it to the modern fascination with the primitive, from Rousseau via Mrs Jellaby and Margaret Mead to contemporary NGOs and the anti-warming movement. These psychoanalytical insights would then be converted into social history, and would therefore be accessible to socio-political analysis. Applied to different individuals in different societies at different times, they become a testable hypothesis.
    The above just is one small example of the kind of cross-fertilisation which should happen naturally in the arts and human sciences. University specialisation and the mediatisation of culture means that the process seems to work less well than in the past, when a Tolstoy or a Dickens could sum up a culture for a generation, a social class, or a nation. Seeing Ian McEwan spouting off about his pet solar energy project in the Guardian, one sees how intellectuals have fallen prey to the same tendency as politicians, to short circuit the normal processes of cultural exchange, plugging in directly to the supposed certainties of science.
    The intellectual vacuum which the editors here have identified in contemporary politics exists elsewhere in our culture.

  17. The intellectual vacuum which the editors here have identified in contemporary politics exists elsewhere in our culture.

    Absolutely. Environmentalism is a symptom, not a cause. That’s why so many institutions have redefined themselves in the terms of the climate issue… From local authorities to academic history departments… The climate issue re-orients many disciplines that had struggled to sustain what Peter called “traditional virtues”.

  18. No easy solutions then, although convincing insights into the how and why. I’d still like to understand the effective, practical (and democratic) ways to help solve the problem. Maybe gently picking at it (as here) will eventually unravel it? But it does sometimes feel a little like coal mining with toothpicks, when Dubl D illustrates perfectly how strong a grip project “save the planet” has on many people’s imaginations.

  19. Philip – “Maybe gently picking at it (as here) will eventually unravel it? ”

    What else is there to do?

    To be fair to Dubl D, from his or her previous comments here, it looks like he or she is broadly sceptic, but one who thinks that the discussion can be had in purely scientific terms.

    Dubl D asks, for instance, if climate change was entirely scientifically debunked, would we “still engage in an argument about claims of people dying from Global Warming if Global Warming was proven unequivocably false?”

    If we would, says Dubl D, “you are dumber than I originally measured you to be.”

    What we need to remind people is that catastrophe is the premise of climate politics, not the conclusion of climate science. The “science” used in the debate often proceeds from this premise.

    Once this is shown, we could return the point to Dubl D. If climate politics were in the same way debunked, why would he or she still engage in an argument about the science?

    Nonetheless, even if either or both climate politics and alarmist climate science were debunked, there would still be questions to answer: how and why it happened that people had such a bogus debate in the first place.

    Or we might end the climate debate, only to find ourselves facing yet another equally pointless and stupid debate, similarly relating (apparently) to some overweening crisis that can only be understood by specialists, that demanded special supra-democratic political institutions, and the suspension of democratic politics for the duration of the crisis.

    One might say in reply that we would be ready for such a replay of the climate debate. But will we really? Environmental issues have been a theme of Western politics since at least the late 1960s, starting with Paul Ehrlich. (Things go back further, of course, but this is a good starting point, for many reasons). It took a while for his scaremongering to become useful to the political establishment, though many had tried it – most notably Thatcher in the late 1980s, as her political power was waning. Environmentalism was waiting for the conditions for its growth. It took root in the 1970s and ’80s, but bloomed in the post Cold War era, in which great expectations of peace and prosperity were disappointed. The Green agenda grew in this era of disorientation. Without East, West, Left or Right no substantive contested definitions of progress existed. Progress itself became a dirty word, and an even filthier concept.

    Once the climate issue is ultimately attended to, there will still be it’s ugly sisters: “Peak Oil” and “Overpopulation”. Just as there may well be truth to some of climate politics’ claims – that climate change could be a problem, running out of oil and lots of people present immediate problems of degree, but, also problems that can be not merely mediated or overcome, but can become the basis of making the world a better place. The “problem” of “overpopulation” should cause us to find ways of making better and more efficient use of space, such that we end up with more effective space than we began with. The possibility of shortages should move us to find new ways of producing energy. Instead, our very limited and narrow politics uses science to locate these kinds of interminable problems as a basis for its institutions, authority and legitimacy, abolishing the concept of human agency in the process.

  20. On question that’s been bothering me for a long time is “why did the Left turn against progress?”. I can think of two initial hypotheses:

    1. The influence of the Frankfurt School, which blamed modernity itself for the horrors of 20th-century totalitarianism.
    2. The belief that benefits of industrial modernization hadn’t been worth the tremendous cost in lives (exterminated American Indians and black slaves worked to death in the case of the Capitalist world, and Holodomor and Gulag deaths in the Communist world).

    Any more thoughts?

  21. What else is there to do about the problem apart from unpick it?

    It would be nice to have a chance to vote on it! But I guess that while the focus is solely on science that is unlikely to happen.

  22. The relationship between scientific theory and experiment has been undermined over the last decades and this weakens the understanding of science as a technique for practical problem solving. Is this true? And if so, is it related to the loss of optimism in progress? Is this specifically a problem of the left (as George Carty suggests) or is it broader than that?

  23. George Carty asks “why did the Left turn against progress?” and suggests the Frankfurt School and guilt/horror over the excesses of capitalism and Stalinism.
    The latter happened too long ago to be held responsible for the present pitiful state of the left, (though it is amazing how obsessed modern Europeans can be by the sufferings of the Indians 150 years ago) and, whatever the errors of Kinnock, Blair and Brown, I don’t think they come from reading too much Habermas and Adorno.
    Parties of the left have certainly lost popular appeal by being taken over by the middle classes, with their preference for global issues and “political correctness”, at the expense of the bread and butter issues of wages and working conditions.
    I’ve mentioned before the theory of the French demographer Emmanuel Todd, who notes the rise of a new university-educated middle class. Whereas the attainment of universal literacy has an egalitarian effect on society, the spread of tertiary education to 30% of the population has a contrary effect, leading to a part of the salaried classes differentiating themselves from the majority in terms of education rather than other traditional markers of class, such as birth, income, or white collar status. It is tempting to link the very sudden emergence of this class in Europe several decades ago with May 68 and other manifestations of left extremism, from the violent Red Brigades to the pacifist Greens.
    England took a while to catch up with mass university education, and, lacking a communist party to rebel against, never took to the far left. Though, as the editors here frequently point out, environmentalism cannot be characterised simply as a left wing movement, its main appeal is certainly to the left-leaning, Guardian-reading “chattering classes”, and it may be that it has been seized on by this group as a convenient sustainable figleaf to disguise their drift away from radicalism. “Solidarity with the science” trips easier off the tongue of an intellectual “élite” than “solidarity with the masses”.

  24. @geoffchambers:

    The middle-class hijacking of the Left of which you speak was noted in “The Gods That Failed“, which pointed out how middle-class leftists advocated the cause of phony “proletariats” which could not answer back (children, animals) but failed to add “the non-human environment” to the list for some reason.

    However, I never made the connection between the middle-class hijacking of the left and the obsession with climate change. I have a degree (in fact I have a PhD – in computational physics), but I certainly don’t consider myself middle-class (I work for a computer games developer). Perhaps it’s not graduates in general, but just graduates who work in the public sector? Trade unions in the private sector has certainly been horribly weakened by the offshoring of industry, leaving the union movement dominated by public sector workers. These have a vested interest in the micromanagement of the population by the government, as it means more jobs for people such as themselves.

    Klaus Allmendinger (who pointed me to the WWF/Allianz hack job earlier on) pointed out how most Green voters in Germany are middle-class government employees, and also that the SPD has increasingly changed from “the working-class party” to “the public sector party”. Global warming is a great excuse to impose more taxes to pay for these lucrative public-sector jobs (provided it isn’t simply solved through the expedient of more nuclear power).

    Perhaps globalization is to blame here, as these make-work jobs are needed to replace private-sector jobs lost to offshoring?

  25. George Carty
    You’re certainly right about the public sector/ private sector divide. Part of Labour’s weakness is that it has taken private sector management philosophy and applied it in the public sector where it is redundant, even absurd. People in the private sector have survival instincts lacking in civil servants, so may react more rationally to daft schemes to tax them to death. But I don’t want to get into bashing the public sector.
    The kind of analysis I’ve cribbed from Todd is basic Durkheimian sociology, based on the idea that you can detect causality on the macro level of society at large, from abstract data like demographic statistics, without descending to the level of personal motivation. (I hope I’ve got that right – I’m no expert). It’s interest here is that, like PeterS’s psychoanalytic insights, it’s independent of the editors’ more philosophical approach, but I hope complementary.

  26. I understand your position that “climate politics” preceed climate science; the latter is indeed paid for precisely that supportive purpose by the governments and profiteering organisations.

    But what does it mean for waging this political battle? I spend most of my argumentation time de-programming Joe Blow, without getting to the politics.

  27. Philip says @ April 4, 2010 at 10:14 am

    The relationship between scientific theory and experiment has been undermined over the last decades and this weakens the understanding of science as a technique for practical problem solving

    Yes the relationship between theory and experiment has changed; experiment has been replaced with computer modelling; this has happened in many fields, epidemiology being another field of study infected in this way. I personally think only mathematics is amenable to experiment by computer program.

    Does it undermine science as an intellectual tool – in public culture? Yes, as scientists become associated with charlatains, as did the roving preacher of yore, and Elmer Gantry.

  28. DublD,

    No scientific debate ever has been or ever will be won with general, philosophical arguments

    Quite so, scientific debates are won by experimentation and falsification and mathematics. You appear to be missing the point that this is not a scientific, but a poltiical debate.

  29. Are you seriously claiming that this racket is not brazen and transparent science fraud? Is this the attitude of this blog?

    If so you have some explaining to do. Where is your CO2 history and your temperature history? Where is your evidence which links one to the other in a causal way? Where is your evidence that a little bit of human-induced warming is a BAD THING during a brutal and puliverising ice age?

    I’ll bet you one thousand dollars that you cannot deliver on all of these which would be a bare minimum to prove that this wasn’t a flat out racket, perpetrated by morons and compulsive liars.

  30. Robert of Ottawa, April 4, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Where are the most effective places in your opinion for de-programming Joe Blow? Are the most effective arguments scientific, political, or something else?

  31. Graeme Bird – “Are you seriously claiming that this racket is not brazen and transparent science fraud? Is this the attitude of this blog? If so you have some explaining to do. Where is your CO2 history…”

    Steady on. We’re claiming that the politics more often than not precedes the science, not that the science is as the alarmists say it is. Whether or not “the science” is fraudulent isn’t really at issue.

    The example we give is of the claim that 300,000 people die a year from climate change. This figure produced by the GHF has significant impact in the debate. But what we find when we look at the claim is not so much that the science is “bad” – it might be, but that’s not at issue – but that it proceeds from a political premise. Even if the science was bulletproof, it would nonetheless start from a political premise.

  32. “the spread of tertiary education to 30% of the population has a contrary effect, leading to a part of the salaried classes differentiating themselves from the majority in terms of education rather than other traditional markers of class…”

    Differentiating is the wrong word. Elevating themselves (in their own minds) would be more like it.

    If someone wants to think they are better than others my only reaction is a stifled laugh.

  33. “On question that’s been bothering me for a long time is “why did the Left turn against progress?”.

    I think it might have been when the Americans beat the Soviets to the Moon.
    Space was the future and it was taken from them.
    When 99.9999999% of everything is taken from you- you could get bitter.

  34. Philip @ April 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    The historical record – little ice age and mediaeval and other warm periods; described by people who were there.

    On the offensive against believers, I start with ridicule: “clearly you think the planet is too hot; how cold do you want it?” – an especially telling remark in Canada :-)

  35. @gbaikie

    That doesn’t really count, as most of the leftists who turned against progress weren’t pro-Soviet in the first place.

  36. That doesn’t really count, as most of the leftists who turned against progress weren’t pro-Soviet in the first place.

    Or at least, those that were pro-soviet in the first place were no longer so, by 1969.

  37. Charles Sainte Claire says:
    [On university graduates differentiating themselves from the masses] “If someone wants to think they are better than others my only reaction is a stifled laugh”.
    Agreed, but the point of this kind of analysis is that it is morally neutral, being based on observation, not of individuals, but of people in the mass, using objective statistical data. This has the advantage of advancing the argument from the level of “you Greens are all middle class pseuds” to “here is a possible explanation of why this movement developed here at this time” and possibly persuading any Joe Blows that the warmist creed is not the only rational game in town.
    Like Robert of Ottawa, I spend my time “deprogramming Joe Blows” rather than adding to the sum of human knowledge, and like Philip, I ask myself how this can be done most effectively. Being English, I comment on the British sceptic blogs, particularly here, and at Omniclimate and Harmless Sky. But I feel I’m more use at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climatechange
    where the message reaches thousands of readers. Someone should write a good bloggers guide, starting with simple stuff like: be polite to people who are rude to you. It really annoys them.

  38. Robert and Geoff, thank you both for your effectiveness tips!

    Geoff, I noticed your comment (URL below) where you mention directly asking Guardian readers for their CAGW evidence, and getting Knutti/Hegerl back. I’ve tried asking too and got exactly the same answer. Coincidence? Not sure if there’s anything else popular with them? PETM, sulphur aerosols, sea-ice? You have to laugh.

    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2010/03/don%e2%80%99t-you-believe-in-global-warming.html/comment-page-1#comment-2830

  39. “the spread of tertiary education to 30% of the population has a contrary effect, leading to a part of the salaried classes differentiating themselves from the majority in terms of education rather than other traditional markers of class…”

    Differentiating is the wrong word. Elevating themselves (in their own minds) would be more like it.

    If someone wants to think they are better than others my only reaction is a stifled laugh.

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