Sep 042010

Leo Hickman, Guardian’s ‘ethical’ agony aunt, usually occupies himself with the kind of pointless, trivial, and often completely bizarre ethical questions that only trouble the most moneyed and morally-disoriented environmentalist:

Which is the most eco-friendly alcoholic drink?
Should I buy the cheapest school uniform?
Is it OK to use a butterfly net?
Is it OK to go ‘wild camping’?
What’s the most eco-friendly way to dry my laundry indoors?
What’s the best form of carbon offsetting?
What’s the best way to save water during a hosepipe ban?
Can I buy margarine that is palm oil-free?
Should I trade in my old television for a new one?
How green is the iPad?
What’s the one lifestyle change I could make that would have the most positive environmental impact?
How environmentally friendly are 3D glasses?

The questions the self-styled ethical environmentalist answers are conspicuously about how to live a distinctly consumerist lifestyle without guilt — a guilt he as proficient at engendering as he seemingly able to soothe. If these are ‘ethics’ then ethics — the moral philosophy that occupied the minds of Aristotle, Hume, Kant — can do no more than answer the question, ‘how can I continue to enjoy the stuff that makes me feel guilty, yet still feel smug’? So much for ethics…

LEO1LEO2

Leo yesterday ventured outside his usual mode of eco-lifetsyle-consumer-ethical advice, to reflect slightly more deeply on the ground of his environmentalism.

Why is human well-being improving globally when our environmental woes appear to be worsening all the time?

This is the ‘environmentalist’s paradox, Leo tells us, and it’s the subject of a new study, called, ‘Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?’ by Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne of McGill University. [PDF]

The paradox is explained in Leo’s question. Environmentalists have long been promising doom, but since Malthus, life for humans has shown continued improvement. One measure of this improvement we’re particularly fond of citing, and which is briefly alluded to in the study is the fact that according to UNICEF, 10,000 fewer infants die each day than in 1990. This has troubled environmentalists who want to make the claim that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’, and that the poor experience the effects of climate change already. They make shameless use of the plight of the world’s poor instrumentally to make moral arguments for the mitigation of climate change. Yet their favourite statistic — that 150,000 people die each year because of climate change — is completely swamped by the figure from UNICEF. Clearly, the effect of development over the last 20 years has been to make life better. Yet environmentalists cling to their eco-ethics, and even development and disaster relief agencies, such as Oxfam, absorb them into their agendas. The question we have asked here is why they don’t make an ethic out of development? Why do they insist instead — in spite of clear, empircal, concrete, and testable evidence — make a virtue out of ‘sustainability’?

Normally, such a ‘paradox’ — disparity between what you can see in the world, and what you expected to see in the world — would cause you to stop and reconsider what had led you to your expectation. ‘I’ve got it wrong’, you’d say. Environmentalists maintain that we live in a closely dependent relationship with the natural world, and that our welfare is dependent entirely on measures of its ‘health’, and so expect to see human welfare diminish according to the ‘health’ of the natural processes. This co-relation of measures of health, has been shown, again, and again, and again, to have very little foundation. But instead of reflecting on this failure, the environmentalist says instead, ‘there’s something wrong with the world’.

Leo now cites the for reasons that the study gives, which may explain the ‘paradox’.

1. Critical dimensions of human well-being have not been captured adequately, and human well-being is actually declining. Measures of well-being that suggest it has increased are wrong or incomplete.

2. Provisioning ecosystem services, such as food production, are most significant for human well-being; therefore, if food production per capita increases, human well-being will also increase, regardless of declines in other services.

3. Technology and social innovation have decoupled human well-being from the state of ecosystems to the extent that human well-being is now less dependent on ecosystem services.

4. There is a time lag after ecosystem service degradation before human well-being is negatively affected. Loss of human well-being caused by current declines in services has therefore not yet occurred to a measurable extent.

And Leo, naturally, takes the view that causes the least trouble for his troubled perspective… The apocalypse has simply been deferred…

But perhaps the most intriguing hypothesis – for me, at least – is the fourth. Can the environmentalist’s paradox be explained away by the fact that there is a time lag between when we degrade our finite natural resources and when our well-being begins to be negatively affected? If so, what is this period of time likely to be? And will the transitional descent – when/if it finally begins – be slow or rapid? The answers to these questions will surely be key to working out who will ultimately prove to be correct out of the Diamonds or the Ridleys of this world.

When I think about this time lag I can’t help but be reminded of the set-piece scene from the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit cartoon, The Wrong Trousers. Gromit, Wallace’s canny dog, finds himself having to lay track as fast as he can in front of himself to ensure the toy train he’s riding on remains in hot pursuit of the jewel-thief penguin escaping with a diamond. (Go to 1:28 on this video.) Using this as a metaphor, can humans keep laying the train track in front of them fast enough to avoid a nasty derailment? Can we keep perpetually delaying our fall and decline? The authors of the paper seem to be suggesting that our chances of doing so are diminishing all the time as the world becomes increasingly globalised:

Leo confuses the third and fourth ways of explaining the ‘paradox’. He says that Doomsday has been postponed, but wonders if, after all, we’ll be able to keep ‘laying out new track’, implying that it was human agency that caused the disparity between observation and expectation.

On that point, Leo’s view reflects that of Martin Rees in his third Reith Lecture I looked at this week. Rees too wondered what are the limits of human agency…

Humans are more than just another primate species: we are special: our self-awareness and language were a qualitative leap, allowing cultural evolution, and the cumulative diversified expertise that led to science and technology. But some aspects of reality – a unified theory of physics, or of consciousness – might elude us simply because they’re beyond human brains, just as surely as Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee.

Rees and Leo both make virtue — and a system of ethics — out of the possibility of the limits of human ability coming up against the limits of their material conditions. And this must surely go some way to explaining the paradox — not the answer to the paradox, but why an environmentalist sees a paradox.

First, a limited view of humans is presupposed far in advance of any understanding of that limit. On this view, presupposing that a limit exists allows you to say that we’re necessarily approaching it, and cannot adjust our situation ad infinitum; therefore we must act as though we are up against our limits right now.

Second, a view of humans is presupposed in which they are simply passive consumers of resources — or ‘ecosystem services’ in the study’s vernacular — instead of the active, creative agents which make them.

Third, an insurmountable limit of material possibility is presupposed to suggest that not only are we not smart enough, there simply aren’t sufficient resources / ‘ecosystem services’ to provide humanity with its growing needs. We can’t even invent our way past such ‘natural’ limits, because any innovation will inevitably tread heavily on some part of the complex network of ecosystems, which will cascade around the system to revisit our sins upon us.

These arguments are all familiar. Their inevitable consequence is that we must organise society in such a way that we can live within these ecological limits. From these environmental ethical imperatives emerge environmental politics.

However, the thing that Leo and the authors of the study don’t seem to have considered is a fifth option: people do not depend on natural processes to the extent that they expected. Hence, there is no paradox to explain. Humans are far less dependent on the natural world than the study’s authors and Leo imagine, and instead depend much more on themselves.

At first glance, this might look like the third option given to us in the study:

3. Technology and social innovation have decoupled human well-being from the state of ecosystems to the extent that human well-being is now less dependent on ecosystem services.

But this would agree that the paradox was real — it would accept the three environmental presuppositions. Which is exactly what the authors of the study do.

evidence suggests that future adaptation will be different and probably more difficult, as  resources near depletion at the global scale. Previously available options for migration and translocations of resource use are increasingly constrained by the scope of human use of the biosphere (Vitousek et al. 1997). Humans have been able to adjust to increased pollution, decreases in soil fertility, and other ecosystem degradation at smaller scales; however, there is evidence of a widening gap between the intensity and complexity of global change and humans’ ability to adapt rapidly and effectively on a large scale (Homer-Dixon 2000). For example, there has been little effective response from the global community on climate change, indicating social inertia in the face of even a well-recognized challenge (Adger 2000).

The study rejects the theory of the ‘decoupling human well-being from the state of ecosystems’ because we haven’t adapted to meet the challenge of climate change. Which is a bit like taking your conclusion as your premise… presupposing what you intended to find out.

Having rejected the possibility that human adaptability explains the paradox, the study is inconclusive…

The environmentalist’s paradox is not fully explained by any of the four hypotheses we examined. Our evidence indicate that we can largely reject the hypothesis that human wellbeing is decreasing; however, some aspects of each of the other three hypotheses are supported, whereas other aspects are invalidated (table 3). For hypothesis 2, it is clear that agriculture provides benefits to humanity, but locally those benefits can be outweighed by the loss of other services. The efficiency with which people have been able to extract benefits from nature has increased, supporting hypothesis 3, but technological innovation has not decoupled society from the biosphere. And while there are many important time lags in Earth’s systems, which supports hypothesis 4, the consequences of those lags for human well-being are unclear.

… and calls for more research. As does Leo, who claims in the title of his article,

We need a better understanding of the ‘environmentalist’s paradox’

Here, then, is the better understanding of the ‘environmentalists paradox’.

It doesn’t exist. What the environmentalist sees is the consequence of the three things he has presupposed about the world. But all the data and empirical research in the world won’t make the environmentalist examine his preconceptions. Hypothesis 3 is true, but it doesn’t satisfy the environmentalist’s questions about the paradox he witnesses, because he doesn’t see that it is a paradox of his own creation. There was never anything to decouple from: humans simply did not rely on natural processes to the extent he believed. The natural processes that concerned the environmentalist were never as degraded as he understood them to be. What is more, ‘ecosystems’ never existed as some whole network of interdependent sub-systems that can be understood as governed by some force keeping the system ‘balanced’ and in ‘harmony’. The ‘better understanding of the environmentalists paradox’ requires a better understanding of the environmentalist. What he needs is a mirror.

  47 Responses to “The Environmentalist’s Paradox that Wasn’t a Paradox”

  1. Leo Hickman as the Guardian’s “ethical agony aunt” – excellent.
    It’s ridicule which will get them in the end, not the fact that they are not in the same league as Aristotle, Kant, and Hume. What did Hume know about global warming? (though he did once experience a serious tipping point when he fell off his horse into a peat bog, and was only rescued by an old lady when he agreed to recite the Lord’s Prayer).
    Hickman’s belief in the time lag which renders our fate invisible just below the apolcalypse horizon is a particular example of a kind of temporal myopia which infects environmentalism. It’s spectacularly ephemeral, like the lifespan of the mayfly, who manages to pack a whole exciting lifetime into the four hours it takes me to read your week’s blogging.
    The moment the machine is created capable of calculating a Global Temperature Anomaly, this number becomes the key to our future. No sooner are we capable of photographing the Arctic daily by satellite, than the disappearance of the icecap becomes magically imminent.
    The fact that Hickman turns to a cartoon film (a film which uses the same hitech wizardry to animate plasticene as is used to make coloured filmlets in which the Arctic appears to wobble like a jelly in a hurricane) to illustrate his philosophical position tells us much. Like Rees’s resort to the Martian’s eye view, Hickman’s use of an image aimed at children suggests an unwillingness to engage with adult problems (poverty and avoidable disasters) from an adult point of view.
    I look forward to comments of PeterS and others on Hickman, Simms and the other odd species which inhabit the peculiar ecological niche which is Guardian Environment.

  2. Well done for your CiF comments on Leo’s article. Leaving aside the erudition, this riposte certainly cheered me up…

    “I’m posting because the alternative is housework. If you know anyone who will pay me for arguing with CiF ecoloons, please forward their details to me… ”

    Unfortunately, I don’t and perhaps that excuses me for not commenting there as much as I should. Even if it is impossible to win an argument with the “ecoloons” — because they are right no matter what — it is always interesting to prod them with a bald fact or two and see what happens. Here’s another paradox. When I walk in the countryside around me and compare it to 20 or 30 years ago, I see significant and frequently man-made environmental improvement. How can that be so?

  3. Thanks Philip for pointing out Climate Resistance’s excellent comments on the Hickman thread. I’m only sorry I couldn’t join in. When, on a recent CiF thread, C-R’s ineffectual assailants onthefence accused me of being a PR hack, and GPWayne offered to bugger me in public, I foolishly used words like “stupid”, and got myself banned for life for “constant abuse”.
    Monbiot’s “Campaign against Climate Change” blog has instituted a system of organised trolling on selected articles, whereby the faithful are invited to comment in order to drown out reasoned argument. I’d hate to suggest anything similar, but it would be nice if C-R’s many fans would intervene more actively in such cases, so C-R could get on with some housework.
    Now I really must get the dinner fixed.

  4. Excellent.

    It’s interesting that people on all sides of environmental debates will usually agree with each other that the economy and ecology go hand in hand, yet disagree about the direction of the causality. Some say that better ecology brings a better economy, while others say a better economy brings better ecology. Both views are of course simplifications.

    I think environmentalists (or at least most who self-identify as such) try to win the argument by overstatement, in this area. That is of course impossible, and the attempt is counter-productive.

    Of course it’s true that ultimately, in the most extreme Doomsday scenarios, humanitarian and environmental interests must be aligned; destroy the world and we destroy ourselves. But it would not actually be paradoxical, to discover that it ain’t necessarily so in less extreme situations.

    (Why, we can even make a concession to Al Gore. Yes Al, the entire world IS more valuable than a few bars of gold. We get the logic! Thanks!)

    Trying to argue that better ecology is *always* necessary, (and indeed sufficient), for a better economy, seems too much like sweeping trade-offs under the carpet, in order to side with the environment first every time, while remaining guilt-free.

    Of course we must be equally cautious about asserting that a better economy will *always* be sufficient, (or indeed necessary), for better ecology. That could equally well be an excuse for us to fight for the economy first every time, while remaining guilt-free.

    Nonetheless, as you rightly point out, it usually is so as it happens; fortunately, economic development seems to go hand in hand with better environmental protection, and doesn’t normally sacrifice it at all.

    I would say that while “the exact relationship is complex”, (an easy thing to say of course), it is not a bad approximation to say that a healthy economy causes healthy ecology, and that people like Leo have this causality backwards.

    Whatever trade-offs there are between economy and ecology must of course be acknowledged. But if and when those situations occurred, I would personally tend to side with humanity anyway! I am reminded of the multiple wrongness of banning DDT, in that even if it were environmentally harmful we could still justify its use for saving millions of lives from malaria… and to add intellectual insult to human catastrophe, it does no environmental harm *anyway*!

    Leo’s repeated assertions that the environment is getting worse in all the small ways are largely baseless. (As is his fear of The Big One.) He is unnecessarily mystified by the fact of continuing improvements in the quality of human life.

  5. Hi Geoff,

    Some of the CiF regulars are real idiots, there’s no doubt — irrespective of any academic qualifications. Whilst I think it can be fun to fight them every once in a while, I’m not sure I want to get sucked in on too regular a basis – it’s too corrosive and uninformative. Tom, on the other hand, has just reminded me exactly why this place is so good – thoughtful and well-informed opinion politely expressed. I do certainly take your point though, and will try to get stuck in at CiF more often than I have in the past.

    I feel strongly that the Editors here have taken the right position. The science story ends with an uncertain amount of warming. Politics adds in an uncertain risk analysis, in which the climatic and economic risks are respectively in- and deflated, followed swiftly by a large dose of complexification, religiosity, insults and entrenched positions. I don’t know how the argument can be unpicked, although I think this needs to happen. I couldn’t care less what the “ecoloons” at CiF think about it. What does worry me is that UK politicians (with a few notable exceptions) seem so resistant to the idea of taking a rational position on this issue.

  6. Philip
    You say that getting sucked into CiF is “too corrosive and uninformative”. I know what you mean, having been on the receiving end of onthefence’s trollery. But it’s a nice feeling when they can’t answer your points, and start asking who you are, and how come you get so many “recommends”.
    Ben here once made exactly the same point to me, about how disheartening it is arguing with ecoloons. I’m glad he’s changed his mind. Look at the hundred “recommends” on his first comment. Add in those who read and didn’t press the button, and that’s a lot of Guardian readers who are not convinced by their paper’s political line. (For that’s what it is. One of their editors announced that global warming was editorial policy). Look at this comment from donotdespisethesnake (5 September 2010 5:07PM):
    “I don’t generally agree with the climate skeptics, but ClimateResistance is winning the intellectual argument hands down here. Surely there is some really solid peer reviewed science to rebut what he is saying? If not, why not?”
    Leo and his colleagues will have noted these comments and be exploring this site for ways to answer the points made. Doubts will be sown. I still refuse to believe that everyone at the Guardian is a brainwashed ecoloon. I agree with you that the argument at the political level is the one that needs unpicking, and where better to do it than at the Guardian, the house organ of all three eco-centrist parties which inhabit Westminster?
    PS there’s something odd about the clock at CR. Is it reading am for pm?

  7. PS there’s something odd about the clock at CR. Is it reading am for pm? I’ve tried to fix it, but I think the timestamps are fixed.

    CiF is hard work. I don’t know how anybody has the time to keep up with it. That’s why I only venture in about once a year.

    Do you think that the editorial staff at the Guardian are not more likely to develop a conspiracy theory — i.e. that we’re all deniers, paid by the oil industry to distort the debate — rather than reflect on their incoherence?

  8. As the author of the reference comment, I can confirm there are some Guardian readers who are not committed to editorial policy!

    CiF is a bearpit and I don’t normally bothered with, but this weekend the alternative was housework. ;) You can be sure there are lots of other readers who don’t agree but who are unwilling to enter the bear pit. CiF like a lot of internet forums is too adversarial to lead to anyone useful debate.

    However, it did lead me here, which appears to have a more rational level of discussion.

  9. Wow, that didn’t take long. While onthefence continues to cast innuendo and make ad hominem attacks on CiF, I am the one who gets moderated! How strange, outsider opinion is deleted and groupthink wins…

    Seriously, if you never bother with CiF, you are not missing anything. Let them have their fun, I doubt they will influence anyone.

  10. Welcome Donotdespisethesnake.

    CiF battles seem tribal and territorial. It’s as if to engage in any kind of discussion is to concede some kind of defeat, or admit that there’s a question to answer. I think this speaks about a lack of confidence in the ideas they’ve defined themselves by.

  11. donotdespisethesnake
    Don’t underestimate CiF. The Guardian has put a lot of work into developing their Environment Network. It’s been the first port of call for Pachauri, Stern, and many others of the Great and the Green who have a book to plug or a point to push. Some of them have been ridiculed on their first attempt and have never been seen again. It happened to Kofi Annan and his Global Humanitarian Forum. A year ago, their report warning of millions of deaths was trumpeted with a fanfare of three articles on Guardian Environment. The report was quietly dissected by CR and Roger Pielke for an audience of cognoscenti, but on CiF it was massacred by hundreds of readers of a supposedly serious pro-green newspaper. Last March the Global Humanitarian Forum ceased to exist.
    Imagine what it’s like if you’re an Oxford professor, or the editor of the British Medical Journal, or Ian McEwan, and a friendly editor gives you a chance to push out your hobbyhorse before hundreds of thousands of readers, and you find your views ridiculed by nine out of ten commenters, and you’re left with only onthefence for a friend!
    Ben
    Congratulations. You were doing great until the remark about tinfoil hats. I know too well how difficult it is to avoid sinking to their level. But Hickman, as one of the more – shall we say – lightweight members of the Guardian Environment team must be content to have provoked an intelligent debate, so you’ve made someone happy, gained a few new readers, and no doubt been placed on a few more lists.
    If some at the Guardian stick to their conspiracy theories while others are forced to reflect on the variety and persistence of the resistance to their propaganda, that can only provoke a healthy tension and – who knows? – maybe some self-questioning.
    Look at the amazing zigzags of Monbiot, who first recognised the enormity of the CRU email scandal, then denied it, had two confidential meetings with Steve McIntyre, and, following a cultural revolution-type confession, is now back in Savonarola mode defending Pachauri. Monbiot the scourge of authority is declaiming “It must be true! It’s in an official report!” There’s only so much a sensitive soul like his can take. He’s renounced his career as an investigative journalist in order to maintain his role as a campaigning propagandist. Something will have to give.

  12. Ok, you may be right about CiF. It’s not something I look at very often, it invariably resembles that Monty Python sketch (“No it doesn’t!”) Although my recent question to the moderators regarding their policies seems to have resulted in rather more of onthefence’s posts being deleted.

    I am pretty much onboard with the AGW science, but I recognise that once scientists become advocates, they become politicians rather than scientists, and they are much better at science than politics. The public are probably savvy enough to see through politics dressed as science.

    When the AGW debate is framed as “helping the third world” or “helping the poorest”, I have to seriously wonder what planet these people are on, since we seem to systematically adopt policies to the disadvantage of the third world. If we really want to help these people, there are plenty of good ways to spend $50 billion.

    I think the fact is that democratic governments have a hard time justifying their legitimacy, and any apparent external threats they can use to gain power are welcome. My feeling though is that the AGW alarmists have dug themselves into a hole, which will take quite a while to get out of.

  13. evidence suggests that future adaptation will be different

    How can there be evidence about the future? Do they have a time machine?

    donotdespisethesnake:

    How can you be “on board with the science”. Do you not understand that the whole AGW “theory” is based upon a planetary climate positive feedback. If such a thing actually existed, then this planet would be either roasting, or frigid; and it would have arrived at that state within a few million years. This planet has been pretty good, except when it got cold during ice ages, for about 4.5 billion years.

    This is PROOF that there is no climatic positive feedback.

  14. donotdespisethesnake

    I very much enjoyed reading your comments this morning, thank you. It is good to discuss this issue with all the different viewpoints in sight. Even on CiF, there are quite a few decent types arguing for AGW, and I think it is constructive to try to connect with them and ignore the lunatics – best, but not easy. I hope that that kind of connection has more influence then the usual shouting matches.

    I do find it quite difficult to think what exactly one can mean by being “onboard with the AGW science”. There is a strong sense in which I am also onboard with the AGW science. I agree that the greenhouse effect is real and that increased C02 levels will cause the average global temperature to rise – because very well established physical theories predict this and both satellite and ground-based radiation measurements confirm. But as Robert of Ottawa points out, there is no well-established well-confirmed science to get from here to the Guardian or Royal Society position.

    It seems as if the gap can only be honestly bridged by moving the discussion away from the physical science, often by invoking variants of the precautionary principle. Aside from the environmental issue, the gap is also inhabited by an economic argument, which is also subject to a broad range of expert opinion and hence also highly uncertain. From the point of view of policy, the uncertainties pull in opposite directions. So if we favour solutions on one side, then the risk of harm from the other side increases. Our politicians should realise this, and the need to balance, but appear on the whole not to (at least publicly).

    From this argument, the only reasonable initiatives to attempt are those that will work out well no matter how the gap eventually collapses. Since there is this uncertainty, and the possibility of harm from either direction, the usual Royal Society/Guardian position of certainty strikes me as being at best disingenuous.

  15. There’s a comment at
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2010/9/6/uncertain-climate-part-2.html#comments
    about your comments to the Hickman article which you should read. Tenth comment, by Mac. Might be worth signalling it to the moderators, before OnanObstacle does.

  16. Ben is too modest to say so, but he’s still doing a great job on the Hickman thread, fending off all attacks, under the admiring gaze of Leo himself. It’s intellectual knockabout in the best tradition of Thomas Love Peacock (who was a bit like Kant, but with more laughs)

  17. Good grief, is it still going on? I thought Ben had seen them off last Sunday. Thanks for the tip Geoff, I’ll go and have a dip immediately. Meanwhile, on the subject of Thomas Love Peacock v. Kant in the comedy stakes, I defer to your better judgement.

  18. Avoiding the obvious trollery, the CiF discussion is very impressive. Some of it went a little over my head unfortunately (:’() but I hope my understanding is right to the following extent: the green minds there tend to think in terms of there being a balance or stasis in human and environmental behaviour. This is why they see the paradox, and why they become so alarmed and despondent at change, and why they are unable to take account of the human ability to adapt and innovate. From the point of view of a low-grade science geek like me, the idea of balance and stasis in a system as complex as the biosphere is simply not credible and I sit in awe that the greens would think otherwise (I noticed our friend donotdespisethesnake eloquently making similar noises in the thread).

    The CiF discussion is certainly full of erudition and learning, and is very illuminating if one wants to understand the green mind. And it is definitely very entertaining to see quick-fire Ben arguing them into several different corners whilst playing them at their own game. But I can’t help asking myself what this can possibly have to do with carbon taxes and windmills. Has this kind of intellectualism been a serious driver of the green movement? It certainly has little enough to do with science (well, I knew that already) but also little to do with politics. It is really no more than intellectual one-upmanship, and I’d dearly love to hear what Clapham omnibus would say about that when it turns her life upside-down.

  19. hi Philip.

    I agree with you about the idea of stasis. It is central to various green perspectives, and is used as the moral fabric, so to speak, of environmentalism. The belief seems to be that moral imperatives emerge from objective, scientific view of the world. My argument is, of course, that the moral idea of balance within the natural world is prior to the scientific view, so the objective bit only aims to substantiate what was given/presupposed in the ethical framework.

    We can see how this pans out in real life. In the blog post above, I compare claims about climate change killing 150,000 people a year to the effect of development. The environmentalist’s perspective is that those deaths were the result of climate change, but I point out that each one of these deaths are lower-order effects of poverty. The environmentalists can’t cope with the idea that poorer people could have their conditions improved by development, because that would make them our moral equivalents — and we’re bad, we are, because we cause deaths in the third world with all our driving.

    What has this got to do with carbon taxes and windmills? They’re not something we spend a lot of time discussing — they’re just expressions of climate politics. But the climate politics emerge from the ethical frameworks that greens construct. I.e., if there’s moral imperative to reduce our CO2 emissions, then this trumps conventional, interest-based politics that dominated earlier decades.

    You wonder if this kind of intellectualism has really driven the environmental movement. It’s not actually very intellectual. And that’s why it’s actually quite easy to argue against. It’s just very, very difficult to maintain a single line of argument against the irrational claims and circular arguments made by environmentalists.

    You’re right to point, too, to this having little to do with politics as such. Our argument on this blog has been that the conditions of environmentalism’s ascendency have been intellectual poverty, and a collapse of politics. So for instance, the UK political establishment find environmentalism and climate change alarmism are expedient, because its a handy way of generating political legitimacy in lieu of means to connect with a political constituency. If you look at climate politics, it’s intensely elitist and undemocratic. That’s no accident.

  20. Thanks very much, Ben. I will stay tuned.

  21. Comments are finally closed now on that CiF thread; one of the better ones, I thought, less name-calling than usual and more debate, so well done everyone on both sides of the debate who kept it (more or less) on the level.

  22. Alex, you linked to some very interesting articles in that discussion and made some valuable points. Could you repost them here, as I don’t think many people will want to trawl through the many hundreds of comments and flames to get to the important bits.

  23. “Do you not understand that the whole AGW “theory” is based upon a planetary climate positive feedback. If such a thing actually existed, then this planet would be either roasting, or frigid; and it would have arrived at that state within a few million years. This planet has been pretty good, except when it got cold during ice ages, for about 4.5 billion years.

    This is PROOF that there is no climatic positive feedback.”

    I was hoping to avoid debate on the science, but what you say is actually incorrect. Positive feedbacks don’t necessarily lead to run away effects if the strength of the feedback changes, or other effects become more significant leading to an equilibrium being reached.

    It does raise some fascinating issues as to why Earth isn’t either too hot or too cold, since that is the fate of most planets in the galaxy. Due to a rare if not unique set of circumstances, the Earth is able to stay in a very narrow band of habitability. Even without any life present, the carbon cycle regulates the temperature.

  24. Ben, here are the links and a couple of the comments I posted during the thread:

    ‘Regarding the “balance of nature” conundrum, could it be that both sides in this debate have valid points? As a thought experiment, it’s possible to imagine a limited ecosystem, like a more advanced version of one of those little globes with brine shrimp and algae, where a certain degree of balance or equilibrium could exist for a very long time, perhaps indefinitely. It might be some sort of artificial worldlet or pocket-sized ecology, for instance, with an atmosphere, a miniature weather system, forests inhabited by wolves and deer, and with sunlight, temperatures etc., all within a prescribed range. We might find ourselves observing something like nature in a state of equilibrium.

    Continuing the experiment, we could introduce an occasional push to the system from outside, e.g., cause some of the vegetation, herbivores or predators to die off. Then we might see the sort of negative feedback loop ARebours was describing earlier (“Wolves eat more deer = wolf population grows. Wolf population grows = fewer deer…”, etc.) This could be a phenomenon best described as an emergent property or form of self-organisation (Scott Camazine and others have defined it as “a process in which pattern at the global level of a system emerges solely from numerous interactions among the lower-level components of the system”) and easiest to observe in the short or medium term or in an artificial or simplified setup, where perturbing influences could be minimised (the miniature worldlet idea) and something like equilibrium maintained for a very long period of time.

    I say “something like equilibrium” because even in the most apparently stable ecosystem, significant changes would be happening that are very difficult or impossible to detect in the short term. What looks to us like a stable system of trees, grass, deer and wolves could also be envisaged as a snapshot or a thin slice of a very long, very dynamic process where change is always occurring (sometimes obviously, sometimes imperceptibly). In that sense, perhaps, there is no overall balance, when the world is viewed as a whole; the big picture is of a dynamic, open-ended and often violent, process, where species and ecosystems can be replaced in a geological eye-blink, although clearly some forms – sharks, turtles, cycads, etc. and yes, wolves – can persist for a while, in some cases many millions of years. Aerobic life takes over from anaerobic life, continents collide and part, asteroids bombard the Earth, humans evolve. And what we tend to perceive as a permanent regime (a rain forest, a desert, etc., each with its own fragile ecosystem) could be in each case better described as an arbitrary and fleeting point in that process. Like watching the hour hand on a clock face, maybe – it may appear static – even balanced – to us, but is in constant motion (albeit motion that is multi-dimensional, irreversible and difficult to predict, unlike the hour hand). Here’s a NYT article from 1990 which has some bearing on this.’

    And also:

    ‘ClimateResistance: “…change is confused with damage.” Yes, and on this subject, and as an example, I’m thinking of recent archaeological discoveries in Amazonia which, if accurate, suggest that much (up to 10% or above) of what now appears to be fragile, finely-balanced and pristine wilderness could actually have been very cleverly cultivated in past centuries, supporting millions of inhabitants.

    It might mean that if the current inhabitants of the region replicated (more or less) what they did there a thousand years ago:

    1. They would restore the region to something like it was before it became wilderness, so this would not exactly be inflicting “damage”.
    2. The possibility is there to cultivate the region without mass extinctions – jaguar, harpy eagles, ocelots etc., still exist in Amazonia, therefore must have survived centuries of what appears to have been an ambitious and large-scale human transformation of the landscape.
    3. The possibility is there to support a much larger human population than now.
    4. There is also the “terra preta” phenomenon, which if replicated (and exported), might lead to greatly improved agricultural yields and soil fertility, plus carbon sequestration – a “win win” situation for both sides on the carbon debate?’

    And the links:

    This one is to the New York Times article re ecologists rethinking the “balance of nature”:
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE1DE153DF932A05754C0A966958260

    These two are connected: one is to an article in Archaeology Daily about evidence for the widespread cultivation of Amazonia before Europeans got there, and the other is to an encouraging article in The Economist about present-day Brazil becoming an agricultural powerhouse:
    http://www.archaeologydaily.com/news/201009034994/Scientists-find-evidence-discrediting-theory-Amazon-was-virtually-unlivable.html
    http://www.economist.com/node/16886442

    There was also this link to a description of the self-organising processes in nature:
    http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7104.html

    As well as Amazonia, the example of North Africa occurred to me – a massive exporter of grain during Roman times but now desert – however, I couldn’t find a good online article describing this. It’s another instance, though, of intensely cultivated land becoming (for one reason or another) “pristine” wilderness.

  25. “I do find it quite difficult to think what exactly one can mean by being “onboard with the AGW science”. ”

    Let me clarify, as there are a number of elements which are hard to describe in a short phrase. Regarding the qualitative understanding of the Earth and its climate, in terms of the history and mechanisms involved, I think that is pretty good. The quantitative analysis, ie. the amount of climate sensitivity is not exact but good enough for a reasonable model, and to make some predictions.

    Up to here, its sound science, we analyse data, discover mechanisms, and make a testable prediction. Where people start to diverge from good science is in saying that the prediction “will happen”, and that we are obliged to do something about it. Scientifically we can’t say the predictions will definitely happen. If they do, then they will confirm the theory… it’s a Catch 22 I know.

    I’ve noticed that people tend to lump the science and politics together, and either accept or reject both. Personally I find it quite possible to accept the science (the actual science, not the popular reports), and still find it does not necessarily justify political actions.

    The debate on “balance of nature” on CiF interested me, because there is a similar assumption in the AGW debate. Who is to say that the current global temperature is the “correct” or “normal” state for the Earth? In fact, the Earth is bumping along in an Ice Age (despite the current inter-glacial period). Ice Ages are not a normal state for the Earth, so it seems odd to pick the current state. Perhaps Mother Nature created intelligent apes that would dig up and release the carbon that had been accidentally sequestered, thus returning the Earth to its preferred, warmer state?

    The fact we are already at the low end of global temperatures makes me less worried about a temperature. There is a valid argument that too rapid a rise in temperature could be highly detrimental to both humans and other life, but we don’t have enough data to quantify that risk yet.

    Additionally, AGW will be limited by the amount of fossil fuels we have to burn, which are likely to run out during this century. I cannot see any realistic prospect of persuading people to change lifestyles, but I can see politicians and business people exploiting AGW for the own purposes.

    I also wonder if humans can’t cope with the present climate change, they probably aren’t going to last more than a few thousand years anyway. One thing is certain, climate change will happen whether we cause it or not.

  26. Thanks Ben and Alex for holding out so long, and for bringing the Hickman thread to an interesting conclusion here, especially as both of you have expressed doubts about the usefulness of posting at CiF in the past.
    A more recent CiF thread at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/sep/08/uea-emails-inquiry-science
    is going the same way, with one sceptic – Atomic Hairdryer – holding out against the usual trolls, amid general indifference, to judge by the number of recommends (down from 60 -70 for the earliest sceptic remarks to zero).
    I think Alex will confirm that the debate can sometimes remain interesting when the number of rational sceptics willing to debate over a period passes a certain critical mass. But that depends on random factors which (thankfully perhaps) are outside any control. As I’ve said before, CiF blogs resemble not so much pub brawls as disputes in an airport lounge. Every new arrival wants to start the debate at the beginning.

  27. An admission – I entered the lounge very late in the day, long after the flights of certain rather pugnacious characters were called and when there were relatively few left to argue it out among the abandoned newspapers and empty coffee cups – mainly Ben versus Jane Basingstoke, who is a polite lady indeed, when compared to some of her more boisterous compadres. It is Ben who must receive the credit for keeping the sceptic flag flying during some of the thread’s darkest and most desperate hours.

  28. Donotdespisethesnake, you suggest it is “quite possible to accept the science (the actual science, not the popular reports), and still find it does not necessarily justify political actions”. I quite agree with you – and with many of your other comments – and also think it very unlikely that the basic GHE mechanisms will be refuted. Beyond this, I think it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish established science from scientific speculation. It is quite possible that there will be no serious problems at all from C02, yet some scientists – for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/15/james-hansen-power-plants-coal – do not make this clear in their public statements. This lack of balance also seeps into AR4 – even WG1. There may be a range of opinion concerning an issue – such as solar effects – with significant ongoing dispute, and yet this is not obvious from the report, let alone the summary. On the other hand, C02 may after all cause problems requiring action. But in this case, it is unlikely that mitigation is the appropriate response (which I think is your meaning). And yet this is usually what those scientists implying certainty call for. So whilst I agree that misleading popular reporting has been a significant problem, I think this is also true of those scientists and scientific institutions that have used science-based arguments to ask for mitigation policies.

  29. Ben, you mentioned that “the conditions of environmentalism’s ascendency have been intellectual poverty, and a collapse of politics”. I think that the article by Fred Siegel, http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_american-liberalism.html, supports this idea by suggesting that in the 1970s American liberals rejected the idea of “progress”. It would be interesting to understand how this played out in the UK.

    Siegel’s article contains some memorable quotes from the time. Best of all, the editor of Nature apparently noted that “though it had once been usual to see maniacs wearing sandwich boards that proclaimed the imminent end of the Earth, they had been replaced by a growing number of frenzied activists and politicized scientists making precisely the same claim.”

    There are also paradoxes galore – American Liberals behaving like British Tories; crankery becoming the new establishment; hippies and bureaucrats working together; peasantlike localism imposed on others but presenting no threat to the elites’ comfortable lives.

    I noticed another paradox of sorts at this interesting site, http://www.politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010. Here, the UK greens are categorised as the most libertarian of all the political parties! This, despite the tendency noted here for the environmental movement towards authoritarianism.

  30. Alex, thanks very much for summarising your CiF comments here. It’s too easy to miss the good stuff sometimes.

  31. Hi Philip,

    That’s a great essay, thanks for linking to it.

    Easy point first. Take absolutely no notice of politicalcompass.org. They haven’t got a clue. I challenged them on their use of categories and axes about 6 years ago, pointing out that as far as policies are concerned, they’re not a true measure of any real commitments to ideas. The green party at the time took a very socially-liberal line on matters such as drug use, abortion, family and so on. I pointed out to them that one could embrace a number of soft social-liberal issues in the same way, but for instance, take a very strong line on something else, e.g. locking even petty criminals up for minor offences, or even shooting them, but weight of numbers would yield a ‘libertarian’ score. Accordingly, the green party is happy to allow people to be pot-smoking single mothers, just so long as they don’t use a car, don’t use disposable nappies, and recycle all their rubbish. The wider point being (lost on them) that the greens aren’t necessarily committed to material freedom, which must ultimately amount to some degree of political freedom. The greens, and the authors of the site seemed to believe that one could be committed to social progress without being committed to the idea of material progress. We could ll be happy peasants. They take a very numerical approach to political analysis, and they forget their own prejudices in the process.

    Britain in the 1970s was a dump. At one point, there were three day working weeks. There were power cuts, strikes, and Britain had to take a loan from the IMF, the conditions of which determined the politics of the next generation. It would be interesting to see how Britain and the USA compared, but I think it’s likely that the same thing happened to the progressive political movements here. It was a small number of disgruntled conservatives, inspired by Ehrlich (a US Republican, as it happens), who set up PEOPLE, which later became the Ecology Party, and later the UK Green Party. At the time, UK leftists were suspicious of this movement, and it wasn’t really until the late 80s/early 90s — after the Left had been comprehensively demolished — that it became easier to identify environmentalists as the (post-political) ‘Left’.

    More paradox. It wasn’t simply that environmentalists took from an old Tory perspective. Garret Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was an argument against the common ownership of land on Ehrlich’s neo-malthusian premises, and nodded enthusiastically at Hayek.

    We’ve argued on this blog that environmentalism should not be seen as reworking of any Left agenda, but instead the collapse of both Left and Right. It just so happens that the Left’s demise as been so much more obvious. As these perspectives have disintegrated, so they have turned to forms of accounting for the state of the human world in ‘natural’ terms, and seek moral authority in material, seemingly objective reality.

  32. Philip, just to say that the Fred Siegel essay you’ve linked to is very good indeed, thoughtful and also provides a wealth of references for further enquiry. Also many thanks, Philip and Ben, for your kind words re my CiF comments.

  33. Matt Ridley makes reference to this whole affair on the website for his exceptional book “The Rational Optimist”: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/paradox-not

  34. I think environmentalism has always suffered from too many contradictions to ever be an effective movement. I think it has been a movement that appeals to the heart, but has never had any good logic to it. It has tried to claim intellectual rigour from ecology (the balance of nature argument), but our modern understanding of ecology is no longer supportive of that idea. On one hand enviros appear to say we should value nature for its own sake, but on the other hand “sell” the idea by saying humans will suffer if we don’t.

    The idea that there was a golden age when humans lived in harmony with nature is a nice idea, but false. Going back to a pre-agricultural society is just not an option. Certainly we could not maintain the sort of advanced society we currently enjoy.

    I think people rejected environmentalism in the 70′s in favour of the more practical consumerism. So I can see this new Global Warming thing would be grabbed by enviros as a real “told you so” way to get some credibility. However, people didn’t want hair-shirt living then, and want it now even less.

    Although science has been the engine of growth, I get the feeling that a lot of scientists feel pretty undervalued and under attack, in areas like stem cell research, evolution. Scientists are called to serve on government panels, then have their carefully weighed advice rejected in favour of what is politically expedient. Despite providing people with computers and iPhones, a lot of people reject basic scientific ideas like evolution and prefer super-natural explanations.

    I suspect that with climate change, parts of the science community are making a stand and saying “ok, now you have to listen to us”. Governments and the public, they think, will be forced to respect science because the consequences of ignoring it’s advice this time will be dire. Climate scientists seem to be quite naive in that they think if they present a set of compelling facts, everyone will follow logic and agree with them. This may explain why scientists are becoming exasperated and entrenched. If they had stopped off at the Psychology department before hitting the media office, they may have realised their mistake.

    So the green movement and climate scientists make natural allies here, but I don’t really think that either of these groups will carry much weight with the public, when it comes down to daily decisions about how much we drive, fly, where we buy food etc. Both groups have to tackle the underlying conundrum. An advanced society, with the population we have, is bound to make a significant impact on the environment. The preferred green option seems to be “power-down” a controlled descent to a lower level of development and population. However, turning back the clock on development, or involuntary reductions in population, are out of the question. They are never going to be accepted by the public.

    That leaves limited options for the green movement; ameliorating some of the worst effects, usually with yet more technology (the “techno-fix”). I think this is where the Guardian and George Monbiot sit. The other option is wait for the apocalypse and pick up the pieces, a green doomerism espoused by groups like the Dark Mountain.

  35. I agree that environmentalism is one of the main sources of philosopical & ideological growth skepticism. How can they push people like me too far in promoting such an idea?

    It is time to challenge growth skepticism now and make sure that discussions about the need for social change & economic growth by any means are as solid as possible. Time to get going. Period.

  36. “Although science has been the engine of growth, I get the feeling that a lot of scientists feel pretty undervalued and under attack, in areas like stem cell research, evolution.”

    Do you think that scientists in these areas, who are not also knowledgeable about climate science, see criticism of environmentalism as also being an attack on science and on their work? If so, that is to be deeply regretted. You also comment that science has been the engine of growth, implying I imagine that favouring growth and favouring science should go hand-in-hand. However, perhaps those scientists who are also in with the environmental movement do not agree with this practical role of science as the enabler of growth and technological change?

  37. “Do you think that scientists in these areas, who are not also knowledgeable about climate science, see criticism of environmentalism as also being an attack on science and on their work?”

    You raise some interesting points.

    I think there is a wide spectrum of opinion, which perhaps is reflected in the split between “pro” and “anti” AGW views. I can’t think of any other issue which has had such a divisive effect in the wider scientific community, not recently anyway. There are national science bodies rallying scientists around the IPCC position, and skeptic organisations rallying scientists around a skeptic position. I would say that disciplines closest to physical sciences are mainly in the former camp, and as you go to more applied disciplines they tend to be in the latter camp.

    I am sure there are some scientists who are concerned about their role in enabling growth, my brother who I would call a scientist said to me “scientists have really screwed up!”. But in general I think scientists prefer to get on with what they are doing and not worry too much about the consequences, or at least easily justify to themselves why their work is worthwhile.

    I suspect that some scientists will be quit uneasy about forming too close an alliance with green groups, whose more extreme members take to attacking university science labs and people who work in them. I think it is more a pragmatic alliance of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, than a sympathetic ideology.

    There is a kind of illusion that science is pure and done for its own sake, but the reason governments and industry fund research is because they know it leads to new technology, jobs and wealth. The link between fundamental research and useful technology is indirect and down to luck, but to paraphrase, “the more research you do, the luckier you get”.

    It’s an unlucky scientist who inadvertently discovers a weapon of mass destruction, but the everyday automobile kills more people than nuclear weapons. The paradox is that even the development of things that appear entirely beneficial can lead to negative consequences. The elimination of diseases like smallpox, have contributed to a huge population growth in many third world countries. Commonly population has trebled over 50 years.

    Reducing childhood disease is surely a good thing, but it now has the consequence of populations struggling to manage that growth and even feed themselves. The damage from floods in Pakistan can be directly related to the need to feed such a rapid population growth.

    Whether they intended to or not, scientists have been complicit with the things that have led to the alleged dire environmental situation. I think most of them still think they are doing good work, there are really very few seriously questioning that role or that a techno-fix is not the answer. A few names like William Catton and Jared Diamond spring to mind. Much to the dismay of the greens, even green gurus like James Lovelock suggest that nuclear power is the way forward.

  38. Hmm… Are you really sure that the consequences can arise from what you said, donotdespisethersnake? Or was I?

    donotdespisethesnake, you suggested the idea that “it is more a pragmatic alliance of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, than a sympathetic ideology”. That is it? Open your mind now and tell the people the truth about what you are claiming about science and stuff like that. I suspect growth skepticism. Do you realize what are the consequences you have in your mind?

    I’ll find out soon – perhaps Ben Pile will comment on this.

  39. Just remember, donotdespisethesnake: Malthusianist ignorance is a bliss inside the green facade – and don’t forget to watch your back when you see a person right behind to you.

  40. “The paradox is that even the development of things that appear entirely beneficial can lead to negative consequences.”

    But this is true of everything in life, isn’t it? It is society at large that engages in the pursuit of science, because there is a well-justified belief that it is to the overall benefit of society. It follows that it is also the responsibility of society at large to make decisions about how that scientific work is used (of course informed by expert opinion on the implications of that work).

    I am concerned by the rise of environmentalism, which I see as a political movement that happens to use science-based arguments. It’s not just global warming, is it? The greens have propagated a whole series of environmental scares – population growth, cooling, warming, acid rain, GM, ocean acidification, and now biodiversity. Usually, there is a certain grain of truth, but grown into a mountain by hyperbole and emotionalism. As Geoff has suggested, there is certainly a need for awareness of environmental issues and good stewardship but no more – certainly not economic restructuring and all the other political stuff.

    The problem with always crying “wolf” is that the chances of seeing good stewardship are diminished. The problem when scientists advocate the environmentalist position is that they themselves become associated with that position, and then people lose trust in them. I remember that one of Dennis Bray’s surveys suggested that the majority of scientists working in climate find this kind of behaviour objectionable. Good: but it would be great if more of them would follow Judith Curry’s example and speak out – that I think is the best way to regain trust.

    You also commented that “turning back the clock on development, or involuntary reductions in population, are [...] never going to be accepted by the public”. I very much hope you are right about this, but I think it would be a mistake to be complacent. Environmentalism has an easy emotional grip, and I think it would be all too easy for it to cause immense damage to society if it is not checked – for example, consider how many politicians and institutions have bought into quite an extreme position over climate change.

  41. By coincidence, Judith Curry has just discussed uncertainty in climate science http://judithcurry.com/2010/09/15/doubt/. Are natural or human effects the main driver of climate changes? The science cannot tell us. I have no doubt this is a fair assessment, and it makes me wonder yet again where the media, institutional and NGO assertions of certain catastrophe come from.

  42. “By coincidence, Judith Curry has just discussed uncertainty in climate science http://judithcurry.com/2010/09/15/doubt/.

    I haven’t read her before but that article is terrible. She equates the conclusion of the IPCC with her opinion, and prefers her opinion! Her presentation of the (un)certainty is highly confused as Bart Verheggen points out. The science is actually pretty clear, human activities are the main driver, and the uncertainties are nearly all on the side of things being worse than predicted.

    However, I think you are right to ask where do the predictions of catastrophe come from, because the science does *not* make such predictions. Apart from predictions of global average temperature and sea level rise, all the other predictions of crop failures, millions of people dying, runaway warming are just conjecture. Even if some prominent scientists have made such predictions, they are not scientifically supportable.

    I think the thing is, people just don’t like to deal with probabilities, they like black or white options. Debates invariably polarise into two extremes. Topics that are essentially cooperative are made adversarial for entertainment. Who would want to watch a show billed “12 people work together to accomplish a task?” Much more exciting is “12 people compete to beat rivals and emerge as the sole winner”.

    The reason I think is that people are not bees. Consensus democracy works for a bee colony, where the members are genetically identical. Humans are notable for cooperation on a huge, indeed global scale, where the members are not genetically identical, and nor are groups culturally identical. I think the polarisation of opinion is our way of making choices, and there is an evolutionary advantage to it.

    In some world, we would distil the best knowledge available and all form the opinion, for example that there is a 33% chance of some event X happening. Maybe that is how they do things on Vulcan. But because of the way we frame things, that becomes 30% of people “for” and 70% “against”.

  43. At least people around the world like me need to think hard just in case I really suspect growth skepticism is just around the corner.

    So when different opinion emerge as to whether environmentalism or any sort of growth skepticism, honest people must think carefully and discussion about such phenomenon on its own merits. Do you realize there are signs of a philosopical and ideological phenomenon pertaining to these?

    It looks like consensus democracy is in full swing, at least. Or really is it?

    Please pay attention to how growth skepticism affects us in our daily lives around the world – because, I believe, finding the best knowledge is a different task in sifting the truth behind this phenomenon first hand.

    Now get going – and don’t forget to take action on various signs of growth skepticism right now! OK? Thanks.

  44. Remember, Malthusianism is designed to bring people into perdition of death – and, as I said earlier, Malthusianist ignorance is really a bliss, still.

    Time to think again, because the discussions are more intense than they thought it is.

    donotdespisethesnake, do you reallize about such consequences of Malthusianism? Be honest with both your words and actions. Have a nice day.

  45. “The science is actually pretty clear, human activities are the main driver, and the uncertainties are nearly all on the side of things being worse than predicted.”

    It’s curious that our assessments of the same scientific data are so different. Unfortunately, when there is a difference over this part of the issue, people often seem to end up talking past each other – when it is far more satisfying to find common ground. In any case, I think the science and policy discussions are best kept separate, because (to use your analogy) the science is done here on Earth, whereas the policy I think needs to be formulated on Vulcan. Personally, I hope we see policies that encourage continued, even accelerated, economic growth – and object to those that encourage Environmentalism and more centralised power. I don’t think it’s possible to have both. However, I think it’s easy to argue that reduced environmental impact goes hand in hand with increasing development.

    BTW: I’m intrigued by your suggestion of the evolutionary advantage to being argumentative.

  46. Hickman is back, still in reflective mode at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/sep/23/climate-change-psychology-response-scepticism
    The problem is one frequently discussed at CiF: How can psychology help us to understand and convince people who don’t agree with us? What’s the matter with other people, that they can’t see that I’m right?
    The fact that the Guardian, of all papers, has forgotten everything it ever knew about Orwell and totalitarian thought processes, is infinitely depressing. The fact that there are huge numbers of academics in social sciences and the humanities with massive career investments in global warming – probably far more than there are climate scientists – is also a factor which will prolong the life of global warming hysteria far beyond its scientific sell-by date.
    One positive point: the comments and “recommends” are running hugely in favour of common sense and freedom of thought.

  47. Nicely argued and written – this is an excellent blog.

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