Monthly Archives: January 2011
Just a week will have passed between the broadcasting of Paul Nurse’s film about climate change sceptics’ alleged ‘attack on science’ and the BBC’s next film about… climate change sceptics.
Meet the Climate Sceptics
NEXT ON: Today, 22:00 on BBC Four
Filmmaker Rupert Murray takes us on a journey into the heart of climate scepticism to examine the key arguments against man-made global warming and to try to understand the people who are making them.
Do they have the evidence that we are heating up the atmosphere or are they taking a grave risk with our future by dabbling in highly complicated science they don’t fully understand? Where does the truth lie and how are we, the people, supposed to decide?
The film features Britain’s pre-eminent sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton as he tours the world broadcasting his message to the public and politicians alike. Can he convince them and Murray that there is nothing to worry about?
Here’s a trailer for the film,
Without wishing to prejudge the film, why send an environmentalist to make a film about climate sceptics? Doing it once… Hmm… You can sort of see the journalistic value. Doing it twice in the space of a week, however, starts to look like a phenomenon. If the intention is to understand criticism of environmentalism, why not let a critic of environmentalism author the film?
This post was intended for Spiked-Online. They may print it next week, but I wanted to get it out there sooner.
Sir Paul Nurse, the new president of the Royal Society, has followed his predecessors, Martin Rees and Bob May, by making a loud public statement about the climate debate . His claims — the subject of a recent edition of Horizon on BBC2 — are that science is under attack, and that public trust in scientific theories has been eroded. Like his predecessors, however, Nurse fails to understand why partial statements from the president of the Royal Society do more to impede the progress of debate than move it on.
Although it was advertised as a discussion about an ‘attack on science’, the film is dominated by the climate change debate. In Nurses view, the public are less convinced by climate change than they ought to be. This has followed an ‘attack on science’, which Nurse explains in a somewhat one-sided account of the ‘Climategate’ affair — the leaking of thousands of emails between researchers. But as ugly, pointless and as unpleasant for those involved as it was, if there is something to be said about the character of the debate about climate change, it is that raised passions and low tactics are not unique to either putative ‘side’.
The mistake Nurse makes in his treatment of the climate debate is to imagine that it is divided over a simple claim that ‘climate change is happening’. It is this polarisation of the debate into simple categories — scientists verses deniers — which obscures the real substance of debate, its context, and its nuances. The reality is that climate change is a matter of degree, not a matter of true versus false. From this question of degree emerge points of disagreement about the likely material consequences of warming, each of which are also questions of degree. And from these consequences emerge debates about how these Nth-order effects of Nth-order effects of global warming are likely to cause problems for humans. There are then yet further debates about how best to respond effectively.
The debate is multi-dimensional, and controversy exists throughout. But for Nurse, identifying the points of disagreement and offering up an analysis isn’t the point. Instead, he takes for granted that ‘the science is in’, and wonders why trust in scientific authority seems to have been eroded. One reason for this loss of trust just might be that controversies and other inconveniences are swept aside by the polarisation of the debate, leaving a perception that authoritarian impulses are hiding behind scientific consensus. But to point this out would not fill an episode of Horizon. Instead, after a rather feeble retelling of the consensus position — mostly filmed before a NASA video wall depicting the robustness of consensus position — Nurse goes after the deniers, who he suspects are responsible for undermining public trust in science.
This takes Nurse to the home of outspoken climate sceptic and Telegraph journalist, James Delingpole, who disputes the existence of the consensus, and its value to science. The film has clearly been constructed around this moment, at which Nurse seemingly delivers a coup de grace to the deniers. ‘Say you had cancer, and you went to be treated, there would be a consensual position on your treatment.’ This ‘doctor analogy’ appears to leave Delingpole uncomfortable, and stuck for words. ‘Can we talk about Climategate… I don’t accept your analogy’.
Whatever the reason for Delingpole’s hesitance, there are many good reasons for not accepting Nurse’s analogy. The most obvious being that the climate is not like the human body; climate change is not like cancer; climate scientists are not like oncologists; and climate science research institutions are not like hospitals. But worse is the fact that Nurse’s thought experiment defeats its purpose. He’s asking us to believe that there has been an attack on science, and that trust in science is being eroded. But if we presume that Delingpole is forced by the analogy to accept that he should trust the consensus formed by scientists, we must conclude that science is not under attack. An ‘attack on science’ would reject both climate change and medicine.
Nurse’s reasoning is that if we’re not scientists, we are not able to follow the complexities of climate science, and so take arguments about the climate on trust. But newspapers, he observes, are full of contradictory messages. ‘Political opinions’ are expressed through ‘lurid headlines’, causing ‘an unholy mix of the media and politics […] distorting the proper reporting of science, and that’s a real danger for us if science is to have its proper impact on society’. Perhaps worse, The internet allows ‘conspiracy theories to compete with peer-reviewed science’. The concern here is that, trust in the wrong source prevents the feckless public from responding to the correct messages about climate change, sending us all to our doom. Instead, people should trust in science, because unlike the politically-driven newspapers, and internet lunatics, its authority, ‘comes from evidence and experiment’.
But there is no attack on science. Even climate change deniers will still take the advice of oncologists, and will still express criticism of climate change policies in scientific terms. What Nurse fails to recognise is the difference between science as a process, and science as an institution. The reputation of the former is intact; but, as I’ve argued before here on Spiked, the scientific institution undermines its own credibility, regardless of any effort by ‘deniers’. The members of those institutions embarrass themselves, and then step to the BBC to create documentaries in which they scratch their heads about why nobody trusts them anymore.
Aside from the technical complexity that Nurse describes, and the multiple dimensions to the climate debate that he ignores, there is the context of the climate debate to be considered. The background to the climate debate is a collapse of trust in public institutions of many kinds. Echoing this collapse in public reason, Nurse urges, ‘trust no one, trust only what the experiments and the data tell you’. But isn’t this also the message from climate sceptics, who accuse institutional, official science of corruption and political-motivation?
It would seem that the sceptics have a good point here. Climate change has come to the rescue of the forgotten old academic department, the tired political establishment, and the disoriented journalist. The possibility of ecological catastrophe injects moral purpose back into public life, in spite of a collapse in trust. Accordingly, local authorities and national governments have, in recent years, transformed their purpose — to monitor your bins, rather than provide public services. Powerful supranational political and financial institutions have been created to ‘meet the challenge’ of climate change. And these political changes have for the most part occurred without any semblance of democracy; it is presupposed that these changes to public life are legitimate because they are seemingly intended to do good.
Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy. But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science. The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate; the IPCC was established to create a consensus for political ends. Nurse, nearly recognising science’s role in the legitimisation of such political ecology, worries about loss of trust. If scientists are not ‘open about everything they do’, he says, ‘then the conversation will be dominated by people driven by politics and ideology’. But it is already ‘driven by politics and ideology'[]; it’s simply that Nurse does not recognise environmentalism as political or ideological, and he does not notice himself reproducing environmental politics and ideology. The loss of trust he now observes is not the consequence of politics and ideology, but the all too visible attempt to hide it behind science and highly emotive images of catastrophe. If the presidents of science academies want their trust back, they will first have to admit to the politicisation of their function in an atmosphere of distrust. Nullius in verba, indeed.
 Ben Pile. A sideways step from climate panic to Malthus. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/debates/copenhagen_article/9825/
 Ben Pile. Why Copenhagen was bound to fail. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/debates/copenhagen_article/7912/
 Ben Pile. Political prejudices dressed up as science. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/8508/
 Ben Pile & Stuart Blackman. The Royal Society’s ‘motto-morphosis’ http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/3357/
If environmentalism does nothing else, it forces you to stop and wonder, do words still mean anything?
When the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas was elected to Parliament earlier this year, she made the following speech, with these words for her voters:
Thank you so much for putting the politics of hope above the politics of fear.
So what does the politics of hope actually look like? According to Lucas, it looks like this…
The Imperial War Museum in London may seem like a strange place to launch a report on climate change. But that’s where I am this morning, along with speakers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, the Women’s Institute and the museum itself.
Why? Two reasons. First, climate change is one of the greatest threats to our country since the last world war. It’s not only environmentalists who are saying this. Business leaders, prime ministers, major charities and generals have all recognised the level of risk.
Second, if we are to overcome this threat – and the alternative is simply too awful to contemplate – then we need to mobilise as a nation in a way we haven’t seen since 1945.
There could not be a more precise expression of the politics of fear than this.
A politics of fear demands that we sacrifice normal ways of life and our ambitions for the sake of survival. That is to say the politics of fear demands not only that we accept austerity, but that we accept fewer political and civil freedoms, and that we put up with a government whose legitimacy is solely premised on the claim that it — and only it — can see us through some crisis. On top of this, Lucas promises catharsis:
People put up with so much disruption and deprivation because they knew there was no alternative, and because they believed society would emerge stronger at the end of the war.
As far as I am aware, the people who believed that society would emerge ‘stronger at the end of the war’ were the ones who used gas chambers and ovens to purge society of what they saw as holding it back. But let’s not confuse environmentalism and Nazism; Lucas is simply thick in the head, not a fascist.
WWII appeals to Lucas for several reasons, each of them a mythology. First, it exists as a story of moral absolutes. Thus re-inventing it creates the possibility of a favourable comparison to the leaders that won the war against unspeakable evil. Second, it harks back to an era of deference to authority, and of a country united by a shared purpose. Third, it creates a baseline for statements about the possibility of annihilation, against which comparisons could be made.
This is nothing all that new or unique to the Greens attempts to mythologise the war. Informal discussions with those of a hysterical, Leftist mentality will often result in unfavourable comparisons to fascism, if for instance, you don’t hold with a particular (i.e. their) anti-capitalism. And more recently, many identifying with the Right have mirrored the tactic. Many discussions about the climate these days seem to inevitably draw somebody to claim that the Nazi’s were in fact a Left movement because, National Socialism has the word ‘socialism’ in it (d’uh), and because it’s a ‘collectivist’ ideology, whereas the Right is more concerned with the individual… This stop, Obama-care; next stop, death camps. Both forms of historical revisionism forget what is historically particular to fascism and nazism, and so reveal the poverty of perspectives in the present, never mind on the past.
Reinventing the complex geopolitics of the 1930-1940s to create a black and white moral universe is the expression of a completely exhausted argument. During the other most recent expression of a politics of fear, the War on Terror, countless attempts were made to make Saddam Hussain ‘Hitler’, thus casting the leaders of the Coalition of the Willing as the Churchill or Roosevelt of the 21st Century. (No one wanted to play Stalin in this re-enactment). Lucas plays the same game of make-believe.
Previously on this blog, we’ve called this phenomenon pastiche politics. You take a moment from history — WWII, the Moon landing, slavery… — and you find some superficial way of attaching it to the climate debate. Some go even further, dressing up as ‘climate Suffragettes’. The irony being, of course, that democracy is the problem for these protesters: everyone has the vote, but are not voting the right way. Democracy isn’t doing what the climate Suffragettes want it to do. It’s a peculiar, postmodern phenomenon, that environmentalists — in the broadest sense of the word — epitomise, even if it isn’t particular to them. Environmentalism, then, says something about society and politics more broadly.
In the report itself, Lucas explains its origins.
We have been here before. That’s why I commissioned this report from the leading writer and analyst Andrew Simms, to explore what lessons history may be able to give us. There appear to be many. In the 1930s, some politicians of all parties ignored the threat of war brewing in Europe and failed to take the steps to deter aggression or prepare early enough to defend ourselves. At the time, the two main excuses put forward to justify inaction and appeasement were that there was not enough money to pay for proper defences, and that the British public would not support a government that took tough measures.
Simms is better known for his monthly countdown to Armageddon in the Guardian. In August 2008, the New Economics Foundation, which Simms is a policy director of, published a report and a campaign website, claiming that within 100 months, the world would cross those fabled ‘tipping points’ unless immediate action was taken to drastically reduce emissions. This kind of environmental reasoning is typical of the NEF’s claims. For instance it argues that economic growth is no longer a possibility without environmental degradation and catastrophe, and calls for a new model of economics, focussing on happiness instead. And so it becomes clear that the ‘foundation’ for ‘new economics’ is disaster. That is to say that the NEF embody the politics of fear absolutely. It’s dressed up in token, progressive gestures about regard for human ‘well-being’, but without the promise of doom, these latter day Noahs are with Ark, but without flood.
The emphasis that the NEF have placed on well-being has become increasingly influential amongst the political establishment. David Cameron, for instance, has absorbed the NEF’s nonsense, and is set to create a ‘happiness index‘ to rival the UK’s economic performance measure, GDP.
To make the point then, that this is not new, not unique to environmentalists, and symptomatic of some broader phenomenon, it’s worth pointing out that the New Labour government attempted to create a ‘quality of life barometer‘ in 1998.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has revealed a set of 13 indicators which will be published each year. The index will comprise facts and figures, ranging from housing to wild bird populations, which can be used to judge the government’s progress.[…] He said: “This is the first time any country has tried to put these indices – the social and the environment – alongside the economic and I’m quite proud to be doing it.” […] He said: “We are used to judging the economy’s performance on the basis of the GDP, inflation and employment figures. I want these headline indicators over time to become just as useful and familiar, reported regularly on TV, radio and in the newspapers.” The areas covered will include not just social investment, but also water quality and numbers of wild birds, to show the severity of hedgerow destruction.
The seemingly radical impulse to de-emphasise economic growth in matters of public life, therefore, do not emerge from radical movements, but as we can see, emerge from the establishment themselves. Yet more curiously, the promise to deliver ‘well-being’, happiness, and ‘quality of life’ comes with the threat of ecological crisis. The politics of fear will make you happy. What on earth is going on? Lucas gives the game away in the conclusion to her introduction:
Our aim is to help forge the national consensus that will support this or future governments in sustained, radical action. This is an ambitious project: but only if we show ambition can we hope to resolve the threats to our country that the changes in our climate are bringing.
Only a crisis can create the basis of a ‘national consensus’. Environmental politics, then, is not about protecting the environment, but about protecting a political establishment that has lost contact with the public. Whether or not ‘climate change is happening’, today’s politicians need it. What else could they use to ‘mend’ ‘broken Britain‘? The irony, of course, is that neither the climate, nor Britain is broken, but its political leaders are. They project their crises onto the atmosphere.
It’s a Guardian headline that might cause you to think its journalists were taking a good look at themselves,
Online news service promotes false climate change study
But Suzanne Goldenberg is pointing her fingers elsewhere.
An online news service sponsored by the world’s premier scientific association unwittingly promoted a study making the false claim that catastrophic global warming would occur within nine years, the Guardian has learned.
The study, by an NGO based in Argentina, claimed the planet would warm by 2.4C by 2020 and projected dire consequences for global food supply. A press release for the Food Gap study was carried by EurekAlert!, the news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) , and the story was picked up by a number of international news organisations on Tuesday.
“This is happening much faster than we expected,” Liliana Hisas, executive director of the Universal Ecological Fund (UEF) and author of the study, said of her findings.
I can’t quite believe what I am reading. A Guardian journalist… A guardian environmental journalist… is accusing someone of alarmism?
In an email, Gavin Schmidt, a Nasa climatologist wrote: “2.4C by 2020 (which is 1.4C in the next 10 years – something like six to seven times the projected rate of warming) has no basis in fact.”
The AAAS, which runs the EurekAlert! News service, removed reference to the study from its website on Tuesday afternoon.
“We primarily rely on the submitting organisation to ensure the veracity of the scientific content of the news release,” Ginger Pinholster, director of the office of public programmes for AAAS said.
“In this case, we immediately contacted a climate-change expert after receiving your query. That expert has confirmed for us that the information indeed raises many questions in his mind, and therefore we have removed the news release from EurekAlert!”
But by then the study had been picked up by a number of international news organisations including the French news agency AFP, Spain’s EFE news agency, the Canadian CTV television network and the Vancouver Sun, and the Press Trust of India.
For some climate scientists, the false claims made by the UEF paper recalled the highly damaging episode in which the IPCC, the UN’s climate science body, included the false information about melting of the Himalayan glaciers in its 2007 report.
Lawks-a-lordy! Even Gavin Schmidt is worried about over-egging the climate change pudding!
Are they finally beginning to get it? Is the Guardian going to be the newspaper of coherent, sober environmental reporting? They’d have to do something about this little series, though… In August 2008, Andrew Simms of the New Economics foundation declared that there were just 100 months to save the planet:
If you shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don’t want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.
Because in just 100 months’ time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change
Simms has been writing a monthly doomsday countdown article ever since. And now there are — according to him — only 71 months left.
If Goldenburg really wants to challenge naked alarmism, she could stay in her employers offices. The Guardian is such a deep and rich mine of doom-saying and hysteria, I’ve never had to look much further than its latest articles for something to blog about.
Damien Carrington seems to be in unusually reflective mood, too…
By mass, 99.9% of the Earth is hotter than 100C. That means that not far below our feet is the power to boil unlimited water and generate clean, renewable energy. Is the UK throwing all it can at this extraordinary opportunity? Of course not, who do you think we are? Germans?
That contrasts strikingly with the more glamorous sister of deep geothermal energy, nuclear power. Both ultimately tap the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements. Geothermal plants send water down holes to bring to the surface the heat from natural radioactive decay deep in the mantle. Nuclear power mines the radionucleides, concentrates them, sends them critical and then wonders what to do with the leftover mess – not very elegant by comparison.
Credit where it is due, it’s the right kind of question to ask. And it also speaks about the possibilities that exist, rather than the predominant eco-narrative of doom and limits. But Carrington is only so reflective…
Because instead of asking ‘why nuclear, rather than geothermal?’, a better question would have been ‘why wind, rather than geothermal?’. After all, wind has been the ‘technology’ of choice for environmentalists in government and in newspapers. It’s wind that enjoys the most support from government. And it is wind that really divides opinion; both about its efficacy, and its own impact on the natural environment. Who could really object to a geothermal energy plant? (I am willing to place a bet that should the UK ever get round to developing geothermal energy production, some environmentalist will find a reason to raise objections to it.)
There is no choice between nuclear and geothermal, of course. We could do both. What’s interesting is the way we see alarmism creep sideways into Carrington’s argument: nuclear is dangerous, and therefore undesirable. Nuclear is dangerous, of course. But if it wasn’t dangerous, it probably wouldn’t be as useful. Carrington begins an interesting discussion, but it’s ultimately predicated on the silly preoccupation with risk, rather than a sober discussion about how it can be managed. The reason we should develop nuclear energy is that it offers us greater possibilities, not because, just like geothermal, it allows us to ‘keep the lights on’. The discussion about energy still treats demand for energy as something that has to be met, almost begrudgingly, by authority, for the sake of merely coping. The energy discussion should instead be informed by what it is possible to do with more and more of it: more movement, more life, less manual labour, less going without. But that discussion is completely offensive to the core of the environmentalist’s perspective, which is absolutely committed to the idea of natural limits. The differences between the way human-centric and eco-centric arguments about energy develop are moral, not technical.
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Published on Spiked-Online at http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/10095/
A large wall of projected graphics greets you as you enter the London-based Science Museum’s new exhibition,Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science. Disembodied voices read the words that appear across the monolith: ‘Science can show us that greenhouse gasses are increasing… Science can show us that the carbon cycle is being disrupted… Science can show us what’s already changing…’ But for all the talk of science, it was eco-propaganda on display.
Across print and online media, and throughout London’s transport infrastructure and beyond, an advertising campaign invites visitors to the exhibition, promising ‘a fresh and exciting way to make sense of the climate’. The truth is rather more disappointing: the exhibition has not really been designed to introduce minds to a new avenue of discovery; its purpose is to get them to be obedient to environmental diktats.
The first exhibit is a multi-user game called FLOOD ALERT, the objective of which is to maintain London’s flood defences from rising sea levels. Yawn. It had been abandoned by its previous players, whose score card was still on the screen: ‘Climate change turned out worse than you planned for. Bad planning can cost homes and lives.’ Science, nil; alarmism, one. The second exhibit is another interactive installation, which asks me to wave my arms around in front of the screen, in an effort to ‘move’ energy from the sun to the Earth. Meanwhile, simple facts about the transport of heat throughout the atmosphere appear. Next, interactive panels throughout the gallery offer to serve up facts about the climate, and information about a number of artefacts from climate science arranged between interactive exhibits; a slice of a tree, an ice core sample, a flask for taking gas samples. Riveting. I press a few buttons, and I am taken to a page which aims to answer the question, ‘what’s the difference between weather and climate?’.
I notice a trend developing. It seems that hi-tech, expensive, interactive exhibits are designed to hold the player’s attention, while climate-change factoids are delivered on the sly. This trend is borne out by the remainder of the exhibition. Another game invites me to first fire warmth from the sun through the gaps in clouds, and then to move particles of CO2 in the path of heat energy escaping out to space. Thus I get a lesson in atmospheric science in return for playing a rather dull game.
At the other end of the gallery, yet another interactive touch-screen display offers to serve up information about a large ‘house of cards’ mural painted on the wall. I press the button promising the answer, ‘why did the artist make this artwork?’: ‘House of Cards highlights the fragility of the interconnected system we live within. David says “My artwork is a scaled-up drawing of a house of cards. The metaphor I have used is quite a straightforward one: our atmosphere and environment are in a very delicate balance; a balance that it could be disastrous for us to upset.”’
Oh, the artistic subtlety! A house of cards! So much for ‘art’, but what about the scientific basis for the claim that there exists ‘balance’, that it is ‘delicate’, and that our security is premised on this delicate balance being sustained? The notion of our existing in a fragile, dependent relationship with the planet’s natural processes seems to owe much more to a pre-existing sense of anxiety and insecurity about the humanworld than to anything produced by science.
Science – or ‘science’ – is merely the means by which this anxiety is expressed. Move forward through the exhibition, for instance, and another interactive display offers video vox pops of people in the street, including one woman saying that ‘without the government introducing some sort of nanny-state type initiatives, I don’t think that people will be pushing towards those things…’. Another game offers me the opportunity to play the part of a virtual energy minister – a kind of eco Sim City in which you can build different types of power plant, from tidal to coal, to cope with the virtual city’s energy demand and its emissions targets. This exhibition, much as climate-change alarmism, simply isn’t about science; it’s about establishing a basis – an ethic – for the management of public life.
The really exciting stuff in the Science Museum, the things I remember from my own childhood visits, are elsewhere in the building. The kinetic ‘hands-on’ exhibits, the working mechanical telephone exchange, the model of the first particle accelerator and, of course, the space gallery, are all far more interesting. The difference between these galleries andAtmosphere is that they seem to articulate what it is possible to do with science, rather than what it is necessary to do according to science. In the climate-change gallery, science is morally instructive; elsewhere science seems to respond to human needs, wants and ambition.
The interactive displays attempt to make the scientific content appealing. But they fail. Today’s children are not as easily confused about the medium and the message asAtmosphere‘s designers seem to think. Wrapping dry technical fact in hi-tech media hardware does little to stimulate an interest in the message in the way that young people can be encouraged to explore science by experiencing something with a genuine ‘wow factor’: this item took men to the moon; this was the machine that made communication possible across entire continents. The reality of science is that it is deadly boring until a person has developed an interest in both it and the world.
Back in the exhibition, a foreign-exchange student re-appropriates the space to take a nap. Younger children press screens randomly, desperately hoping to make the ‘interactive’ exhibits yield something interesting. Adults browse the screens with faux interest. The evidence is clear, the debate is over: climate change is not, as has been claimed by many, ‘our moon landing’, nor even the ‘defining issue of our generation’. The failure of the attempt to reinvent today in the terms of the Kennedy era is demonstrated by the endurance of the space gallery, seen in contrast to the already passé and frankly naff exhibits of Atmosphere.
The contrast between the space race and today’s low aspirations epitomised by Atmosphere invites a further comparison of the prevailing ideologies of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and their propaganda. For all the world’s deep and dangerous problems that belied the optimism surrounding the Apollo programme, and of Sputnikand Yuri Gagarin’s missions, they remain uplifting reminders of what is possible. The contemporary preoccupation with climate change, on the other hand, yields only joyless propaganda: an antithesis to the progress promised in the past.
Atmosphere fails in its own right as an interesting exhibition of science. As an attempt to engage the public, however, it is a superb exhibition of environmental dogma, of the establishment’s condescension and its disorientation and lack of purpose. ‘Science’ fills the void. It turns today’s politicians into mediums bearing important messages. It makes today’s bland politics seem responsive to an urgent necessity. And it creates stories to turn hollow political agendas into progressive visions of the future.
I have an article up on Spiked today, about the new climate change exhibition — Atmosphere — at the Science Museum, London.
A large wall of projected graphics greets you as you enter the London-based Science Museum’s new exhibition,Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science. Disembodied voices read the words that appear across the monolith: ‘Science can show us that greenhouse gasses are increasing… Science can show us that the carbon cycle is being disrupted… Science can show us what’s already changing…’ But for all the talk of science, it was eco-propaganda on display.
Why have UK media ignored climate change announcements?
Yesterday’s announcement that 2010 tied for the warmest year ever recorded on Earth was ignored by nearly all UK media outlets. How can this be?
Many people have offered their ideas about how this can be in the comments below his article. Ward is not given to listening, but in this case, he might be able to claim that the censorious instincts of the Guardian’s comment editors have prevented such advice from reaching him. Here’s some more advice to Ward, anyhow.
The fact — if it is one — that 2010 was the ‘hottest year’ was ‘known’ before 2010 began. In December 2009, the Met Office announced:
Climate could warm to record levels in 2010
A combination of man-made global warming and a moderate warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as El Niño, means it is very likely that 2010 will be a warmer year globally than 2009. […] The latest forecast from our climate scientists, shows the global temperature is forecast to be almost 0.6 °C above the 1961–90 long-term average. This means that it is more likely than not that 2010 will be the warmest year in the instrumental record, beating the previous record year which was 1998.
This statement had the following caveat:
A record warm year in 2010 is not a certainty, especially if the current El Niño was to unexpectedly decline rapidly near the start of 2010, or if there was a large volcanic eruption. We will review the forecast during 2010 as observation data become available.
The Met Office’s recent predictions have done more to damage their credibility than their successes have engendered confidence. The curious affair of its ‘secret’ cold winter advice to government comes at the end of a series of problems that the MO has made for itself, and now makes it seem yet more intransigent, and raises yet more questions about the purpose of forecasting. Do we forecast so that we can be ready for wind, rain, and snow; or is prediction now a political exercise — a ritual designed to remind us of something? This simple question is given greater weight, I believe, when we notice that contemporary politics completely devoid of almost any other substantive discussion about the future. The forecast decides our future for us — it is politically, morally, economically instructive.
And so it is a surprise to find to find MO staff treating their task so casually. For instance.. The 2010 forecast, made in late 2009, was another of its annual rituals, as sure as the seasons themselves…
Each December or January the Met Office, in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, issues a forecast of the global surface temperature for the coming year. The forecast takes into account known contributing factors, such as El Niño and La Niña, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, the cooling influences of industrial aerosol particles, solar effects, volcanic cooling effects if known, and natural variations of the oceans.
So, it looks as though the MO may have got it right in 2010. But, in 2007, its report promised.. exactly the same,
The world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007, the UK’s Met Office says.
An extended warming period, resulting from an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean, will probably push up global temperatures, experts forecast. [Jan 4 2007.]
… So, what’s the point in all those staff and computer equipment, if all you need to do to make a ‘forecast’ is to say the same thing over and over until it happens?
But the El Nino didn’t turn out to have the force behind it that the MO had imagined, and both quickly changed direction. Said the Guardian in August that year,
The forecast from researchers at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter reveals that natural shifts in climate will cancel out warming produced by greenhouse gas emissions and other human activity until 2009, but from then on, temperatures will rise steadily. Temperatures are set to rise over the 10-year period by 0.3C.
As we pointed out in early 2008, the MO’s, err… MO was straightforward…
The MO’s MO was to puts its money either on the developing El Nino or La Nina trend. And when global temperatures are getting as low as they have been in nearly three decades, predicting ‘a cold spell’ is no work of genius, and neither is the ‘prediction’ that it will get warm again… at some point. As we said, in April 2008, as snow covered the UK.
From here, it is likely that temperatures will rise after 2010, and that an El Nino event would follow, driving temperatures up again. Safe to say that the MET is on the money when it predicts an increase in 2010. Possibly. Maybe. either way, we have to wait… and remember… until 2010 to see if the gamble pays off.
Was this any more sophisticated a form of forecasting than this game show from the 1980s…
Meanwhile, the Met Office continued to make the same order of claims…
2008 is set to be cooler globally than recent years say Met Office and University of East Anglia climate scientists, but is still forecast to be one of the top-ten warmest years. … Global temperature for 2008 is expected to be 0.37 °C above the long-term (1961-1990) average of 14.0 °C, the coolest year since 2000, when the value was 0.24 °C
2009 is expected to be one of the top-five warmest years on record, despite continued cooling of huge areas of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as La Niña.
Perhaps surprisingly, the 2008 forecast was better than the 2009. 2008 came in tenth warmest year, but 2009 did not make the top 5. (According to the Hadley Centre).
But this post is supposed to be about 2010, and Bob Ward’s complaint that the media have ignored its record high temperature…
Not only was it ‘known’ that 2010 was the hottest ever year before it had even started, the claim was repeated by meteorologists and the media, throughout the year.
Just ten days into 2010, and the Guardian’s Robin McKie reported that,
It may be a hard notion to accept after a week that has seen the nation paralysed by snow and ice. Nevertheless, meteorologists are adamant that our world is still getting warmer. Indeed, many now believe that 2010 may turn out to be the hottest year on record.
‘It’s early days’, said the BBC’s Paul Hudson in February, ‘but it’s definitely first blood to NASA, The Met Office Hadley Centre and others in forecasting 2010 to be the warmest year on record.’
‘March and April warmest ever’, reported the Christian Science Monitor in May, and pointed to a US National Research Council report, which
…called for accelerated action to curb greenhouse gases, greater emphasis on research into technologies that will help wean the US from its fossil-fuel habit, and more focus on adaptation to global warming.
Later in May, Jonathan Leake of the Times said,
CLIMATE scientists have warned that 2010 could turn out to be the warmest year in recorded history. They have collated global surface temperature measurements showing that the world has experienced near-record highs between January and April.
‘June Was the Fourth Consecutive Month That Was Warmest on Record’, announced Science Daily, in July.
Later that July, the National Geographic added,
Thanks to a combination of global warming and an ocean-warming El Niño event, 2010 is set to become one of the hottest years ever recorded, a new report says.
In August, CBS reported that ‘Last month was the second warmest July on record, and so far 2010 remains on track to be the hottest year.’
In September, Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post claimed, ‘2010 headed toward being hottest year on record’.
While the year’s not over yet, 2010 is on track to tie 1998 as the hottest one on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that the first eight months of 2010 tied the same period in 1998 for the warmest combined land and ocean surface temperature on record worldwide.
The UK’s other alarmist newspaper, The Independent, repeated a claim from alarmist reinsurance firm, Munich Re, that 2010 had been an “‘exceptional year’ for weather disasters”.
2010 has so far been the warmest since measurements began 130 years ago. New temperature records were set in Russia (37.8 degrees centigrade) and in Asia (53.5 degrees in Pakistan).
As the year drew towards a close, and the COP16 talks began, Vicky Pope of the Met Office told Bloomberg,
The average temperature for the year through October shows 2010 will be one of the two warmest years in a series that goes back to 1850, said Vicky Pope, head of climate science at the Met Office. Scientists at the agency are preparing to revise data since 2000 to adjust for a new method that masked some of the rising temperature trend, she said.
And before the year was even out, the Telegraph headline read,
Cancun climate change summit: 2010 was hottest year on record
So to Bob Ward, we can say that the story he felt the media had ignored had in fact been running constantly throughout the year — all of it premature, and much of it . It was old by the time it was news. Far from being ignored, the press, meteorologists and politicians had been using the story to effect alarm, and momentum for their agendas. And perhaps that’s why the press now disappoint him. It simply isn’t news.
Ward and his fellow campaigners seem to need to have the climate change narrative running throughout the year, and attached to every weather-related news story. And it is this need which ultimately undermines the credibility of the science. It appears as a nakedly political effort, turning any story about human-interest or a scientific development into a campaigning tool. This precludes a sober public discussion about climate change, and turns it into something resembling a Hollywood B-movie. Ward wants you to read about the fact that 2010 was nearly as warm as the warmest year ever, until your eyes bleed. Or is he more like a man possessed by a religious fervour: everything becomes a sign… a SIGN… A SIGN!
However, there remains the controversy over the methodology by which NOAA and NASA GISS compile their data. And there remains the question about the significance of 2010 being nearly the warmest ever year, but not quite. Just as with the extreme events that caused chaos in New Orleans, foresight might well have prevented the devastation in Australia, which some alarmists are now trying to link to climate change. And there ought to be a public discussion — not about how tiny incremental changes in temperature produce catastrophes — but how such foresight could prevent tragedies such as experienced in Pakistan this year. The message of floods might well be that climate, changing or not, can be prepared for better than predicted, mitigated, or prevented. In other words, we shouldn’t let the forecasters do all the planning.
I have received a handful of threats by email and phone myself, which given my low profile is a measure of the extent of the problem. My better-known colleagues George Monbiot and Leo Hickman receive more.
So it’s clear that even in issues such as climate change there is an active fringe of people deploying violent rhetoric and hate mail against those with whom they disagree. Could that tip the balance between thought and action in the mind of an unstable individual? It’s a worryingly plausible thought.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
I suggested that Theodore Kaczynski’s (aka The Unabomber) manifesto bore uncanny resemblance to much of the narrative offered by the Guardian’s ecological team…
1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering—even in “advanced” countries.
2. The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down. If it survives, it may eventually achieve a low level of physical and psychological suffering, but only after passing through a long and very painful period of adjustment and only at the cost of permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine. Furthermore, if the system survives, the consequences will be inevitable: there is no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy.
3. If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later.
4. We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system. This revolution may or may not make use of violence: it may be sudden or it may be a relatively gradual process spanning a few decades. We can’t predict any of that. But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a political revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.
5. In this article we give attention to only some of the negative developments that have grown out of the industrial-technological system. Other such developments we mention only briefly or ignore altogether. This does not mean that we regard these other developments as unimportant. For practical reasons we have to confine our discussion to areas that have received insufficient public attention or in which we have something new to say. For example, since there are well-developed environmental and wilderness movements, we have written very little about environmental degradation or the destruction of wild nature, even though we consider these to be highly important.
… Thus, we might to want to look for clues about the expression of violence in the thinking behind it. Accordingly, we find in environmental ideology the belittlement of humanity, as I pointed out on the website:
Leo Hickman: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock-climate-change
James Lovelock: Unfortunately, Gaia is in trouble today, says Lovelock. It is infected by a virus called Homo sapiens. Humans are destroying ecosystems, killing off species in their thousands and destabilising climates. “We became the Earth’s infection a long and uncertain time ago, but it was not until about 200 years ago that the Industrial Revolution began: then the infection of the Earth became irreversible,” he says. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/01/biography-scienceandnature
John Gray: Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obiously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone the Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the humans have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with other that have yet to spring up. The earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.
In order to kill people, you must first dehumanise them, to make them sub-human, or undermine the value of humanity, such that people can become indifferent to people.
Carrington worries about the bit of hate mail he gets from deniers, conveniently ignoring missives sent the other way, and the casual disregard for democracy evinced by environmentalists as a matter of course.
But what he forgets most is that environmentalism is an open poison pen letter, to all humanity.
“Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change…”, “…a virus called Homo sapiens…”, “Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obiously worth preserving”, are not statements about something that is going to happen in the future; they are statements about the moral value of humanity.
Monbiot: It is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four: There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always— do not forget this, Winston— always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.
The point is straightforward enough. In order to do violence, one needs to have made oneself indifferent to the victim, either by making him sub-human, or by degrading entirely the concept of humanity.
And we don’t have to look hard for evidence of environmentalists doing precisely that.
Once you are convinced of the idea that humanity is like a cancer/virus/plague, it is undoubtedly easier to be indifferent to human suffering; at best, and to enjoy it, at worse.
The point is to see environmentalism as an ideology, just as with any other ideology of hate.
The Guardian moderator decided to delete my comments about Kaczynski, without even leaving the usual ‘This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.’ notice in place of the deleted comments that litter the CiF site. I repeated the comment, along with the suggestion that the moderator explains how my comment breaches their guidelines. No word from them, yet they deleted the comments. I now find the words…
Your comments are being premoderated.
… above the text entry field on the CiF website.
What could they possibly be afraid of?
‘Ad hominem’ argument? Nope.
Lies or libel? Nope.
All of these exist in abundance on the CiF website.
What seems to have upset the moderators at CiF is a straightforward argument that peoples’ attitudes towards other people are shaped by the ideas they are exposed to. The anti-human message of environmentalism makes it easier to be indifferent to humans, therefore.
So you can say that humans are a cancer on CiF. You can say that humans are a virus on CiF. You can say that the human race is ‘not obiously worth preserving‘.
But you can’t say that these ideas are dangerous. You can’t challenge these ideas. And you can’t hold the authors of these ideas to account.
Don’t believe the hype over climate headlines
Connor is complaining about the story run in the Independent a decade ago, claiming that
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
Three years of cold winters have caused sceptics to revisit claims about the UK’s winter climate and climate change.
Connors defence of the Indy’s headlines is that
Headlines are meant to draw people into a story and have to conform to quite rigid restrictions on space in the printed medium – where this headline first appeared. They are meant to be accurate, but they can never do full justice to the nuances of reporting. This is even more true when it comes to the more complex nuances of science.
Gosh, the Indy are worried about scientific nuance being lost in the headlines…
But the original article had indeed said what the headline said.
According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.
“Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.
David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes – or eventually “feel” virtual cold.
So while, Connor may be right to claim that
The headline in this case is not what the story itself said, as Dr Viner made clear. The story was about the frequency of snowfalls, and how “snow is starting to disappear from our lives”, which the it stated clearly.
He is only half right… And the fact is that the journalist, Charles Onians, incredulously reported the claims, giving emphasis to their shock value. Nonetheless, Connor blames the sub:
A more accurate headline would be something like: “Snowfalls are becoming less frequent in our little corner of the world but that doesn’t necessarily mean that snow will disappear from our lives completely and forever.” Unfortunately, any sub-editor who would suggest such a tediously long headline is unlikely to last very long.
Hmm. Yeah. Blame the sub… who, presumably also worked up this little gem from the delicate, scientific nuance contained in the story…
Who does Connor think he’s kidding? The Independent is just about as alarmist as it is possible to be. And that’s why things like this happen: