The Guardian have annouced that ‘2010 was the Year of the [climate] Sceptics‘.
But, says the Guardian, sceptics should not sleep easy in their beds; ‘science’ is making a comeback…
By contrast, 2011 could just see the triumph of science, for two reasons.
First, the facts are increasingly stark. 2010 looks set to equal or exceed 1998 as the warmest year on record. And it doesn’t stop there. 1998 hit record levels in part because it coincided with the warming impacts of ‘El Nino’. By contrast, 2010’s highs have happened despite the cooling influence of ‘La Nina’.
Second, in the wake of Climategate, scientists are realising that pure research ain’t enough: they need to communicate much better, too – and engage openly with their adversaries. The more that happens, the more threadbare the rhetoric of denial will appear. The grudging agreement reached at Cancun will help; all the more so because both China and India have come on board as never before.
The hack-activists at the Guardian still believe that the debate divides on ‘the science’, such that one side consists of ‘scientists’ and the other, ‘sceptics’/’deniers’. This is a view of the debate that this blog has spent much time debunking, to spend much time repeating it would be pointless; they’re simply not listening. Briefly, then…
2010 was ‘the year of the sceptics’, not because the sceptics triumphed, but because climate alarmism weakened.
Climategate didn’t do as much to undermine climate science as it undermined the picture that the Guardian — amongst others — had painted of climate scientists as saintly warriors for truth. Once its silly cartoonish view of the debate had suffered embarrassment, so too did its entire argument. The point the Guardian misses in its observation that ‘that pure research ain’t enough’, is that it never was ‘pure research’ driving the debate; ‘pure research’, that is, in either the sense of unadulterated science or morally unimpeachable — both senses being interchangeable in the Guardian’s bizarre narration of the climate debate. Scientists, if they ‘come out’ as the Guardian are anticipating, will only reveal more of the same. Let’s welcome them, whichever putative side they belong too… If only there was allowed to be a debate, were it not not for the shrill histrionics from that newspaper… Bring it on.
This doesn’t mean scepticism will melt away overnight. With the impacts of global warming, as ever, lagging behind the rise in temperatures, the sceptics will still find a hearing. And they’ll be fired up by a new kind of energy. For years, advocates of bold action on carbon cuts have argued that energy insecurity strengthens their case. That’ll be harder to maintain now that shale gas has entered the mix. Not only is it relatively cheap, but there is a truly humungous amount of it in the USA. The science may be settled, but the coming year will show that the debate is far from over.
2009-10 was even more a catastrophic episode for climate-environmentalism because its incoherence as a political idea became obvious as it got closer to being reproduced in real, functioning, political institutions and bureaucracies. COP15 didn’t fail to produce a meaningful agreement because it was invaded by sceptics; it fell apart because too much moral and political capital was invested in ‘the science’. Yet the Guardian still believe that all that it will take for ‘the sceptics’ to be routed is a year that is 0.01 degrees hotter than the previous, and ‘scientists’ bashing sceptics round the head with the proof. This is precisely the expectation which has undermined climate science. You can make any argument you like, and expect it to be taken as unadulterated truth, as long as its premise is that ‘climate change is happening’.
So what kind of year will 2011 be? This Last year, we made our own predictions on this blog:
First, we are anticipating that “scepticism” or “denial” – call it what you want – will become more organised this year, perhaps it already is. Second, although the climate issue is not going away, it has suffered terrible PR, and there is widespread recognition that the climate change pudding has been over-egged. We anticipate that the environmental debate will begin to refocus around the issue of over-population, rather than climate.
The sceptics have yet to prove themselves as organised as we thought they could be. Sadly it seems that many critics of environmentalism are still preoccupied with the idea that the science by itself is sufficient to understand and challenge the excesses of environmentalism. We’ve argued here that this is to mirror the mistake that environmentalists make; to believe that a negative or static temperature trend will defeat eco-dogma. Perhaps worse, it seems that where sceptics do venture more political arguments, it is to reinvent the political battles of the past than to shed any real light on the present. The use of the climate issue to reanimate lifeless political traditions and the conflicts they define themselves by speaks to the vacuity of the perspectives comprising the wider debate, not merely the climate issue. And that makes the second prediction yet more relevant; the climate issue could disappear from public life tomorrow, and barely a tenet of environmentalism will have been challenged. Climate alarmism will be able to simply slide into some other ground: the population issue.
So for 2011, I think we can say to the Guardian that if they thought 2010 really was ‘the year of the sceptic’, they ain’t seen nothing yet… They are their own worse enemy, and it seems that, judging by their recent articles, there is considerable scope for them to continue undermine themselves, without the help of sceptics.
But… in all seriousness, as several recent posts on this blog have discussed, the population genie is out of the green bottle. It is becoming respectable and mainstream with the help of media-friendly, but geriatric household names, such as Sir David Attenborough; and scientists such as the previous president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees; and James Lovelock. Being much less abstract an idea than climate change, Malthusianism will be an easier thing to sell to a public suffering from ‘austerity measures’, rising unemployment, increasing costs, and an increasingly detached political class and an ever more hopeless political opposition.
Happy new year!