The Year of the Sceptic?

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 yetThey 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!

22 thoughts on “The Year of the Sceptic?”

  1. The sceptics have been wining many battles; let’s end the global warming scam for good in 2011 because the scammers don’t have the observed data to back up their CAGW theory. We will end this scam by shouting the obvious fact. The general public is waking up to the see the truth behind the CAGW scam.

  2. It seems to me we’re hearing less about the “scientific consensus” these days. Not that the arguments have changed, but that particular phrase seems to be tossed around less often.

    I also think people are pointing to AR4 as the ultimate climate change authority far less often than they used to.

    Small victories, perhaps, but important ones 🙂

  3. So the argument now hinges upon the differences between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’.

    OK then: Can we control the weather? NO. Can we control the climate? NO.

    So, whichever way you cut it, if we can’t control the weather, we can’t control the climate and if we can’t control the climate we can’t control the weather.

    Catch 22 ……..END OF!

  4. Jack, I don’t believe it is helpful to either think or talk about the climate debate in terms of ‘scams’. The word ‘scam’ implies more than we can reasonably demonstrate, and it again mirrors the excesses of the environmentalists’ argument. For E.G., plenty of Greens equally argue that climate change ‘denial’ is a ‘scam’ designed by ‘big oil’ to allow the continuation of profit-making.

    Donna, I take the ‘Splattergate’ affair as the epitome of the climate-alarmists’ self-destructive tendency. That did more damage to the arguments made by climate activists than anything climate sceptics could muster. At the ‘respectable’ end of the environmental movement, COP15’s epic failure was also very little to do with criticism of environmentalism. Even Climategate depended on the leaking of unguarded comments, not a substantive critique of, or challenge to environmentalism. ‘Sceptics’ need to aim much, much higher. Climate alarmism does not begin and end with the claim that ‘climate change is happening’.

  5. The article you quote from is on their Guardian Professional site. It’s attributed to “Green Futures, part of the Guardian Sustainable Business Network” and is a follow-up to this article
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/2011-sustainable-futures
    which is even dafter, forecasting that in 2011:
    “The tide turns on the sceptics, for all the right and wrong reasons. Stung by the fallout of climate- and glaciergate, scientists get better at arguing their case. They’re bolstered by the highly convenient truth that 2010 is, give or take a decimal point, the world’s warmest year ever recorded. And by the fact that the media, mercurial as ever, will at some point decide that climate change is newsworthy after all – just as a heatwave strikes”.
    Neither of these articles turns up on Guardian Environment, presumably in order to avoid the ridicule regularly poured on all warmist articles by readers.
    We know from Environment Editor John Vidal that global warming is “editorial policy” at the Guardian. Now we know from the above article that they are waiting for a heatwave to make their policy “newsworthy”.

  6. Typical dishonest spin from the Grauniad, trying to imply that all scientists are on the alarmist side. The change in the comments at the Graun has been amazing over the last year or so. Not so long ago anyone expressing a sceptical view was torn to pieces, but now the sceptics seem to be a majority, with well argued points, see the thread you link to for example.
    I would agree with your predictions for 2011:
    * Belief in CAGW will continue to decrease among the general public.
    * More scientists will “come out” as sceptics.
    * The few remaining believers will become increasing irrational and hysterical (as you say, undermining themselves).

  7. “We anticipate that the environmental debate will begin to refocus around the issue of over-population, rather than climate.”
    And well it should. Can anyone doubt that global warming/climate change is directly related to the amount of people on this planet and their increasing dependence on greater industrialization and technology. Yes, the traditional leaders of overpopulation reform are aging but with women and men both becoming more educated overpopulation will emerge as the obvious culprit that must be controlled.

  8. Can anyone doubt that global warming/climate change is directly related to the amount of people on this planet and their increasing dependence on greater industrialization and technology.

    Yes.

  9. Overpopulation is a red herring. Almost every country on the planet has an aging population now. Carbon emissions are therefore irrelevant. According to Wikipedia “Globally, the growth rate of the human population has been declining since peaking in 1962 and 1963 at 2.20% per annum. In 2009 the estimated annual growth rate was 1.1%.” That is not enough to cover the death rate. A declining global population is a much bigger problem facing humanity than AGW ever was.

  10. Happy New Year to you as well, Ben!

    I agree with your criticism of the way many sceptics criticise environmentalism. For myself, although I accept that the situation is more about politics than science, I feel far more comfortable arguing about science – probably like many other sceptics. But irrespective of whether the focus is on the science or on the politics, the arguments nearly always seem to end up going round in circles or else petering out. You’ve captured the sense of claustrophobic frustration perfectly with the “Guardian’s bizarre narration”.

    The reliance on emotional rather than factual argument has something distinctly PC about it. Perhaps the Guardianistas think of people in developing countries as the perfect victim class, ready and waiting for some climate justice from the decadent guilt-filled West – but without ever seeing the contradictions raised by their own proposed solutions, or the damage their attitudes do to realistic hopes of environmental improvement. I think that population and all of the other environmental issues have a very similar profile, and should therefore be amenable to similar criticisms. For those of us who struggle a little with the political arguments, would you say that it is useful to think of environmentalism in PC terms or is this simply more reinvention of “political battles of the past”?

  11. There is no population crisis. There is an Africa crisis.

    Over-population will never be able to replace CO2-alarmism because 1) ordinary people can follow the arguments and don’t have to defer to “experts”; 2) the figures are pretty hard to manipulate to “persuade” your audience; and 3) there is nothing we can do directly in the West to solve the issue.

    People will be persuaded by Malthusian arguments only if they are naturally pessimistic or want to believe in order to back hair-shirt causes.

    So population worries will never really gain traction. My prediction is that something else will be needed. I guess is that it will be a return to nuclear proliferation concerns or destruction of the seas by pollution and over-fishing.

  12. What Mooloo has just said reminds me of Starvid’s sig on Daily Kos:

    “Peak Oil is NOT an energy crisis — it is a LIQUID FUEL crisis.”

  13. You say of the Guardian envronment journalists: “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”.
    That’s one prediction verified already, at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2011/jan/05/ecocide-law-ratcliffe
    where an eco-barrister, arguing for a law against ecocide, compares the energy company E.ON with the Nazis. First Splattergate moment of the New Year.
    I’m not at all convinced though by your argument that the disappearance of global warming as a worry would lead to a similar hysterical concentration on population.
    First, population growth, unlike global temperatures, can be predicted with some confidence, since it has been shown to be closely linked to factors such as income and female literacy. Second, there is a genuine political and scientific debate on the subject, with both sides having media access. Third, no political group is publicly committed to an unworkable policy on the subject, as all parties are on climate change. I just can’t see how the present generation of British and European politicians can back down on this.

  14. Geoff, I don’t have the same confidence in population predictions. They’ve always failed to materialise. Moreover, how many people there will be isn’t really the point.

    I take your point about the political realities for EU and UK politicians. But then, what has been the point of building supranational political institutions, if it is not to save politicians from their domestic problems?

  15. Ben,
    You said “how many people there will be isn’t really the point.” Do you mean that the actual future population will be irrelevant, or something else? When greens state that future population is a problem demanding 1 child per woman (or whatever else they propose), how can one argue against them except by pointing out that the best available predictions suggest there is no need for such action?

  16. Ben
    I didn’t mean that demographers necessarily get the right answer, in terms of total population at a given date, but that there is a close correlation between fertility rates and such factors as wealth and female literacy, and general agreement that total population will rise, level off, and then fall slowly. That’s enough to silence Malthusian fears of runaway population growth. The subject can therefore be discussed rationally, as can biodiversity and ocean acidification.
    Only global warming escapes this rule of normal rational discourse, because of the unique structure of international agreements holding it up. The only political forces which look capable of opposing climate change insanity are those which are opposed to the UN and EU on principle – i.e. far right groups like the Tea Party and UKIP.
    There was a point to building supranational political institutions, other than saving politicians from their domestic problems – preserving world peace for one, and no doubt a whole lot of useful international work done by UN and EU organisations.

  17. Philip – ‘Do you mean that the actual future population will be irrelevant, or something else? When greens state that future population is a problem demanding 1 child per woman (or whatever else they propose), how can one argue against them except by pointing out that the best available predictions suggest there is no need for such action?’

    This creates the same problem as answering environmentalism by just saying ‘climate change isn’t happening’; saying that population will stabilise is to accept the premise that if it rises it is a problem. The real problem in the argument is the Neo-malthusianism. I.e. the problem is in what it says about humanity, and its relationship to the natural world. If this blog is about anything, it’s about making the argument that environmentalism’s claims should not be taken at face value.

  18. Geoff – there is a close correlation between fertility rates and such factors as wealth and female literacy, and general agreement that total population will rise, level off, and then fall slowly.

    I think that this observation — if it’s true — is of a completely contingent effect. It could well be otherwise: that women had many babies, yet studied to advanced degree. And while it may look like a positive, it could be that women are reproducing less in advanced economies simply because they don’t have the time; not because they are more able to express their freedom to choose.

    There was a point to building supranational political institutions, other than saving politicians from their domestic problems – preserving world peace for one, and no doubt a whole lot of useful international work done by UN and EU organisations.

    What world peace? When?

    I think the good stuff that’s been done by the UN could have been done without the supranational political bit. It’s one thing to create a worldwide programme of vaccination; it’s another entirely to create political treaties and agreements controlling CO2 emissions.

  19. I’m a little surprised that no one has picked up on this absolutely blatant misrepresentation by the Graun:

    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’.

    The high tropospheric temperatures that characterised 2010 were the direct result of a strong El Nino that developed over 2009/2010 and persisted until late summer 2010.

    The now strongly developing La Nina has finally lowered tropospheric temperatures to the 30 year mean:

    http://discover.itsc.uah.edu/amsutemps/execute.csh?amsutemps

    And the record temperatures of 1998 were entirely down to the ‘super’ El Nino of that year.

    This is either the work of a grossly ill-informed journalist, or a dishonest one.

  20. Ben – ‘This creates the same problem as answering environmentalism by just saying ‘climate change isn’t happening’; saying that population will stabilise is to accept the premise that if it rises it is a problem. The real problem in the argument is the Neo-malthusianism. I.e. the problem is in what it says about humanity, and its relationship to the natural world. If this blog is about anything, it’s about making the argument that environmentalism’s claims should not be taken at face value.’

    Thank you, I think I understand your position a little better now, and if so agree with it. Can I put this argument together with your earlier suggestion that we need to find some positive alternative to environmentalism, and claim that the alternative would simply make different assumptions about the relationship between humans and the natural world? I found a 1992 article by Goklany and Sprague that seems to me to be talking about this:

    ‘”Sustainable development” means different things to different people. Its definition is intentionally vague to increase the possibility of compromise on thorny issues on which reasonable people may differ. To those inclined toward balancing economic and environmental goals–as are the authors of this study–“development” implies economic growth, and “sustainable” implies full consideration of environmental factors. It is becoming abundantly clear, however, that to others the term implies virtually no additional economic development. The latter position is based on the argument–made with great emotion but insufficient facts and analysis–that the current path of development is clearly unsustainable because the planet is about to choke on humanity’s wastes and there is not enough land to meet everyone’s demands.’

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1035

    Thinking about the likely consequences of these contrasting viewpoints, it seems to me that the results of following through with the neo-malthusian ideas would be far worse than those associated with almost any environmental threat. With this in mind, I’m somewhat disinclined to accept suggestions that environmentalism is dissimilar to the 20th century horrors – at least in terms of its likely ultimate effect.

  21. Philip – Can I put this argument together with your earlier suggestion that we need to find some positive alternative to environmentalism, and claim that the alternative would simply make different assumptions about the relationship between humans and the natural world?

    I’m not too sure of the context of my point about the alternative.

    There are two things that spring to mind. The first is that environmentalism is a response to something. That is to say that it is, to some minds, an answer to a problem, which may not really be ‘about’ the environment or our relationship to it. The idea in much environmentalism seems to be that a life in proximity to nature will be a more authentic experience of life than life in advanced industrial society.

    So, second, not taking environmentalism at face value, my point (if I understand you correctly) is not that an alternative to environmentalism will mirror it directly by re-articulating a relationship as the ground-level of a political idea. On the contrary, my broader argument is that we should concentrate on human relations, and that it is a breakdown of these relations that has led to the preoccupation with the environment.

    The real point then, is that the condition of environmentalism’s ascendency is merely the weakness of alternatives, left and right, or whatever. The problem of environmentalism is the emphasis it puts on the relationship between society and environment. It emphasises the primacy of this relation, so to speak. An alternative would hopefully re-orient emphasis on ourselves. So there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any assumptions that emerge from an alternative.

    I like the Goklany quote. However, it should be seen in the context of politically exhausted left-ish and right-ish camps seeking new ground on the environmental issue. For e.g. the article continues:

    The only way to feed, clothe, and shelter the greater world population that the future will inevitably bring–while limiting deforestation and loss of biodiversity and carbon dioxide sinks–is to increase, in an environmentally sound manner, the productivity of all activities that use land.[3] Such increases are possible only within a legal, economic, and institutional framework that relies on free markets, fosters decentralized decisionmaking, respects individual property rights, and rewards entrepreneurship. Such an approach is the best hope for a world facing severe pressure on its land base, yet it has been noticeably absent from recent, much-publicized strategies that purport to lead us to sustainable development, conserve biological diversity, and combat global deforestation.

    The fact is that by 1992, market orthodoxy was so well established that it didn’t need emphasis, and it wasn’t as much challenged by environmental regulation as it was augmented. Cap and trade, for instance, isn’t the creation of a socialist institution, as many sceptics have seen it as, but is instead merely the creation of private property that had been ‘common property’.

    The point here is not to say ‘the left did it’, or ‘the right did it’, but that both collapsed into environmentalism, or descended to it. Notice that Goklany makes an argument for free markets, not as a virtue in its own right, but as mere practical means made necessary by looming ecological catastrophe. In the words of Thatcher — who ended up doing the same — “there is no alternative”.

Leave a Reply to Bob Ashton Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *