Green-Eyed Monsters

Few ecotastrophists will be disappointed that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has had to be shut down for at least a couple of months to fix a technical problem. Because, for a while there, the Greens’ perpetual thunder about the imminent thermageddon was stolen by newspaper headlines insisting that we couldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that fundamental physics would get us first.

Environmentalists have more to be jealous of particle physics than that their end of the world might be nigher than their own, however. Because, despite the best efforts of the press, by the time CERN scientists flicked what is presumably a very big switch indeed, causing the LHC to shudder into life and drive two beams of protons in opposite directions around a 27-km-long circuit at close to the speed of light and at pretty much absolute zero, the remote possibility of the end of the world didn’t figure in our collective imaginations. We were too interested in whether Higgs bosons would turn out to exist or if we would have to re-think our working models of the material universe.

Climate science cannot compete with that sort of thing. Once you strip out the apocalyptic environmental prophesies, it has little to offer the non-specialist. Which is why, if global warmers want more of the action, they have to make even more of their scary scenarios. So, to justify why he thought the £4.4billion spent on the LHC would have been better spent on climate change, Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, current president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and author of books about climate change that have pictures of polar bears on the cover, has little choice but to resort to hyperbole and extravagation:

David King: This money was spent on curiosity-driven research, which may conceivably have some impacts on our well-being in the future. I suspect it won’t. I think we’ve probably driven this type of research far enough that it’s now more navel-searching than searching for potential future developments for the benefit of mankind […]

Jeremy Paxman: So you say decide upon investment on the basis of what the likely outcome will be – search for a particular outcome like, for example, climate change solutions?

DK: Yes, that is what I’m saying, because I think we’re faced with the biggest challenge our civilisation has ever had.

Sir David has rather a quaint view of how science works in practice. Fortunately, Professor Brian Cox (the LHC’s single most important discovery prior to the technical hitch) is seated next to him:

With respect, I think that argument just doesn’t hold water. Because you could have made it at any point in the past. And at every stage of this journey to understand how the Universe works, the spin-off technologies and the knowledge that we’ve gained have proved to be immensely valuable. Nobody is clever enough to predict where the next wonderful discovery is going to come from […] You have to put CERN in its context. This is part of a journey that we’ve been on for about a hundred years to understand the building blocks of matter and what are the forces that stick them together. This journey has given us, for example, the transistor, the silicon chip […] it’s given us the ability to use particle beams to […] potentially kill brain tumours.

But it turns out that Sir David – like most members of the establishment, scientific or otherwise – is less concerned with the way that scientific funds are distributed than he is with the idea that technology – and society – is out of control:

At which point are we going to say ‘this particle accelerator is as big as we want to build’?

To which Cox responds with the only answer possible:

It depends what you discover and where you go next.

More here:

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The third Big Science du jour is biology. Next year, we celebrate Darwin’s double anniversary (the bi-centenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species). This comes at a time when the scientific world – not to mention the social one – is still trying to get to grips with the implications of the more recent genomics revolution. Combined, natural selection and genomics drive home the extent to which humanity is both part of, and apart from, biology. Biology resonates so deeply because it provides a mechanism for how very complicated things like humans can come about from really simple things like molecules without divine intervention, while at the same time highlighting just how different we are from the apes with which we share so much of our biological recipe. A bonus is that, fingers crossed, genomics might also lead to cures for a bunch of horrible diseases.

But even biology is inclined historically to bouts of physics envy. Indeed, the phrase was coined with biologists in mind. Physicists don’t have to prove their science is hard enough by picking fights. Biologists, however, are inclined to puff up their scientific credentials by belittling the really soft sciences, like psychology. Similarly, physics is man enough to entertain the possibility that it’s got it all arse-about-face. Biology doesn’t talk in terms of ‘working models’. Although neither does it stoop to talk of ‘the consensus’ like climate science does. Biologists might no longer be eugenicists by default, but they would rather not dwell on the fact that they once were.

And biology still feels the need to make promises to justify its worth to society. Just like climate science, only the latter is more desperate. So while biology promises salvation – cures for cancer and degenerative disease – climatology brings us the end of the world, sweetened by the glimmer of a hope of mere survival. As Brian Cox’s Newsnight contribution testifies, physicists don’t promise anything. They don’t have to; they’ve already got our attention.

It is striking that genomics and climatology are both failing to live up to their promises. While global warmers have to resort to rhetorical, proverbial ticking time-bombs and coalmine canaries, the modern genetic sciences must keep assuring us that all those gene- and stem-cell-therapies that were supposed to have cured us by now are even closer to emerging from the end of the pipeline than they were the last time we asked. It’s getting embarrassing. Five years ago, biomedical scientists would have thought nothing of wheeling a multiple sclerosis sufferer on stage at a public lecture or press conference and vowing that we’d have a cure within five years. They can’t get away with that anymore. Neither audiences nor MS sufferers will let them. Not because we don’t recognise the value of the research, but because most of us have by now twigged that science is a messier, less predictable business than the likes of the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science would still like us to think it is. Likewise, we are becoming increasingly immune to the doomsday predictions of environmental scientists. The only difference is that they don’t seem any less inclined to keep making them.

Biology does have a smattering of its own end-of-the-world scenarios: genetic modification, pandemics, and ‘thrifty genes’ that condemn us to obesity in a world of plenty might all lead to our downfall. And biological and environmental prophesies come together in James Lovelock’s likening of the human population to a virus plaguing Gaia; global warming, he says, is just her way of ridding herself of the infection.

Biology and climate change have much in common that neither share with particle physics. Read high-profile scientists and science commentators like Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers or Chris Mooney and you could come away thinking that all good scientists are evolutionists, environmentalists and atheists. Biologists and environmentalists both tend to perceive themselves as somehow under siege from those perpetrating a War on Science. One has its creationists; the other has its climate ‘sceptics’ or ‘deniers’. And if there are two things that Myers, Mooney and Dawkins don’t like it’s creationists and climate sceptics/deniers.

But it’s a mistake to think that creationists have anything much in common with climate sceptics. Being sceptical of the climate consensus is in a completely different kettle of ball parks to rejecting the evidence for evolution. At Climate Resistance, for instance, we don’t have a problem with evolution. We are quite happy to accept that evolutionary biologists are doing good science. We’d go as far as to say that evolution by natural selection is about as close as is possible to get to a scientific fact. Neither do we have much of a problem with the science of climate or the environment. We won’t grumble if you call it a fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that civilisation is producing quite a lot of it. Our problem is with the way that climate science is deployed politically, and the meanings that are attached to it. A few climate change sceptics do push the line that it’s all just a scientific conspiracy. But as we have argued many times, climate scepticism is a broad church rather than a specific ideology, and most sceptics are more concerned that climate science is being used as a substitute for politics than that it is a willful corruption of the scientific process.

Despite Iain Stewart’s assertion in the final episode of his BBC series Climate Wars that anthropogenic global warming is ‘one of the most rigorously tested theories in the history of science’ (we’ve covered Part Two here), it isn’t. Biologists have been scrutinising and testing evolution intensively for 150 years, compared to the 30 years that anthropogenic global warming has been under the spotlight. Sure, there are gaps in knowledge – eg, the evolution and maintenance of sexual reproduction, or the origin of self-replicating macro-molecules – but just like gaps in the fossil record, two are created every time you fill one. The gaps in our understanding of global warming are fewer but wider. Moreover, the truth of evolution is not dependent on the future course of human history and politics like the truth of catastrophic climate change is.

Evolution is the fulcrum about which the entire discipline of biology pivots. It is often said that biology makes no sense without evolution. It is biology’s theory of everything. Climate change, on the other hand, is a tapestry of ideas stitched together from climatology, psychiatry, sociology, political science, economics, ethics, physics, biology and chemistry. And it’s used to rewrite history. It is a theory of everything first and a science second.

Not only is evolution more scrutinised and more robust than climate science but it is more detached. Evolutionists are not demanding that society be restructured around the very existence of natural selection. And neither are creationists. They don’t have to believe in evolution to be perfectly happy to use the fruits of evolutionary biology to their own advantage – in agricultural and medical strategies in the arms races with pests and diseases,for example. Creationists just happen not to like the idea that their ancestors are monkeys. Environmentalism, however (and let’s not forget that environmentalism is – as environmentalists keep telling us – based on ‘the science’), asks that we restructure our societies and global economics in the light of climatology. Environmentalists draw on ‘the science’ to prove that Capitalism is flawed. And it is flawed, of course, but not because the thermometers say so. IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri tells us that we should all stop eating meat. Dr Iain Stewart concludes his Climate Wars series with a call for action – ‘the stakes are so high, doing nothing simply isn’t an option’.

But one may make of evolution what one will. Even the Pope says so. And while the vast majority in the UK have no problem with evolution, few sign up to the environmental agenda despite encouragement from all directions. It’s not like anybody voted for it or anything. But then, those evolutionary psychologists are on hand to explain what’s wrong with us and how we might be persuaded otherwise.

Meanwhile, physicists are still looking for their unifying theory. They are more aware of how much we don’t know. Mark Vernon argues that biology is the heartland of militant atheism; physicists, he says, tend to be agnostic.

By way of example, Vernon pitches The God Delusion, by biologist Richard Dawkins, against What We Still Don’t Know, by Sir Martyn Rees (astronomer). Intriguingly, Rees – President of the Royal Society – is not so modest when writing on environmental matters. In Our Final Century? he calculates that humankind has a 50% chance of wiping itself out by 2100. That’s one hell of a model he must be using there to calculate the next century of human history.

Physicists are only too happy to talk about how they don’t know what they’re going to discover tomorrow – or when the LHC goes back on line. Evolutionary biologists are notoriously uncomfortable about speculating on the future course of evolution. So why should we have so much more faith in the predictive abilities of a science that claims to tell us how to run the world for the next hundred years?

All this is not to knock climate change as a field worthy of study. At all. It would be very handy to be able to predict the climate. And the weather. Like transistors, lasers and vaccines have been handy. Like a cure for MS or a fusion energy source would be. And like a Higgs boson or Origin of Species doesn’t need to be, but might well be.

But let’s not forget it is only science. If the hockey stick graph doesn’t capture our imagination like the Higgs boson does, or like they think it should do, it’s not our problem – it’s theirs.

We wish the LHC a speedy recovery. And give the last word to Brian Cox: ‘Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat.’

More Climate Wars

Ben has an article on Spiked-Online today, about the BBC’s recent ‘Climate Wars’.

Iain Stewart, professor of geosciences communication at Plymouth University, introduced last week’s instalment with the words: ‘Global warming – the defining challenge of the twenty-first century.’ The programme examined the arguments made by the two putative ‘sides’ in the global warming debate, to show ‘how [the sceptic’s] positions have changed over time’. But Stewart misconstrued scepticism of the idea that ‘global warming is the defining issue of our time’ with scepticism of climate research. In this story, ‘the scientists’ occupied one camp (situated conveniently on the moral high ground) and the bad-minded, politically and financially motivated sceptics the other. But there was no nuance, no depth and no justice done to the debate in this unsophisticated tale, and it did nothing to help the audience understand the science.

Read on at http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/5753/

Biased Broadcasting Climate

Dr. Iain Stewart’s new BBC2 series Earth: The Climate Wars promised to be a ‘definitive guide’ to the climate debate. Instead, this week’s episode ‘Fightback’, which focused on the sceptics was as shallow and as hollow as any old commentary. The film’s blurb on BBC iPlayer, advertises it thus:

Dr Iain Stewart investigates the counter attack that was launched by the global warming sceptics in the 1990s.

At the start of the 1990s it seemed the world was united. At the Rio Earth summit the world signed up to a programme of action to start tackling climate change. Even George Bush was there. But the consensus didn’t last.

Iain examines the scientific arguments that developed as the global warming sceptics took on the climate change consensus. The sceptics attacked almost everything that scientists held to be true. They argued that the planet wasn’t warming up, that even if it was it was nothing unusual, and certainly whatever was happening to the climate was nothing to do with human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Iain interviews some of the key global warming sceptics, and discovers how their positions have changed over time.

Before the film has started, it is clear that it lacks objectivity. Notice how the blurb casts the players of the debate as either ‘scientists’ or sceptics’, as if they were mutually exclusive terms. Notice too, how it is supposed to be important that ‘positions have changed over time’, as though the counterpart argument had such integrity that it had never shifted, or responded to emerging evidence. Third, Stewart characterises the 1992 Rio summit (both in the blurb and in the film) as evidence of a consensus, which was seemingly attacked by ‘the sceptics’, when in fact, agreements and frameworks since then have failed for their non-viability, not because of any attack. And there was no such consensus in 1992. As we have pointed out before, in 1992, the ‘consensus’ was characterised very differently to today, and the UNFCCC agreements proceeded not on the basis of scientific evidence and certainty, but according to the precautionary principle.

As the headlines of the 1995 Summary for Policymakers from WGI of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report (a far slimmer document than today’s reams and reams of graphics and text) shows, the claims to have understood the climate were much more cautious than Stewart implies.

Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of long term natural variability and the time evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate. […]

1. Greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to increase

2. Anthropogenic aerosols tend to produce negative radiative forcings

3. Climate has changed over the past century

4. The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate

5. Climate is expected to continue to change in the future

6. There are still many uncertainties

Contrary to Stewart’s claim that the world was united by scientific evidence in the early 1990s, even by 1995, there was still only the ‘suggestion’, on the ‘balance of evidence’, that there had been a ‘discernible human influence on global climate’ – and that’s in the Summary for Policymakers document, which has consistently been far more alarmist than the more technical parts of the report. The First Assessment Report, which would have been the basis for the 1992 UNFCCC had concluded that ‘The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more’, making it clear that in the early 1990s, there could have been no consensus as Stewart describes it. As the 1995 report continued:

There are still many uncertainties

Many factors currently limit our ability to project and detect future climate change. In particular, to reduce uncertainties further work is needed on the following priority topics

• Estimation of future emissions and biogeochemical cycling (including sources and sinks) of greenhouse gases, aerosols and aerosol precursors and projections of future concentrations and radiative properties.

• Representation of climate processes in models, especially feedbacks associated with clouds, oceans, sea ice and vegetation, in order to improve projections of rates and regional patterns of climate change.

• Systematic collection of longterm instrumental and proxy observations of climate system variables (e.g., solar output, atmospheric energy balance components, hydrological cycles, ocean characteristics and ecosystem changes) for the purposes of model testing, assessment of temporal and regional variability, and for detection and attribution studies.

Future unexpected, large and rapid climate system changes (as have occurred in the past) are, by their nature, difficult to predict. This implies that future climate changes may also involve “surprises”. In particular, these arise from the nonlinear nature of the climate system. When rapidly forced, nonlinear systems are especially subject to unexpected behaviour. Progress can be made by investigating nonlinear processes and subcomponents of the climatic system. Examples of such nonlinear behaviour include rapid circulation changes in the North Atlantic and feedbacks associated with terrestrial ecosystem changes.

If there were still substantial uncertainties in 1995, then the characterisation of sceptics as changing their argument is highly disingenuous. The arguments they were responding to changed. Before the film has even started, it is apparent that it has false premises.

And in case viewers are still in any doubt about which ‘side’ Iain Stewart is on, the first words he speaks are ‘Global warming – the defining challenge of the 21st century’. This series is obviously intended as the antidote to the Great Global Warming Swindle. Indeed, don’t expect any complaints from the likes of the Royal Society about this one. If this is the definitive guide to anything, it is to how to dress up politics as a science documentary.

The film begins its exploration of the scientific arguments by outlining the sceptic’s objection to confidence placed in the temperature record obtained by weather stations, on the basis that they were too widely distributed to provide an accurate representation of global temperature. Stewart shows how this method had produced an upward trend throughout the 20th Century, but that it contradicted the satellite record produced after the late ’70s. Stewart asks which one is correct – the surface record, or the satellite data?

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This is not, as Stewart claims, a classic scientific problem as much as it is classic bad science. For example, which of the following is correct?

A: 2+2 = 7
B: 2+2 = 1

Stewart explains the urban heat island effect, which, according to him drove the sceptic’s argument, but says there is a counter argument. Across the world, there was evidence that the world was warming: earlier springs, glacial retreat, warming oceans, all of which ‘seemed to back up the thermometer record, not the satellites’.

It was deadlock. one side had to be wrong. And it wasn’t clear which one. Finally, after almost ten years of pouring over the data, someone did find a fault. And it was with the data from the satellites.

Again, why can’t they both be wrong? He goes on to describe how friction, and the consequential downward drift of satellites, distorted the signal being received from Earth. The satellite data was reanalysed, and found to show a slight warming trend.

Now even die hard sceptics had to accept that there had been some warming in the second half of the century. […] The rising temperature was now a fact. With satellites and thermometers confirming it. The sceptic’s challenge had actually made the case stronger. But the battle was far from over.

The logic of Stewart’s argument is that the surface record was correct because the satellite record was wrong. But this is only necessary in an argument in which the thermometer record speaks for ‘the scientists’ and the satellite record speaks for ‘the sceptics’, and all sceptics, and all scientists divide according to these positions. The implication here is that any warming measured by either method substantiates the claim that ‘global warming is happening’, where ‘global warming’ stands for ‘dangerous global warming’, which calls for the ‘something must be done’ of conventional wisdom. Accordingly, Stewart seems to characterise the sceptical position as ‘global warming isn’t happening, therefore it is not necessary to reduce CO2 emissions’. This is not a careful argument, because people – sceptical and not – have been questioning the leaps between observing that the earths temperature changes, the attribution of that change to humans, the conclusion that it will cause catastrophe, and that the only way to confront that catastrophe is by mitigating climate change through reduction in emissions. Each leap – and there are many more – produces its own arguments and counter arguments. The idea that the entire range of arguments rested, at any particular moment, on one paticular scientific controversy is a grotesque simplification of a debate with many sides to it, touching on political, social, economic, scientific and even ethical arguments.

Nonetheless, Stewart continues to the next controversy in the account: the sceptics were now arguing that the temperatures shown by the now synchronised satellite and thermometer records were not unprecedented in earth’s history. The Medieval warm period (MWP), he said they said, showed that today’s temperatures were not unusual. This section of the film begins in Greenland, and explores the idea that it was indeed once Green, to which the counter argument is that the MWP might not have been a global phenomenon. In order to show this idea, Michael Mann – the producer of the infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph – was introduced, amidst a whir of special effects. Mann’s graphic represented a reconstruction of past temperatures, not from thermometers or satellites, but by analysing data from proxies, such as tree-ring width, corals, and ice cores. This graphic is significant to the film for two reasons. First, it removed the Medieval warm period. Second, it depicted current temperatures well above any other time in its scope.

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It is interesting that Stewart should depict Mann as a victim of an attack on his integrity. As part of the team behind the RealClimate.org website, Mann and his team are famously unreserved in attacking their critics, rather than their critics’ work, and removing dissenting opinion from the comments section of the site. As a No Scientist article in 2006 pointed out, Mann’s aggressive character is noteworthy.

Mann, however, still brims with self-confidence. Now at Penn State University, he treats his critics with something close to contempt. “A lot of scientists would have retreated, but Mike is tenacious,” says Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, his collaborator on the climate science blog RealClimate. Mann’s style does not always help matters.

It is is even more surprising that Stewart decides not to investigate the substance of criticisms of Mann and his methodology. This has indeed arguably been one of the biggest scientific controversies in the climate debate. But Stewart does not inform his audience as to the nature of that controversy. Whatsoever.

The graphic Mann produced became an icon for the global warming cause when it was given prominence in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. The IPCC is widely regarded as being the authority on climate matters, and is intended to be a kind of super-charged peer-review process. But Mann was a lead author on the chapter in which his own study became the centrepiece. In short, Mann was peer-reviewing his own work. This makes about as much sense as a defendant sitting as judge at his own trial. Does this not raise questions about the integrity of the IPCC process?

Second, Mann refused – until recently, after he was ordered to – to release the data relating to his methodology, on the basis that it was his own private property. Similarly, climatologist and Professor at the UK’s UEA, Phil Jones – who worked with Mann on the reconstruction – told climate-realist, Warwick Hughes, who had asked for details about his methodology that

We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.

Mann and his team were refusing to explain how they achieved their result to people wishing to subject it to scrutiny – exactly what is supposed to happen in the scientific world, otherwise, it is not science. Mann was able to elevate his research by using his position as lead author. These are just two of the many reasons Mann was ‘attacked’ by the scientific and sceptical communities, and websites set up to examine his claims. Stewart, by not even mentioning this, does no justice to the debate. His omission is fairly straightforward bias.

For a full picture on the vast number of questions relating to his methodology generated by Mann’s graphic, visit Climate Audit where Steve McIntyre has documented his attempts to reconstruct Mann’s reconstruction. He also demonstrates that the other reconstructions presented by Stewart as a debunking of scepticism are not at all as independent from Mann as he suggests, nor are they compiled using substantially different methodology. For rebuttals to McIntyre, read Real Climate, ‘Tamino’s’ Open Mind (a misnoma, if ever there were one), and eli rabett (the cartoonish psuedonom of a commentator not brave enough to put his real name to frequently very childish arguments).

In 2001, the hockey stick alarmed the world. Today, it is widely regarded as a bit of an embarrassment. The 2007 IPCC (AR4) report’s chapter on paleoclimate reconstruction is far more circumspect.

On the evidence of the previous and four new reconstructions that reach back more than 1 kyr, it is likely [NB: “Likely” means greater than 66 percent] that the 20th century was the warmest in at least the past 1.3 kyr. Considering the recent instrumental and longer proxy evidence together, it is very likely that average NH temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were higher than for any other 50-year period in the last 500 years. Greater uncertainty associated with proxy-based temperature estimates for individual years means that it is more difficult to gauge the significance, or precedence, of the extreme warm years observed in the recent instrumental record, such as 1998 and 2005, in the context of the last millennium.

In other words, the hockey stick is not particularly significant. It does not ‘prove’ that today’s climate is warmer than ever before; nor are the findings of only marginal confidence given prominence. And here is the rub: Stewart overstates the importance of the sceptics’ case for a warmer MWP than present by saying that it would ‘prove’ to the world that anthropogenic climate change was false. Yet this is again a mischaracterisation, both of the range of sceptic’ argument, and the objections to Mann’s work. The challenge to the hockey stick concerned principally its undue prominence, and the lack of integrity of the IPCC process. The graphic was used, not as a device to further our understanding of the climate, and to build an effective response, but to serve as a vehicle for alarmism, and something that could be sold to the media as a conclusive, unchallengeable fact about humanitys influence on the climate.

The film continues to consider the argument in The Great Global Warming Swindle connecting the effect of solar flux on cosmic rays, and cloud formation. This was ‘debunked’, in spite of the strong statistical correlation until 1990, on the basis that the correlation ceases. But this correlation, ending as it does in 1990, must make for a good argument that temperatures prior to 1990 could be attributed to the sun. In other words, Stewart’s premise that a consensus, and a strong scientific argument both existed in the early 1990s was misconceived. At the very least, the question about the correlation between solar-cycle length and global temperature prior to 1990 has not been answered. Why did it end?

Stewart isn’t interested. From all this, he says, there is only one conclusion. Humans are responsible and emissions must be curbed:

There are only a tiny number of scientists who still question a human influence on climate. And yet climate scepticism hasn’t gone away. You’ll still see websites claiming that the world isn’t warming up, that it’s all down to the urban heat island. But that’s not true. You’ll still hear claims that there is proof that the Earth was hotter than during the medieval warm period. But that’s not true. And you’ll still hear people claiming that the sun somehow disproves global warming. But that’s not true either. So why is this stuff still around? The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t want global warming to be true. The fact is, I’m one of them. I wish there was no such thing as global warming, because taking action to prevent climate change is going to affect all our lives and mean giving up some of our freedom.

See what he did there? A seamless switch from the scientific to the political. Most scientists agree that humans have something to do with recent increases in global temperature, therefore we inevitably have to accept the politics of restraint. We all now have to change our lifestyles and give up our freedoms… because ‘most scientists say so’.

No argument is offered as to how Stewart knows that most scientists agree. As far as we are aware, no such poll has ever been taken. But more to the point, even if all scientists agreed, the way we live our lives, and the decision as to what liberties we ought to be entitled to are absolutely none of their business. Stewart clearly believes that an ‘ethical’ and political argument for action on climate change can be constructed purely on the basis of ‘scientific facts’. But how? And why should normal ethics and politics be suspended? Science may be able to shed light on the kind of future we might face, but it cannot tell us whether avoiding that kind of future altogether is better than another form of strategy. It cannot calculate the costs and benefits in human terms. And urgency is no substitute for legitimacy. This intellectual poverty is what drives objections to environmentalism. It is because demands for action to stop climate change use ‘facts’ in the same way that cavemen use clubs. They are blunt instruments of control, not careful arguments which persuade. To paraphrase Stewart, the problem is that there are a lot of people who NEED global warming to be true. Without it, they would be disorientated, and purposeless. As we say in our introduction, environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.

Let’s get it straight – most sceptics are not doubting that humans have contributed to a warming trend. Indeed, Stewart had already interviewed Pat Michaels, who had made it quite clear that he agrees that the world is warming, and Fred Singer, who had stated that his gripe is not with the readings of thermometers. Stewart has in his possession the very facts he needs to understand that he has mischaracterised the debate, the arguments, and the motives behind objections to climate change alarmism.

It is the necessity of giving up freedoms, Stewart goes on to say, which has lead companies to seek ways to undermine the climate change argument.

[youtube Mix8RlJYz58]
Of course. It’s all Bush’s fault.

And there’s a familiar argument in this claim that the ‘strategy’ of the sceptics was to create doubt… We’ve heard it before. If we look back over the film, we can see exactly the same argument being made here, as were made by Naomi Oreskes in her ‘Tobacco Strategy’ thesis: there were a small bunch who viciously and nastily attacked a bunch of nice scientists, and who cast doubt over well established scientific truths in order to control the media, and influence the public. Oh, and they’re Republicans. As we said of Oreskes thesis earlier in the year:

To find support for her Tobacco Strategy theory, Oreskes simply takes debates about acid rain, secondhand smoke and CFCs, and divides each into two positions such that, with the benefit of hindsight, one is necessarily false, and the other is necessarily true; she polarises the debate so that it can be cast as a reasonable position versus a ridiculous one. From this vantage point, she can claim that a strategy has been in place throughout. But what debate with a scientific element to it wouldn’t be about how well understood the science is? Which one of these debates hasn’t involved exaggerated claims from alarmists? And what demands for regulation have not been met by opponents that it is not necessary. The Tobacco Strategy is a rather mundane observation about the nature of arguments. Yet Oreskes gives it enough significance to paint a picture of a conspiracy. As we have argued before, this search for geometric congruence between “denialist” arguments comes at the expense of meaningful moral or political analysis. And by the same token, it could be argued just as easily that demands for acting on the best scientific evidence and scientific opinion makes bedfellows of greens and the eugenicists of the early-mid 20th century.

Stewart’s film is no different. The actual arguments for ‘drastic and urgent action’ to mitigate climate change are paper thin, so in order to make the case, Stewart and Oreskes re-write history. In fact, Stewart had little to do with it. As the credits of the first episode reveal, Oreskes was involved with the writing of the film, and it can be no accident that the second episode bears such a resemblance to her mucky thesis.

Finally, although the film promised interviews with the sceptics, this amounted to no more than Stewart accosting various people in the lobby of the Manhatten conference, to, rather childishly, challenge them, rather than understand their position. This failure to understand what he is arguing against is particularly well demonstrated by this last section.

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Stewart has invented the idea that, since the whole debate began, sceptics have lost arguments to the scientists. But as the very footage he shows reveals, it is not the case that scepticism ever rested on the scientific argument. Of course some sceptics may have focussed on some scientific aspects of the discussion exclusively. But Stewart, like Oreskes, needs to make the case that scepticism is one idea, with one purpose, akin to an ideology, because setting up strawmen is the only way these two can challenge arguments they clearly do not understand. They falsely cast the debate as opposed sides, without any nuance of argument or position. They falsely casts sceptics as those who disagree with the science, whereas many sceptics raise questions about the equally questionable politics, ethics, and economics of the argument for action. They seem to be advocating action to mitigate climate change on the basis that a correlation between CO2 and global temperature is sufficient to make the political and moral case. And they are unreflective about their own political stance on the issue, appearing to believe that theirpolitical position is legitimised by the climate science.

As Stewart told the BBC in an interview for the press release announcing the film, he has a clear agenda, and it ain’t informing the public:

If society is to make any progress on effectively dealing with climate change at a regional or global level, what is imperative is that ordinary people help build a political climate at grass-roots level that accepts the problem exists and demands some serious actions by business and government. For me, that begins with people accepting that there is no hiding place left in the science – the overwhelming consensus of the vast body of scientists that study climate is that the trends we are seeing in the air, the oceans and in our ecosystems are entirely consistent with the theory of global warming, while the alternatives offered by sceptical scientists – even the much heralded role of the Sun – so far fail that test.

Blaming scientific uncertainty is now not an option to delay action. Sure, actions by individuals can make a difference, but real progress will only come when individuals come together with a strong, common voice to demand that rhetoric turns into regulation. And that’s where I see my role – in convincing ordinary folk that this is an issue that they should care about, not because it will affect them but, more insidiously, it will be their legacy to their kids and grandkids.

The same, self-aggrandising, alarmist nonsense can be found anywhere. And to find the arguments which debunk it, and are sceptical of it, you don’t have to seek out some dark, nasty, politically-motivated organisation. They can be found in the very words offered to us by non-sceptical climate scientists.

We’ve been citing Professor Mike Hulme (Tyndall and UEA) a lot recently. But his contributions to climate debates demonstrate perfectly the discrepancy between the shrill cries for action, such as those of Stewart, and what actually emerges from the scientific process, when those scientists aren’t engaged in political activism. Compare Hulme’s words to Stewart’s:

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