Ward Loses Patience

Among the most absurd elements of climate change debates is the persistence of the issue of ‘funding’. Absurd because at the same time that science is held to give uncorrupted and incorruptible instructions about how to respond to a changing climate, it is also held – by the very same people – to be vulnerable to ‘attack’ and ‘distortion’ by financial interests. This form of argument has been deployed by alarmists to diminish the credibility of anyone challenging the ‘consensus’, whether or not they actually challenge ‘the science’. According to this logic, anybody who has any sympathy with any sort of contrary argument, if they aren’t part of the organised conspiracy to ‘distort the science’, have been brainwashed by it.

It’s also absurd because no matter how hard an attempt is made to divide the debate between good and bad, funded and unfunded, interested and disinterested, the argument fails. For every vested interest in ‘business as usual’, there is a venture capitalist lobbying for legislation that will create a market for their carbon finance products. For every ‘politically-motivated’ argument standing against the Kyoto Protocol and its successor, there is an ideologue angling to reorganise society according to the tenets of environmentalism. For every ‘denial’ of climate change science, a hundred more liberties are taken with the facts in the other direction.

It’s even more absurd because those who shriek the loudest about the corrupting influence of dirty oil money tend to have far more than their fair share of power in climate debates.

Talking of which, we are flattered that Bob Ward – Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, erstwhile Director of Public Policy at risk insurance giants RMS and before that, Senior Manager for Policy Communication at the Royal Society – has dropped by to give his thoughts on our observation that, if you’re going to go around accusing the opposition of corruption, you’d better be whiter than white yourself. We suggested that Ward’s obsession with Exxon is rather ironic given his own links with the risk insurance industry. And, of course, the risk insurance industry has at least as much to gain from climate alarmism as Exxon has from playing down the dangers.

Except that the only thoughts that Ward has actually offered consist of accusations that… you’ve guessed it… that we are motivated by our own dodgy financial interests:

Dear Ben and Stuart,

Who needs ‘LinkedIn’ when you can have hilarious pages on spoof websites like this devoted to your career! Congratulations on one of the most imaginative attacks on me yet – it ranks alongside ExxonMobil’s attempts to convince Chris Huhne MP that there were question marks over my departure from the Royal Society!

I was hoping to gauge whether I was demonstrably more corrupt than you, but sadly you seem to be a bit shy about revealing the identity of your paymasters. Do tell!

Then, in true Pythonesque Spanish-Inquisition style, he adds:

I didn’t expect you to reveal your sources of financial support, and you didn’t disappoint. Or maybe you really are independently wealthy and don’t need to work for a living. Just like Prince Charles, eh chaps? Pip pip!

If Ward can be so wrong in this instance – and, for the record, he is utterly wrong on both counts – it does rather make one wonder about the veracity of any of his other accusations.

You are welcome to make of it what you like. We are aware that one mustn’t make too much of the witterings of a PR professional. But, at the very least, we’d expect rather more from a PR professional of Ward’s credentials, especially one who claims to speak for science – as Ward does in his many indignant open letters to his various nemeses. No, maybe not.

Anyway, like one commenter, we are intrigued to find out what Ward actually thinks is ‘imaginative’ about our account. All we have done is pull together a bunch of factual observations about the political, business and academic interests of Ward and his associates. No imagination necessary. But Ward is too busy with the ‘ad hominems’ to say what might actually be wrong with the piece.

It would seem that Ward is aspiring to the standards set by his former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, who, while on the one hand, insists that we ‘respect the facts‘ (as designated by the Royal Society), is only too willing to make up stuff as it pleases him as long as it serves his political ends.

As we pointed out a long time ago, Greenpeace’s attempts to establish the size of the conspiracy to distort science culminated in a total failure of the argument. Their Exxonsecrets website aimed to demonstrate the flow of cash between the oil giant and a network of think tanks, and found a trail of cash amounting to $22 million between 1998 and 2006. Their own budget for the same period was $2.1 billion. For every dollar that Exxon is alleged to have spent on distorting the debate, Greenpeace spent a thousand on their own propaganda effort.

What does it prove? Not very much. All it says is that the issue of funding and interests isn’t clear cut, and in fact cuts both ways. But it does suggest that Grantham’s Policy and Communications Director is getting rather desperate if he is resorting to hurling accusations of dodgy funding at a couple of lowly bloggers.

If you think we are getting a bit over-excited by all this, you’re probably right. But the point is that, while people shriek that interests corrupt, it’s not just profits and careers that are being established on the back of climate change anxiety – an entire climate change industry and national and international political institutions are being constructed with the objective of changing the way we live. What we have argued on this blog is that, whatever the scientific truth about climate change, it doesn’t call for special politics and special political institutions that are, for the sake of our survival, above criticism and scrutiny. Bob Ward and his ilk seem to think that this industry and these institutions – which he has played his own small part in manufacturing – are above scrutiny, and that all he needs to do to dismiss any criticism is point his fingers and cry ‘Exxon!’. Given the lack of popular support for the restructuring of political systems on environmental grounds, perhaps Ward’s boss at Grantham, Lord Stern, should consider getting a new Public Relations man.

Gore Mouthing-Off About Make-Believe Madoffs

Our last post concerned the New York Times article by Andrew Revkin, about allegations of a ‘tobacco strategy’ conspiracy to distort the climate debate in the interests of energy companies.

The story was used by Al Gore in testimony to congress, in which he accuses the group of a fraud larger than that committed by Bernie Madoff, as Think Progress reports. They also upload a video and transcript of Gore’s speech, which makes this post much easier to write.

[youtube 43scwzZ7zto&]

Gore says:

The largest corporate carbon polluters in America, 14 years ago, asked their own people to conduct a review of all of this science. And their own people told them, “What the international scientific community is saying is correct, there is no legitimate basis for denying it.” Then, these large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff’s fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted, and like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money.

But as we point out, this is just wrong. Here’s a quick recap of why.

  • The review took place in 1995,  but the information it allegedly contradicts was circulated in the early 1990’s, according to the evidence. Logically, therefore, no contradiction emerges from the evidence. 
  • The documents only contradict each other when quoted from selectively. (See below for quotes).
  • The claim of fraud can only be made
    • by blurring distinctions between logically distinct categories of knowledge
    • by ignoring the order of events
    • by reducing matters of degree to binary true/false axioms
    • by exaggerating the influence of the alleged conspiracy. 

The allegation made in the NYT article focuses on two quotes, one in the material published by the group, the other is from the review. 

[Published, early 1990s] “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

[Review, 1995] “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

But the full paragraph from the review reveals that no contradiction exists in the evidence given. 

The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied. While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today’s concern is about net warming. However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased  greenhouse gas concentrations.

Read the links in the previous post for more background.

But here’s the most absurd thing. Gore begins his account of the alleged fraud with these words:

I believe it is important to look at the sources of the science that we rely on. With all due respect, I believe that you have relied on people you have trusted who have given you bad information. I do not blame the investors who trusted Bernie Madoff, but he gave them bad information.

If it needs pointing out: 1) Gore has bad information from the NYT article. 2) Gore has not ‘looked at the sources of the science’ to check their reliability. (Neither did Revkin).

Let’s put this into perspective. Rumour-mongering about special-interests paying to distort the debate began on the Internet as the site exxonsecrets.org – a petty rumour-mill operated by Greenpeace. This inconsequential muck-raking has been given superficial journalistic and academic credibility by activists such as George Monbiot and academic activists such as Naomi Oreskes, and lastly by Andrew Revkin. Through a process that owes more to the party game ‘Chinese whispers’ than academic or scientific rigour, unfounded rumour and innuendo has been regurgitated onto the floor of perhaps the most influential democratic institution in the world. 

This is climate politics. It pretends to be about saving the planet. But in reality, it is crass, petty, and self-interested. 

Climate sceptics ought to take two messages from this. 

First, it is clear that environmentalists are clutching at straws to make their case. 

Second, that climate politics of this kind has achieved this level of prominence therefore cannot be blamed solely on climate activists. It cannot be argued that environmentalism has risen under its own steam. It’s momentum has been generated by a vacuum of ideas that all political parties suffer from. This is the issue that needs addressing.

Know Your Times

>> UPDATE: Gore uses the flawed NYT article in his testimony to congress. READ MORE. <<

New York Times journalist, Andrew Revkin, generally writes thoughtfully in the paper, and on his Dot Earth blog, even if we generally disagree with him.

However, writing for the paper yesterday, he lowers himself to the level of debate we’re used to seeing from the likes of George Monbiot, who we frequently mention. Indeed, Revkin even quotes Monbiot.

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

This is the ‘tobacco strategy’ thesis that Monbiot has taken from Naomi Oreskes. We’ve written about it on several occasions

The thesis needs no exposition here – read the links. Suffice it to say that it attempts (but also fails comprehensively) to show exactly what Revkin aims to show.

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

That is – a conspiracy to subvert the truth according to environmentalism using those vicious weapons, argument and science within democratic debate! Bastards! How dare they?

The demonstration of the conspiracy’s weight rests on the ‘discovery’ of information (actually it was in the public domain) relating to its budget.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.

That’s right folks, this conspiracy was financed to the tune of a whopping great big massive huge giant vast $1.68 million dollars! A year! Wow, that’s nearly enough money for… erm… a couple of adverts!

As we’ve pointed out, $1.68 million is absolute peanuts in comparison to the spend on propaganda from environmental organisations. But these groups can’t even claim to be providing a useful service, like fuel. 

As we’ve also pointed out, many times, the efforts of these organisations is usually well out of kilter with anything that emerges from the scientific literature.

Revkin:

Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. 

We have also pointed out that the tobacco-strategy-conspiracy-theory as put forward by Oreskes substantially depends on a re-writing of scientific history: that it has long been ‘known’ as ‘fact’ that mankind is influencing the climate. In fact, the IPCC process did not produce any putative ‘certainty’ until TAR2001.

Similarly focussing on what was known by the conspiracy, and what it published, Revkin compares two statements, one public, distributed in the early 1990s, and the other private, produced in 1995:

[PUBLIC, early 1990s] “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

[PRIVATE, 1995] “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

This is silly. Even if the private memo wasn’t written AFTER the first, the two statements are not incompatible. The role of greenhouse gasses in climate change ARE NOT well understood, even if the POTENTIAL impact of human emissions has been documented. That is why the Kyoto protocol was advanced, under the terms of the Rio Declaration, not on the basis of knowledge or of certainty, but according to the precautionary principle. The ‘potential impact’ of anthropogenic climate change has, since the dawn of climate alarmism, been understood as anything between slightly better conditions for agriculture, and total annihilation of life on Earth.

The Environmentalists’ case rests on the claim that the knowledge of the fact that CO2 can influence climate is equivalent to knowledge that it will produce widespread effects, not just to climate, but to society.

Moreover, Revkin, seemingly in search of a scoop, quotes selectively from the private document. In context, the apparent contradiction evaporates:

The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied. While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today’s concern is about net warming. However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased  greenhouse gas concentrations.

The New York Times publish this comment attached to the documents.

The Public Message: Climate Uncertainty: In the early 1990s, the Global Climate Coalition was the leading voice for industries concerned that a prompt push to cut heat-trapping emissions could raise energy costs. It produced a series of “backgrounders” available to the press and policymakers. This flier appears to contradict what the coalition’s science and technology advisers were saying about the basic science pointing to substantial warming from a buildup of such gases.

 Revkin has failed to notice the incoherence of the arguments made by environmentalists. 

In summary:

1. Environmentalists confuse the ‘fact’ of anthropogenic CO2’s unquantified influence with the range of nth-order effects that it may (or may not) cause. But the fact of the influence of anthropogenic CO2 on the climate is distinct to facts of the degree of that effect, which is again logically distinct from the facts relating to the effects produced as second, third, and fourth order effects on climate systems, ecosystems, species, primary industry and civil infrastructure, economy, and society. 

2. The document contradicting the claims made in the briefing document was written after the briefing document was circulated. Therefore, no contradiction emerges from the evidence. 

3. The documents only contradict each other when quoted from selectively. 

4. The environmentalists’ case only exists by blurring distinctions between logically distinct categories of knowledge, by ignoring the order of events, by reducing matters of degree to binary true/false axioms, and by exaggerating the influence of the alleged conspiracy. 

[ETA: We have been unclear in the above post. There are two sentences which appear in the document published by the NYT.

The first says The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

The second says “The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied.”

The first sentence appears ahead of the second in the document. The second paragraph is part of the larger paragraph, as quoted.

This changes nothing about the meaning, nor of the failure of the NYT to check their story but we thought we ought to draw people’s attention to the two instances. – Editors]

The Psychology of the Psychology of Denial

Last week, we mentioned an academic conference at the University of the West of England about the psychology of climate change denial, which appeared to be rather lacking on the academic front. It was a gathering of a handful of higher beings – Jungian analysts, climate activists and eco-psychologists – who, having shrugged off the shackles of the human condition, are now able to diagnose what is wrong with the rest of us.

The opening address was given by George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, and author of ‘Carbon Detox’, who popped up his week on Comment is Free to tell us just how sick we are:

The greatest obstacles to action are not technical, economic or political — they are the denial strategies that we adopt to protect ourselves from unwelcome information.

He sets out the problem with a superficial analysis of ambivalent responses to ambiguous surveys:

nearly 80% of people claim to be concerned about climate change. However, delve deeper and one finds that people have a remarkable tendency to define this concern in ways that keep it as far away as possible. They describe climate change as a global problem (but not a local one) as a future problem (not one for their own lifetimes) and absolve themselves of responsibility for either causing the problem or solving it.

Most disturbing of all, 60% of people believe that “many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change”. Thirty per cent of people believe climate change is “largely down to natural causes”, while 7% refuse to accept the climate is changing at all.

Pesky humans, making simple black-and-white issues so unnecessarily complicated.

How is it possible that so many people are still unpersuaded by 40 years of research and the consensus of every major scientific institution in the world? Surely we are now long past the point at which the evidence became overwhelming?

Cue the psycho-analysis:

Having neither the time nor skills to weigh up each piece of evidence we fall back on decision-making shortcuts formed by our education, politics and class. In particular we measure new information against our life experience and the views of the people around us.

Yes. And Marshall’s article is a warning of what you might start believing in if you choose to hang around with psychobabblers. Each of his diagnoses can be thrown right back at him. First up:

George Lakoff, of the University of California, argues that we often use metaphors to carry over experience from simple or concrete experiences into new domains. Thus, as politicians know very well, broad concepts such as freedom, independence, leadership, growth and pride can resonate far deeper than the policies they describe.

None of this bodes well for a rational approach to climate change. Climate change is invariably presented as an overwhelming threat requiring unprecedented restraint, sacrifice, and government intervention. The metaphors it invokes are poisonous to people who feel rewarded by free market capitalism and distrust government interference. It is hardly surprising that political world view is by far the greatest determinant of attitudes to climate change, especially in the US where three times more Republicans than Democrats believe that “too much fuss is made about global warming”.

Marshall – like many political environmentalists – kids himself that he is informed only by cold, hard, rational, scientific reality. Ideology is what the deniers do. Which allows him to pretend that his own penchant for ‘broad concepts’ such as ‘restraint, sacrifice, and government intervention’ – and his distaste for freedom, independence and growth – are merely imperatives determined by the science. Who’s delusional here?

Next:

Dr Myanna Lahsen, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has specialised in understanding how professional scientists, some of them with highly respected careers, turn climate sceptic. She found the largest common factor was a shared sense that they had personally lost prestige and authority as the result of campaigns by liberals and environmentalists. She concluded that their engagement in climate issues “can be understood in part as a struggle to preserve their particular culturally charged understanding of environmental reality.”

Lahsen’s interviews with three high-profile and self-professed sceptical scientists are interesting. They reveal that they recognise precisely what Marshall does not – that scientific information can be interpreted in different ways, and that policy does not flow automatically from any science. Lahsen describes the interviews as ‘remarkably frank‘, and the interviewees certainly appear a lot more self-aware (and to have less to hide) than Marshall, who interprets Lahsen’s findings thus:

In other words, like the general public, they form their beliefs through reference to a world view formed through politics and life experience. In order to maintain their scepticism in the face of a sustained, and sometimes heated, challenge from their peers, they have created a mutually supportive dissident culture around an identity as victimised speakers for the truth.

Which is just hilarious in the light of his claims that his own unpopular ‘truth’ is being steamrollered by dirty oil money, right-wing ideology and a psychologically deranged public.

One academic study of 192 sceptic books and reports found that 92% were directly associated with right wing free market think tanks. It concluded that the denial of climate change had been deliberately constructed “as a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism”.

So, given that scepticism is rooted in a sustained and well-funded ideological movement, how can sceptics be swayed?

That ‘scepticism is rooted in a sustained and well-funded ideological movement’ is patently untrue. The environmental movement is far better funded, having at its disposal hundreds of millions for expensive PR and lobbying campaigns. Indeed, the likes of the European Union even fund such groups as WWF and Friends of the Earth to lobby its own MEPs.

No amount of ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ can legitimise any political ideology. Contrary to Marshall’s claims, there is nothing ideological about scepticism. Sceptics aren’t asking for the world to be reorganised around environmental ethics. George is. Where you stand on the climate issue does not determine where you stand on the merits or otherwise of conservative ideology. Sceptics object to environmentalism’s hiding of its politics behind ‘the science’ to claim that science produces moral imperatives, and that failing to observe them will cause apocalypse. Stop to ask if climate problems really demand the special politics of environmentalism – that we must swap development and progress for security, for example, or that living a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ really is the best way to express solidarity with the world’s poor and to lift them out of poverty – and George Marshall will call you a conservative. It’s black and white for him – you either do as he says, or you’ve been brainwashed by Jeremy Clarkson. You’re in denial.

Marshall is forced to fall back on psychobabble because the political case for environmentalism has proved unpersuasive. You can almost hear him putting up his hands in defeat in his answer to his own question, ‘how can sceptics be swayed?’ Forget arguing with them, he says, you can cure them only by appealing to their baser, human instincts, especially peer pressure, ‘probably the most important influence of all’:

when dealing with a sceptic, don’t get into a head to head with them. Just politely point out all the people they know and respect who believe that climate change is a serious problem — and they aren’t sandle-wearing tree huggers, are they?

Yep, that’ll do it.

Ultimately, Marshall’s case is self-defeating. If the arguments made by contrarian scientists and the majority of the world’s population can be written off as a product of screwy psychology, then so too can those made by Marshall and his cronies – and everyone else for that matter. But when it comes down to it, we don’t care to peer into Marshall’s head in search of psychological peculiarities that contribute to his political inclinations, his self-delusion, his low opinion of his fellow humans, his willingness to toe the green party line, to reinterpret cautious scientific findings as a sign of the imminent eco-Rapture, to fail to distinguish science from politics, or, indeed, his creepy habit of peering into the heads of anyone who disagrees with him.

Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree

This weekend, the University of the West of England’s Centre for Psycho-Social Studies is holding a conference on ‘The Psychological and Political Challenge of Facing Climate Change’. According to conference organiser Professor Paul Hoggett:

“We will examine [climate change] denial from a variety of different perspectives…

Except he doesn’t actually mean ‘different perspectives’:

…as the product of addiction to consumption, as the outcome of diffusion of responsibility and the idea that someone else will sort it out and as the consequence of living in a perverse culture which encourages collusion, complacency, irresponsibility.”

Brendan O’Neill beat us to it:

…It will be a gathering of those from the top of society – ‘psychotherapists, social researchers, climate change activists, eco-psychologists’ – who will analyse those at the bottom of society, as if we were so many flitting, irrational amoeba under an eco-microscope. The organisers say the conference will explore how ‘denial’ is a product of both ‘addiction and consumption’ and is the ‘consequence of living in a perverse culture which encourages collusion, complacency and irresponsibility’. It is a testament to the dumbed-down, debate-phobic nature of the modern academy that a conference is being held not to explore ideas – to interrogate, analyse and fight over them – but to tag them as perverse.

We don’t have much to add, other than recommending that you take a moment to browse the conference programme and the outline of the afternoon’s Themed Groups session to get the full flavour of the event. (Links to Word files at the bottom of this page.) Here’s a taster:

It’s one thing – though a very important one – to understand environmental issues intellectually; quite another thing to feel them in our flesh and blood.  According to ecopsychologists, our alienation from flesh and blood experience plays a key role in our numb acceptance of planetary degradation and destruction. This workshop will use simple experiential exercises to help you connect more deeply with your own embodiment, and hence with the beauty and fragility of the other-than-human world.

It sounds like a great day’s entertainment if anyone fancies popping along. And all for only 50 quid.

We’ve alluded to Clockwork Orange (Clockwork Green?) when talking about psychologists’ attempts to get a piece of the climate change action. O’Neill goes with Nineteen Eighty-Four:

Psychologising dissent, and refusing to recognise, much less engage with, the substance of people’s disagreements – their political objections, their rational criticisms, their desire to do things differently – is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. In the Soviet Union, outspoken critics of the ruling party were frequently tagged as mentally disordered and faced, as one Soviet dissident described it, ‘political exile to mental institutions’ (11). There they would be treated with narcotics, tranquillisers and even electric shock therapy. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien, the torturer in Room 101, offers to cure our hero Winston Smith of his anti-party thinking. ‘You are mentally deranged!’ he tells him. Today the word ‘Orwellian’ is massively overused, to describe everything from fingerprint library cards to supermarket loyalty cards, but treating your dissenters as deranged? That really is Orwellian, and we should declare permanent war against it.

There are two sides to every debate, of course, so we’ll give the last word to O’Brien the torturer Dr Steven Moffic:

[youtube VcWn3b3h3sQ]

Labouring with Labels

It’s often hard to have a discussion about the climate change debate without recourse to language about ‘sides’.

We are certainly not the only ones to have argued that the conventional portrayal of the debate as a polarised one between warmers/alarmists and sceptics/deniers is counter-productive. Not only does it too easily translate into a battle between good and evil, but it is a misleading description of climate change debates.

Moreover, while such debates are principally about what to do – the politics – the existing categories relate to what is believed about the material reality – ‘the science’. For instance you could attract the label ‘denier’ (and many do) by arguing that there’s no urgent need for ‘drastic action’ to avoid climate change in spite of holding that CO2 is influencing the climate, and will cause problems, and that it would be a good idea to cut emissions in the longer term.

The polarisation of the political debate using scientific terms is an impediment to understanding the actual arguments being made. An individual’s views on the science aren’t always sufficient to explain the ‘side’ he ends up on, or which label is applied to him. To label someone in a way that relates to ‘science’ when their views are essentially political is like determining what football team someone supports according to how they dance. It might work in some more extreme cases if you’re armed with some cultural knowledge, but broadly speaking, it’s just silly.

How then, should we sensibly identify ‘sides’ in the debate? We think we have the germ of an answer.

It seems to us that there are two categories of people – the interested and the uninterested. The uninterested are not engaged with the debate. The interested are.

Then there are those who believe that what emerges from climate science constitutes moral imperatives that demand a special form of politics. This contrasts with those who may or may not recognise climate change as a problem, but who do not recognise the need for such special ‘eco’ politics. Their arguments are categorised as ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ respectively.

These two opposing categories can be joined up:


Interested
Uninterested
Orthodox
Somebody for whom climate change is central to their political perspective, and actively engages with the debate. Somebody who does not engage with or challenge the debate but takes at face value the terms presented by politicians, the media, and instructions to recycle, etc.
Unorthodox Somebody who does not believe that environmental problems demand a special form of politics, and who engages with the debate. Somebody who does not engage with or challenge the debate, and who doesn’t pay much attention to what environmentalists tell them to do.

We’ve included people who are not ‘in’ the debate as such, because we think that a lot of the debate is about them. For instance, how to get people in the Uninterested-Unorthodox category (which includes the vast majority of the human race) to change their lifestyles, is a major concern of those in the Interested-Orthodox category.

Any thoughts?

The Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy Theory

Our previous post, and one the week before looked at the arguments emerging from climate activists about what to make of the existence of an email news circular, operated by Marc Morano, the Communications Director at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, under Republican Senator James Inhofe. They say it’s evidence of a sinister network intent on distorting the climate debate for oil interests. We say it’s just politics, and that there are many email lists on both sides of the debate, distributing news and opinion to people – even if we happen to disagree with (probably a lot of) Sen. Inhofe’s politics.

One of our favourite readers has sent us a link to a similar conversation going on at ‘The Reality Based Community’ blog – a misnomer. Mark Kleiman has posted an article there called ‘Global-warming denialism as a conspiracy theory.’ Hmm.

One largely unremarked aspect of global-warming denialism […] is that it amounts to a conspiracy theory. All of the world’s actual climate scientists, and everyone in an a allied field capable of understanding their models, would have to be co-conspirators in the plot, with only a rag-tag group of economists, meteorologists, petroleum geologists, astrologers, and political pundits capable of seeing, and willing to say, that the emperor has no clothes.

All of the world’s actual climate scientists? Really? And everyone in an allied field capable of understanding the models? Really?

Of course, it’s nonsense. Kleiman doesn’t know how the scientific community divides on climate matters, because no decisive poll has ever been taken. Neither does he know how so-called deniers divide on matters of climate science. He takes one case of an (admittedly rather silly) opinion piece in a newspaper to identify a phenomenon of ‘denial’. The interesting part of his claim is that this phenomenon – a ‘movement – of ‘denial’ can be explained as a ‘conspiracy theory’.

Most of the glibertarians, cultural conservatives, and gadget-heads who constitute the useful idiots around the core oil-and-coal-company global-warming denialist constituency would be horrified to imagine themselves playing the role of 9/11 Truthers, or RFK Jr. pumping the thimerosal/autism link, or Thabo Mbeki claiming that AIDS isn’t caused by HIV. But all four “movements” are alike in depending on compete mistrust of actual scientific experts. (Holocaust denialism is similar in that respect, but different in being almost entirely insincere: the Holocaust deniers seem to be saying, “Hitler didn’t kill all those Jews, and I’m glad he did.”)

We pointed out previously that there is an irony about David Roberts and a network of activists complaining about misinformation and distortion spread through a network of activists operating on the blogosphere on the … erm… blogosphere. (If you still don’t get it, imagine if the Governor of California were to start complaining about vapid Hollywood actors using their celebrity to achieve political influence – it’s a bit like that).

And with the words ‘the useful idiots around the core oil-and-coal-company global-warming denialist constituency’ Kleiman demonstrates exactly the same failure of logic. His conspiracy-theory-theory is just a conspiracy theory. He continues:

Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it’s fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.

There is a palpable failure on Kleiman’s behalf to test his own argument by the logic he’s applied to others’. Pots calling kettles black, and all that. Such unreflectively is par for the course in normal discussions. We kind of expect comments on our posts linked to from activist sites (such as this one) to vary in their sophistication. Some of our critics have been barely worth responding to. Others have made us think hard, at least about how we’ve presented our argument. Some even cause disagreements here at Climate Resistance HQ.

But Kleiman’s words aren’t the frothing of any old internet troll. According to the site’s About page…

Professor of Policy Studies at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, Kleiman teaches methods of policy analysis, political philosophy, and drug abuse and crime control policy. He is also the Chairman of BOTEC Analysis Corporation, a Cambridge, Massachusetts firm that conducts policy analysis and contract research on illicit drugs, crime, and health care. Previously, he held teaching positions at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Rochester.

Maybe Kleiman has been taking his drug abuse research a little too far into the field, and it has adversely affected his judgement. Shouldn’t we expect a Professor of policy analysis and political philosophy to make just slightly more robust and sophisticated criticisms of the players and sides in the climate debate, rather than reduce these putative camps to cartoonish heroes on the one hand, and evil villains on the other?

His blog’s slogan states that ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts’. But Kleiman just makes his own ‘facts’ up while accusing others of ‘denial’. We’ve pointed this sort of thing out often enough that we no longer believe this is just a mistake, or mere hyperbole. This is a phenomenon far more widespread that ‘denial’. This kind of argument is rife amongst people who seem to feel the need to explain their lack of success in convincing the world of their politics. Blame the conspiracy.

But what kind of phenomenon is it? If we were only able to think about it only as deeply as Kleiman has, we might say that there is a deliberate attempt to distort the public’s perception of the debate. In other words, we would be inventing a conspiracy theory. So we’re not saying that, because we have no reason to doubt that Kleiman doesn’t believe his own words. he just hasn’t thought very hard about what they are supposed to mean.

What we think is going on is that the reality that the likes of Kleiman think they are in touch with isn’t as real as he imagines it to be. His slogan protests too much about being ‘reality-based’, which only serves to demonstrate that he lacks confidence in subjectivity. ‘The science’ plays a similar role in the arguments that emerge from environmental activists. The ‘science says’… The ‘science is in’… ‘According to the majority of the world’s top scientists’… We know the script. We’re asked to engage with moral and political arguments not on the basis of human values, but by appeals to climate science. Necessarily then, environmentalism rests on the authority of climate science. Demands for political action on climate change sit behind claims about climate science, and are assumed to flow from it, a priori.

Climate science seems to act as a kind of metaphysics in today’s political arguments. It serves to orientate the frameworks through which the world is seen and gives structure to the arguments about what is good/bad, right/wrong, forward/backward, and in the case where climate scepticism and denial is judged to be equivalent to Conservatism, Left/Right. To deprive environmentalists of this framework would leave them disoriented, a bit like if one were to rob Catholics of the Holy Trinity. Kleiman is just as vulnerable without climate science. How would he be able to criticise his opponents without it?

Kleiman might well respond by claiming that he is applying the label of denialism to those who, by definition, reject the science outright. Indeed, he compares his climate deniers to those ‘pumping the thimerosal/autism link, or Thabo Mbeki claiming that AIDS isn’t caused by HIV’. But for every such ‘nutjob’ in total denial of ‘the science’, there is at least one environmental campaigner/politician, exaggerating ‘the science’ beyond recognition. The problem is the centrality of the ‘scientific’ claims to the debate – and it’s not the deniers who are putting it there.

For instance, if we accept that there is a phenomenon of ‘denial’ in the climate debate that is a factor in the outcome of the debate, then we can agree that this is a problem. But it is a problem because it states that the science – real or not – is decisive in the question about ‘what to do about climate change’ in exactly the same way environmentalism does – it expects science to be instructive. We can agree, furthermore, that even if we accept that (i) the climate is changing, and that (ii) we have caused some of this change, and that (iii) this will cause a problem of some degree, we don’t necessarily have to agree that these three premises safely take us to a conclusion that demands special politics and ethics, moreover, that it creates any unassailable moral imperatives. We might argue, for instance, that the plight of the poor doesn’t need climate change to be recognised. Yet nearly all the major UK poverty and development NGOs, for example, have absorbed the language of climate change ethics into their discussions – at the expense of ambitious large-scale development projects, in favour of ‘sustainability’. As we have argued previously, this represents a failure to develop a substantive understanding of poverty and development and a criticism of what causes them to happen. Environmental metaphysics fills the void. It is used to explain that moral actions are transmitted through the biosphere. This phenomenon is a much wider, much deeper, and much bigger problem than ‘denial’.

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?

[youtube gywWnvAk5cs]

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.

[youtube mqsG0nycIlQ]
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.

[youtube VLHbn3kNTfg]
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:

[youtube XuxDkXwhtSo]

90 Minutes of TV; 16 Months of Handwaving…

…and counting…

Every day in the UK, £millions are spent on making sure that national and local government departments do not produce too much CO2. Business, schools and hospitals have to make sure they are complying with regulations that require them to reduce their environmental impact – rather than doing business, teaching, and making people well. Commuters across the country face increasing fuel taxes and rising costs of public and private transport. Children are taught to fear for the security of their future, and their parents are scolded for the selfish act of reproducing in the face of over-population. House-builders are forced to meet new ‘environmental standards’, and architects design homes not for their intended occupants’ comfort and quality of life, but to make sure that their living standards are not ‘unsustainable’. Across the media, countless programs, news items, articles, and lifestyle guides instruct us on how we can – and must – change the way we live our lives in a constant barrage of environmental propaganda. Politicians battle about what percentage cuts of CO2 emissions by when will save the planet, and whether the carrot or the stick is the best way to induce behavioural change. NGOs and supra-national organisations dictate policy to democratic governments. ‘Environmental psychologists’ theorise as to what it is about ‘human nature’ which prevents us from obeying environmental diktats. Climate change is the defining issue of our time – not because of incontrovertible scientific fact, but because it has become the organising principle of public and private life.

A mere 90 minutes of programming on Channel 4, nearly a year and half ago, challenged this orthodoxy’s influence. And those behind the orthodoxy have been spitting feathers ever since. It has raised more green bile than almost any other commentary, and has become the scapegoat for the environmental movement’s failure to connect with the public. Accordingly, the environmentalists’ fragile claim to legitimacy means that its first response is to spit invective at its detractors, the second is to run to the censor. What it has not tried is to engage in debate. To do so would be to appear to concede that, in fact, the debate is not over, the science is not ‘in’, and there are various approaches that can be taken in response to climate change, regardless of whether or not humans are causing it.

“It’s not fair!” scream the complaints to OFCOM, that just 90 minutes of program have been so influential, amidst, literally, months of airtime given over to proclaiming that we are doomed, that we face imminent destruction, that unless we change our lifestyles, millions, maybe billions of people will die from plague, pestilence, drought and famine. Never mind that these prophecies themselves lack a scientific basis; you can say whatever you like about the future, just so long as you don’t make the claim that it is not dominated by catastrophe. The most lurid imaginations can project into the future to paint the kind of picture that would have Hieronymus Bosch screaming for mercy, without ever risking OFCOM’s censure. You can make stuff up, providing it will contribute to the legitimacy of this new form of authoritarianism.

The OFCOM ruling on Martin Durkin’s polemic, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was published yesterday. Its findings are that there were problems; that comments attributed to David King – the UK’s chief scientific advisor at the time – were not made by him, even though they were; that the IPCC had not been given sufficient time to respond to comments made about it, even though it had been; and that Professor Carl Wunsch had been misled as to the nature of the program, even though he hadn’t (and isn’t that what investigative journalists are supposed to do?). On the matter of misleading the public, Ofcom found that it had not been offended, harmed, nor materially misled. A mixed review, then, saying, in summary, that Channel 4 were right to broadcast the polemic, but should have paid more attention to the rights of the injured parties. You’d have thought that would be the end of it. But now Ofcom itself is facing criticism from the eco-inquisition, and their decision is to be appealed by Bob Ward, former communications director of the UK’s Royal Society, on the basis that inaccuracies in the program were harmful to the public. Here he is on BBC Radio 4’s PM show:

Eddie Mair: What got you so cross?

Bob Ward: Well, what’s made me angry is the suggestion by Channel 4 that they have been found by the OFCOM ruling not to have misled the audience. And that is not what the ruling says. The ruling says that there were clearly inaccuracies in the programme and that these were admitted by Channel 4, many of them, but, in the opinion of OFCOM, these did not cause harm or offence to the public. Now, I’m afraid that there is no real justification in the ruling that OFCOM have tested whether it caused harm and offence, and actually, there’s quite a lot of evidence out there that it has caused harm, because people have changed their views, I think, about whether greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.

EM: And you think that’s down to one programme?

BW: Well, it’s certainly contributed to it, and as Hamish Mykura [Channel 4 Commissioning Editor] was saying, he believes that it’s acted as a lightning rod. It certainly, I mean, people I’ve talked to professionally within the insurance industry with whom I work, some of them have been swayed, and that’s quite damaging. So, as a result, I think it’s certainly true that I and many of the other complainants are now going to appeal against the OFCOM decision on the grounds that there is clear evidence of harm.

EM: Do you think perhaps that some of the complaints that went to OFCOM were too detailed and too technical?

BW: Well, OFCOM did say that they are not there to rule on scientific accuracy, so it’s certainly been a challenge, which is why it’s taken them 16 months to rule. But it’s disappointing that they have reached the conclusions that they have – that although they recognise there are inaccuracies, it didn’t cause harm. They don’t appear to have investigated whether there is harm and how you would justify this. In fact, the OFCOM process is not very transparent itself; it’s not clear how they went about assessing the accuracy of these claims.

EM: Isn’t it true though – and this came over in the interview on The World At One – that while Channel Four obviously broadcast this programme, it intends to broadcast Al Gore’s documentary when it becomes available for television, so a range of views are being represented?

BW: That’s true. And one doesn’t object to a range of views. But there has to be a responsibility among broadcasters not to broadcast factually inaccurate information. That must be against the public interest. And I just don’t accept that broadcasting a programme like this, which was inaccurate about a subject as important as climate change, does not harm the public interest. And that unfortunately is what OFCOM said.

We have argued before that what emerges from the hand-wringing about the few moments of broadcasting that challenge environmentalism is not the exposure of the conspiratorial network of ‘well-funded denialists that environmentalists and the likes of David King and Bob Ward want us to believe exists. Indeed, such shrill hectoring better serves to show the environmental movement in its true colours. The fact that Environmentalists have been unable to laugh off or ignore what they regard as inaccurate tosh speaks volumes about the confidence in their own flimsy arguments. Without the argumentative ammunition to make their case politically, they need to make it into a morality tale. Environmentalists need Durkin and the Swindle like a pantomime needs a villain. They’ve written him into the script. If he didn’t exist, they’d have to invent him.

The Swindle has been made a scapegoat by pollsters Ipsos Mori, Bob Ward and his former boss Bob May, George Monbiot and many others desperate to explain the failure of Environmentalism to capture public hearts and minds. One has to wonder, then, what they hope to achieve by raising the profile of the film. The history of censorship shows that the more noise you make about something you regard as an abomination, the more interesting you make it, and the further you undermine your own position. The reaction to the Swindle has, since we began the blog, led us to look more closely at the activities of the Royal Society, and Bob Ward and co themselves. It turns out that his own position is not so spotless.

In June last year, we recorded Bob May, erstwhile president of the Royal Society, lying to an audience in Oxford about the Swindle‘s director, Martin Durkin. May told the audience that Durkin was responsible for a three part series denying the link between HIV and AIDS, and that this form of climate scepticism was equivalent to denying the link between passive smoking and lung disease. Where were Bob Ward’s complaints about mispresentation and calls for accuracy? It’s hard to believe that May would have made such an error of fact in public, when he publicly demands that we ‘respect the facts‘. All the more ironic is that in counseling us to ‘respect the facts’, he should made several further errors of fact, not least in his translation of ‘Nullius in Verba’, but also in his statement of fact that ’15–40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2°C of warming’, omitting the fact that this is aworst-case scenario predicted by just a single study. Again, where was Bob Ward and his calls for accuracy? He was busy penning inaccuracies of his own, perhaps. In his open letter to Martin Durkin’s Wag TV, one of Five major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence in the film concerned Durkin’s suggestion that the global temperature slump in the 1950s and ’60s, which was concurrent with rising emissions of greenhouse gases, was problematic for orthodox global warming arguments. Ward asserted that it is established that this is the result of white aerosols masking the greenhouse effect, and yet mainstream climate scientists we spoke to described the evidence for that as flimsy, and said that the debate continues. Another of the ‘five misrepresentations’ concerned Durkin’s argument that solar activity is a major driver of rising temperatures. The science has long been settled, said Ward. So why did the Royal Society find it necessary to publish new research based on a new dataset to demonstrate that the sun was not responsible for global warming after all? And just to make sure we got the message, they even launched the research with the strapline ‘the truth about global warming!

All this is not to suggest that the weight of evidence points to the sun rather than anthropogenic CO2 as the culprit. We are more concerned with the double standards employed by the Royal Society and its associates, a body that should surely be standing back from the squabbling and providing cool, calm information about the science in all its glorious complexity. A body that deals in a currency of facts needs to be especially careful about how it wields them. Like a body that bangs on about the dodgy financial interests of ‘deniers’ looks rather silly when its own dealings are on the grubby side of squeaky clean.

So, 16 months after the event, we have a report that says Durkin might have stretched the facts a tad, might have been a bit less than entirely honest with his contributors, might not have been quite as balanced as he could have been. And we are supposed to be surprised? It’s a TV programme. We could have got the same answer from a taxi driver as from a shiny report from an unelected quango. Meanwhile a browse through the pretty pie charts in OFCOM’s carbon audit suggests that the number of plastic coffee cups and notepaper used by OFCOM over those 16 months might have had a bigger negative impact on the planet than any seeds of doubt cast by Durkin’s film. If you think that’s a trivial point, then read George Monbiot’s recent comment on the silly affair, where he asks ‘why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?’.

This ‘War against the Greens’ consists of Durkin’s Swindle, his 2000 film about GM technology (an issue which Monbiot cannot claim the scientific establishment in the form of the Royal Society was with him on) and three-part series in 1997 called Against Nature, and a film by a different producer in 1990. And… errr… that’s it. That’s the extent of this ‘war’. Channel 4 broadcasts 24 hours a day, and has done for most of the past 18 years. Of nearly 160,000 hours of programming, this ‘war’ makes up around five hours; just 300 minutes. Monbiot continues:

It is arguable that no organisation in the United Kingdom has done more to damage the effort to protect the environment

If he’s right, then he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about.

Sceptics and critics of Environmentalism have been portrayed as cranks, weirdos and outsiders. You can make your own mind up about the truth of that. What the reaction to them shows, however, is a deep-seated anxiety which is totally disproportionate to reality. Monbiot and Ward’s paranoid hystrionics about the audacity of Channel 4 and Martin Durkin is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Their hypocrisy and unfounded outrage is breath-taking to an extent that it’s hard to actually conceive of an historical, or even pathological precedent. You would have to be seriously off your rocker to imagine that 5 hours of broadcasting over the course of two decades constituted a war, let alone even a mild threat. The real war – if there is a war, some might dare to suggest that it is simply debate about policy in a democratic society – is a war against journalistic freedom to present Greens such as George Monbiot and Bob Ward as the utter lunatics they really are. Fortunately it doesn’t take documentary films to show this; they do it all by themselves. You don’t need to portray Monbiot as a sinister purveyor of authoritarian misanthrophopy; you can just read his column.

The Well Funded World Wide Fund for Fear

We reported earlier in the year how claims that a ‘denial lobby’ had influenced public opinion on climate change were totally at odds with reality.

The UK’s Royal Society, for example wrote an open letter to Exxon in 2006, accusing it of funding these sceptics. The image of oil barons distorting the truth for pure profit was appealing to an environmental movement desperate to account for its own lack of popular appeal. Through their site ‘Exxon Secrets’, Greenpeace ‘exposed’ the millions of dollars that had allegedly been given to think tanks and other deniers to brainwash an unthinking, gullible public.

But as we pointed out, the $22 million that Exxon allegedly gave away between 1998 and 2008 is peanuts compared to Greenpeace’s $2.2 billion income over a similar period.

Following our post yesterday about the WWF’s use of a rather dodgy scientific measure to secure headlines and public attention, we thought we’d have a quick scan of their accounts, too.

Year
Income ($US)
URL
2003 370,245,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwffinancialrpt2004.pdf
2004 468,889,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfintar005.pdf
2005 499,629,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwfannualreport.pdf
2006 549,827,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_ar06_final_28feb.pdf
2007 663,193,000 http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_annual_review_07.pdf
TOTAL
2,551,783,000

The accounts prior to 2003 aren’t available online. (If you have access to them, we would be grateful if you would let us have a look). But the point stands. The WWF has an enormous amount of money behind it – far more than any dirty ‘denialist’ organisation has been able to get its hands on.

Even more surprising is the source of their funding. One thing that might be said in Greenpeace’s defence is that it apparently doesn’t accept money from Governments. But a closer look at WWF’s regional sites shows that a significant amount of funding does come from the state. For example, WWF USA:

And in the UK:

It is curious that the WWF, who are so sharply critical of the US, UK and EU Government, should take such a large amount of money from them.

For example, a headline from the site on the 15th May tells us that “US government: climate change threatens polar bears” And today, the site urges that “The government must act to ensure that no new coal-fired power stations are built in the UK until carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been proven to work on a large scale and can be installed from the outset”.

This is especially curious, because the environmental movement has been telling us for somewhile that, apart from ‘manipulating’ public opinion with distorted science, the establishment is reluctant to act on climate change. Yet here we can see that the government is handing over cash to that same movement.

And it’s not just the WWF, which is just one of nine environmental NGOs that constitute a “Green Ten” that are beneficiaries of EU funding.

We work with the EU law-making institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – to ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of policymaking. This includes working with our member organisations in the Member States to facilitate their input into the EU decision-making process.

Membership contributions are an important part of the finances of Green 10 organisations. We also receive core funding from the European Commission, except for Greenpeace. Furthermore, some member organisations of the Green 10 receive funding on a case-by-case basis for specific projects from governments and foundations. Some organisations also receive specific donations from industry. Greenpeace does not request or accept financial support from governments, the EU or industry. All Green 10 organisations are externally audited every year.

The members are:

What is stranger than Green lobby groups being happy to take significant wads of dosh from the very governments that they accuse of being climate criminals is that those governments should want to fund the enemy within to the tune of tens/hundreds/thousands of millions of dollars annually.

Could you imagine the fuss, if the sceptics had had nearly 5 billion dollars, to do ‘scientific research’, and were contracted by the government to ‘inform the public’?

Time and again, year after year, and in spite of the billions of dollars available to the environmental movement, polls show that US and UK publics are not interested in being eco-hectored. (And here’s another example courtesy of Philip Stott).

Governments, on the other hand, seem to enjoy being told what to do. Or, more accurately, to enjoy paying people to tell them what to tell other people to do – it saves them the trouble of having to work out for themselves what to tell people to do. Environmentalists might like to think they are part of some sort of grass-roots, popular, and radical movement. But what kind of grass roots movement needs such huge handouts to spend on PR? Environmentalism is rife at all levels of society except one – the electorate. It is anything but a popular, mass movement. The Environmentalist’s superficial radicalism, and the bogus urgency of calls to ‘save the planet’ have been attractive to politicians only because their endless and desperate search for popular policy ideas has consistently failed to engage the voters. But they are mistaken. Environmentalism is very much part of the establishment.