Ragin' Roberts

Over at Gristmill, the angry David Roberts gets his knickers in a twist about an email list:

Barnes gets his information on climate change the same place everyone in the right-wing media world gets it: from Marc Morano, the in-house blogger/agitator for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Morano’s entire job is to aggregate every misleading factoid, every attack on climate science or scientists, every crank skeptical statement from anyone in the world and send it all out periodically in email blasts that get echoed throughout the right-wing blog world and eventually find their way into places like Fox News and the Weekly Standard. From there they go, via columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, into mainstream outlets like Newsweek and the Washington Post.

How did we know about Roberts’s latest blog post? Well, we got an email from Marc Morano about it.

Roberts finishes his otherwise pointless post with the very revealing words,

The conservative movement gets its information about climate science from the office of James Inhofe.

What more really needs to be said?

Well, quite a bit more really needs to be said. Such as what is supposed to be wrong with that, even if it were true? Which it isn’t, as there are a number of email list servers of interest to sceptics. And it’s not as if there are no green newswires spewing less than perfect information. And it’s not as if that transparently false information never comes from Grist.

As we discovered a year ago, for example, when Professor Andrew Dessler wrote on Grist that the IPCC consisted of thousands of climate scientists, all uniquely qualified to look after the sick planet, and that we ought to ignore social scientists and computer programmers. Unfortunately for him, we pointed out that the IPCC in fact consisted of a great number of social scientists and computer programmers – we counted them. Dessler was hoisted by his own petard. But he continued his tired analogy, just as Roberts and his ilk trot out the same old lines about oil-industry-funded-corporate-shills, the scale and the substance of the ‘scientific consensus’, and of course, the equivalence of climate scepticism and conservatism, all of which, many times, have been shown to lack foundation. They are myths. This makes it all the more a surprise that Roberts once uttered these words:

Long-time greens are painfully aware that the arguments of global warming skeptics are like zombies in a ’70s B movie. They get shot, stabbed, and crushed, over and over again, but they just keep lurching to their feet and staggering forward. That’s because — news flash! — climate skepticism is an ideological, not a scientific, position, and as such it bears only a tenuous relationship to scientific rules of evidence and inference.

Roberts’ inability to self-reflect is painfully obvious to anybody who is not him. As we pointed out, scepticism cannot be in itself ideological. On the other hand, Environmentalism – which, after all, demands that we reorganise the global economy, monitor every productive endeavour, and regulate lifestyle – is an ideology. But it hides its politics behind science. ‘Science’ is environmentalism’s fig leaf. Behind the green veneer is its shame.

What a cautious lifting of the fig leaf reveals is that the object of Roberts’ anger is democracy itself. He doesn’t seem to like people having email lists with which to communicate ideas. Just as he doesn’t like people being able to travel, or to consume according to their own needs and desires.

Accordingly, Roberts needs to turn democratic expression into a subversive, nefarious activity. In this fantasy, what are in fact normal forms of communication appear as sinister conspiracies. Two people knowing each other is an element… a cell… of a dark network standing against science…. truth itself.

But the reality is that the recipients of Morano’s emails are people who can see for themselves what an email from a – shock horror – Conservative actually consists of.  We’re not conservatives, and you don’t have to be a conservative, for example, to know that when James Hansen says that there are just four years left to save the planet, he’s talking unmitigated BS. And yet it was an email from Marc Morano which first drew our attention to the story. It’s just a way of distributing news. Everybody who comments on the news is connected to many similar services. We get daily digests on topics from the newspapers themselves, from Government departments, NGOs, Quangos, political parties, charities, and from Google news alerts. Some of these sources are neutral. Some have a clearer agenda.

Of course, Sen. Inhofe is a Conservative. But his take on the climate issue is a little deeper than Roberts gives him credit for.

It is becoming increasingly clear that man-made global warming is not a partisan left vs. right issue. It is a scientific question and the promoters of global warming fears now realize they have significantly overreached.

Roberts frames the debate as ‘Science versus Conservatives’. But it doesn’t stand. Roberts can’t tell left from right, forward from backward, progressive from retrogressive, sceptic from conservative, liberal from deeply illiberal. As we recently said of George Monbiot, he

… emerges dizzy from his own spinning and thinks it is the world that’s confused about what direction it is moving in. And this is his fundamental problem. Everything he writes is a projection of his own inability to understand a world that fails to conform to his expectations. The ideas he uses to orientate himself fail to give him purchase on his own existential crisis; they crumble underfoot.

Like Monbiot, Roberts see a challenge to his perspective as a catastrophe. He cannot countenance dissent. It would be the end of the world. Roberts’ can only explain his objection to conservatism in terms of environmental catastrophe, because he doesn’t possess a principled, coherent objection. Fantasy takes the place of insight and shrill posturing the place of careful argument.

Fat Polar Bears Are Killing the Penguins

This is funny. Funnier is the outrage expressed by Grist readers, of whom Newscloud is funniest:

If there is a hell, Inhofe belongs there 

The Grists need to watch out. And not only on 1 April. All those stuffy, old-fashioned churches want their congregations back. And even stuffy old-fashioned churches can recognise a good scare tactic when they see one. Grist are disconcerted by the slogan on an Evangelical t-shirt:

GLOBAL WARMING IS NOTHING NEXT TO ETERNAL BURNING 

Apparently, those pesky evangelical Protestants even have the cheek to claim that the Rapture will get us before the Ecopocalypse does.

But why fight when they have so much in common? On the back of the t-shirt:

THINGS OF THIS WORLD ARE PASSING AWAY 

THERE IS HOPE IN CHRIST ALONE

Whenever they do manage to work out a way to agree that Christ and Gaia are sort of kinda like the same thing in a way really if you think about it, they get on like a house on fire. A house probably set ablaze by the ravages of climate change for some reason or other that sounds vaguely biblical, and which might yet turn out to be untestable scientifically. But there is a pdf knocking around somewhere. It was peer reviewed and everything. Onward Gristian Soldiers…

Do Environmentalists Want to Save the Planet or What?

They like their weird analogies at Gristmill. The latest comes from scientist and Green oracle Joseph Romm, in an introduction to a tirade about geo-engineering by guest poster Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project:

Geo-engineering is to mitigation as chemotherapy is to diet and exercise 

Weird. Because chemotherapy is rather more useful than diet and exercise when it comes to, say, curing someone of cancer. It’s even weirder for the fact that Gristmill’s last weird analogy, by Romm’s fellow scientist and Green oracle Andrew Dessler, likened the planet to a sick child in need of expert medical advice. Romm, it seems, would rather turn Dessler’s sick child over to some TV nutritionist to get them jogging and eating more broccoli.

The thrust of Becker’s piece is that the planet might be screwed, but that efforts to mitigate global warming through geo-engineering – giant mirrors in space, the injection of aerosols into the atmosphere, carbon sequestration, seeding oceans with iron oxide, and that sort of thing – are unethical and impractical.

Intergenerational ethics argue against us leaving massive, intractable problems for future generations, forcing them to deal in perpetuity with nuclear waste, carbon sequestration sites, and geo-engineering systems – all subject to human error and to failures that would be deadly. 

Apparently, however, leaving future generations without infrastructure and energy supplies to withstand the ravages of future climate, is perfectly acceptable. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine any human endeavour – apart from jogging and eating broccoli, perhaps – that would meet Becker’s ethical criteria. Ultimately Becker’s is an argument against progress, because pretty much all human activity is geo-engineering. As William M. Briggs puts it, “It is trivially true that man, and every other organism, influences his environment, and hence his climate.” And as Becker continues, his antipathy towards humanity’s efforts to improve its lot shines through:

Think of dams and levees designed to control rivers so that people can live in natural floodplains – sometimes with disastrous results ... Geo-engineering is born of the dangerous conceit that human engineering is superior to nature’s engineering … Lacking regard for natural systems, we have upset them … we lack humility. 

The Greens’ resistance to geo-engineering sits very uncomfortably with its message that the planet is screwed and we’re all going to die. It suggests that Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations. It suggests that they don’t actually believe their own press releases, and that they know the situation is not as dire as they would like the rest of us to think it is. And that Environmentalists are cutting off their noses to spite their faces – “we’ll save the planet our way or not at all.” It suggests that Environmentalists regard science and engineering as the cause of problems, and not the solution.

Even if [geo-engineering] were able to stabilize climate change – which is doubtful … We still would be addicted to imported oil, still would be subsidizing terrorism with our gas dollars, still would suffer the cost and supply traumas that are inevitable with finite resources, still would send our children off to die in resource wars, still would pollute the air and cause respiratory problems for our children, and still would wipe out species, many of them beneficial to us, as we invade their habitat. 

As if reducing CO2 emissions would stabilise the climate. The weather will continue to pick off those who are not buffered against it regardless of whether climate change predictions are realised or not. As if a stable climate would prevent resource wars or global terrorism. If anything creates resource shortages, Environmentalism does. Indeed, by drawing on the dangers of terrorism to justify environmental politics, Becker merely demonstrates how Environmentalism and the War on Terror are united in their deployment of the Politics of Fear.

There are good reasons to think that geo-engineering cannot stabilise the climate either. Control of the climate might well be too much to ask of a strategy that manipulates a single variable in a hugely complex system. And yet the tweaking of a single variable – CO2 emissions – is precisely what the Greens are demanding.

Contrary to Romm’s analogy, the Greens’ efforts to save the planet are far more like chemotherapy than diet and exercise. After all, it is the Greens who liken humanity to a plague, virus or a cancer infecting planet Earth. And their insistence that we batten down the hatches, tread lightly on the Earth, ration our energy and bow to the superiority of Mother Nature would leave us even more vulnerable to her whims than we are already.

Engineering fixes for global warming are, says Becker, “born of desperation”. Quite possibly. But what he should be asking himself is who created the climate of desperation in the first place.

'Science' – Environmentalism's Fig Leaf

On The Nation blog, David Roberts of Gristmill (another blog) writes:

Long-time greens are painfully aware that the arguments of global warming skeptics are like zombies in a ’70s B movie. They get shot, stabbed, and crushed, over and over again, but they just keep lurching to their feet and staggering forward. That’s because — news flash! — climate skepticism is an ideological, not a scientific, position, and as such it bears only a tenuous relationship to scientific rules of evidence and inference.

Let us put him straight. Climate scepticism (or skepticism) is not an ideological position. Climate scepticism is not an ideology. Climate scepticism does not offer a perspective on the world from which follow moral imperatives, and climate scepticism is not a doctrine, around which climate sceptics wish to organise society. There is no “world view” of climate scepticism.

Environmentalism,on the other hand, is an ideology. It does create moral imperatives. It does wish to organise society around its principles. It is a world view.

Of course, climate orthodoxy and environmentalism can be challenged from political or ideological perspectives. But there is no consistent “climate sceptic” position. There doesn’t need to be; It’s not an argument for a course of action, and its objections to environmentalism are varied. There have been criticisms of climate politics from the left, and from the centre (or center), and from the right. But these perspectives are not unique to climate scepticism.

To make his point, Roberts links back to a March ’07 post of his on Gristmill, where he makes the claim that,

The scientific contest — at least as it relates to the basic facts of global warming — is over.

If the science is settled, he reasons, then the idea that “The contest between climate advocates and their critics is primarily a scientific contest — a debate over who has the best science” is false. By elimination, the argument with no science must be political. Of course, both of Roberts’s premises are false. The scientific debate is not over – it’s never over, and can never be over. That is itself an unscientific statement.

Environmentalists hide their moral and political arguments behind science. If you challenge them, they will tell you that “the consensus” science is settled. There ensues a scientific debate about whether or not something “is happening”, not whether or not it follows from “something happening” that the appropriate course of action is the one which the environmentalist has proposed. But rarely is it the case that the political statement actually tallies with the science on the matter. What drives the political argument of environmentalists is catastrophism and images of polar bears clinging to ice floes. We have highlighted many times on this blog cases where the political language bears no resemblance to the scientific research on an issue. Our various posts looking at Caroline Lucas’s statements, for example, reveal that in most cases, she has simply made the science up. The “science is settled” argument is used as leverage in political arguments to diminish unqualified opinion, but even scientific authorities overstate the strength of research.

The claim that science has shown that “climate change is real and is happening” leads to an array of political arguments from environmentalists, as though all that need be shown to legitimise drastic action (the more drastic the better) is that mankind has influenced the climate. But ask any number of environmentalists what “climate change is real and is happening” actually means, and you will get as many different answers back. The “science” of the matter is portable, in that it is used to arm any number of arguments. But what is happening is not that the science of the argument is being used to illuminate the discussion. Instead the fact of the consensus is being used to avoid the argument being challenged. The moral and political argument is deferred to a “scientific fact”, which is neither. On Gristmill, Roberts continues:

Remember: the goal of political debate is not to establish scientific truth, or even to establish which side is closer to it, but to triumph in the realm of public opinion and public policy. No matter how much some people wish that having science on their side is an automatic trump card, it just isn’t. The relationship between accuracy and political advantage is tenuous at best.The most vociferous critics of global warming advocates — far-right conservatives — understand this viscerally, instinctively, if not consciously.

It is revealing that the issue on which Roberts choses to confront the “far right” is climate change. Environmentalism has thrived in an atmosphere of political exhaustion and cynicism. It therefore appeals to “science” to make it look like it isn’t political. It is. Nonetheless, Roberts is unable to challenge the “far right” – whoever he imagines them to be – on either any political basis, or any substantiated scientific basis. And in any case, it’s not as if there aren’t any far-right green perspectives. Environmentalism is not incompatible with some very nasty views about the human race.

Environmentalism has a lot to hide, and uses science as a fig leaf. Sceptics (and skeptics), in whatever political colours (or colors) they wear should not be afraid of bringing political perspectives to the discussion. It’s not about science.

Dessler's Grist to the Sceptics' Mill

On Gristmill, Andrew Dessler provides us with an excuse for a self-indulgent recap:

I was at a meeting earlier this week and was talking to one of the coordinating lead authors of the recent IPCC working group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. He remarked that he was quite surprised that how little substantive criticism the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report had received since its release just about one year ago. 

Reflecting on why this might be the case, he says:

the scientists writing the report knew that the denial machine would go over the report with a fine tooth comb looking for any “gotcha” mistakes to use to discredit the IPCC. Because of that, the IPCC report was extremely carefully worded so as to make virtually every statement in the report bulletproof. 

That may be so. But as we’ve reported before, the ‘denial machine’ is way behind the warmers – media, politicians and the IPCC itself – when it comes to misrepresenting what the IPCC reports have to say. Writing about AR4, for example, the BBC’s Richard Black claimed that ‘The IPCC states that climate change is “unequivocal” and may bring “abrupt and irreversible’ impacts”‘. When we looked at the report, however, it was clear that Black had simply taken words from the report and reassembled them to mean something entirely different. The report itself only used the word ‘abrupt’ once: ‘The MOC is very unlikely to undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century’. ‘Very unlikely’ becomes ‘may’.

The ‘irreversible impacts’ part is just as tenuous. According to the report:

Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5oC (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5oC, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe. 

But as we said at the time:

likely… some… medium confidence… approximately… 20-30% of species assessed so far… likely… increased risk… if… Of how many ‘assessed species’, exactly? 

But such caveats and unknowns don’t stop the BBC hack using the word ‘irreversible’ to sex up an article that would have otherwise been “IPCC report marginally less alarmist than last time, yet doesn’t say anything all that new”.

Likewise, IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri can’t resist the temptation to extravagate the IPCC’s findings beyond recognition, for dramatic (comic?) effect.

We picked up on Andrew Dessler’s argument last year that the earth was like a sick child, which needed the attention of the equivalent of specialist pediatric doctors – the IPCC – rather than engage with any of the ideas put forward by sceptics. ‘So given the critical nature of the climate change problem, who should we listen to?’ he wondered.

My opinion, and the opinion of all the governments of the world, is that we should listen to people who specialize in climate science. That’s the IPCC. 

Following that, our survey of the contributing authors to the IPCC AR4 reports showed that most weren’t climate scientists, as he had argued. Many, in fact, were precisely the social scientists, computer scientists, and economists he believed should be excluded from the debate.

In his latest contribution, Dessler goes on to say:

In fact, it is quite amazing to me that essentially none of the IPCC documents produced over the last 18 years has been found to contain any substantive errors. 

He obviously has not been listening to climate catastrophist and IPPC author James Hansen, who said in New Scientist last year:

I find it almost inconceivable that “business as usual” climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so? 

And has he forgotten the controversy caused by the use of the “Hockey Stick” graph, invented by Micheal Mann, who also happened to be lead author on the IPCC working group which made it famous? (Roughly equivalent to a researcher “peer-reviewing” his own work).

With all this in mind, Dessler goes on to say:

The trolls, of course, will come out with their litany of “errors” that the IPCC contains (I suspect a few will appear in the comments to this post), but when you look closely, the trolls are almost always misrepresenting the IPCC’s statements. 

In fact, that’s the most common attack on the IPCC: make the claim that the IPCC said something ridiculous (which it didn’t actually say), then disprove that ridiculous statement, and then use that as evidence that the IPCC’s reports cannot be trusted. “The IPCC says that 2 + 2 = 5, but that’s just hogwash. We know that 2 + 2 = 4. Thus, climate change is a hoax.” Yeah, right.

But Dessler is doing the trolls’ work for them. It’s just that he is only sensitive to the misrepresentation of the IPCC in one direction. It is even funnier that he himself misrepresents the IPCC. One of the people doing the best job of discrediting the IPCC in the world right now is Andrew Dessler himself. May he keep up the good work.

Save the Planet or the Puppy Gets It

Over at Gristmill, Andrew Dessler complains about the list of 400 sceptical scientists who seem to challenge the “scientific consensus”:

The question is: does their opinion matter? Should you revise your views about climate change accordingly? 

The question is then, should scientific opinion matter? But in order to stop this question being turned back to the “consensus” scientists, Dessler makes an exception for them:

To understand why Inhofe’s claims are fundamentally bogus, consider the following scenario: imagine a child is diagnosed with cancer. Who are his parents going to take him to in order to determine the best course of treatment? 

Dessler goes on use the tragic image of a hypothetical child with cancer, by saying that you would not take the child to any old doctor, but a specialist of a specialism.

Expertise matters. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. The list of skeptics on the EPW blog contains few bona fide climate specialists. In fact, the only criteria to get on the list, as far as I can tell, is having a PhD and some credential that makes you an academic. So Freeman Dyson makes lists. While I’m certain he’s a smart guy, I would not take a sick child to him, and I won’t take a sick planet to him either. In both cases, he simply does not have the relevant specialist knowledge. That also applies the large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem. The bottom line is that the opinions of most of the skeptics on the list are simply not credible.

The trouble for Dessler is that the earth is not a child. And climate scientists are neither doctors, nor pathologists, let alone pediatric oncologists. Let us use, instead of a child with cancer, a happy little puppy dog. Somebody presents themselves as an expert, and tells you that the puppy dog is terribly, terribly sick. But you look at the puppy, and to you it seems to be perfectly normal. It wags and chases its own tail. It investigates every new object and smell, runs around, eats a bit, and falls asleep. You challenge the expert. He says that unless you do as he says, according to the computer model of a puppy he has devised, the real puppy will die in a horrible, horrible way, and it will all be your fault. Do you want to be a puppy murderer?

But since climate science and medicine are not the same thing, Dressler’s analogy breaks down. Doctors and vets in the world that the poor little puppy dog and the tragic cancer child inhabit, have not done clinical medicine degrees, just some very basic biology. No therapy has ever been tested. No diagnosis has ever been proved. In fact, nobody has ever seen a sick puppy, nor a case of cancer before. It is just the untested view of the experts that the child has cancer, and the puppy will die unless you make changes to the way you live your life. Such is the state of climate science in this world. Is the Earth really “sick”? It still spins. It still rains. It still works. Perhaps the expert has confused a change in the puppy’s behaviour with there being something wrong.

So given the critical nature of the climate change problem, who should we listen to? My opinion, and the opinion of all the governments of the world, is that we should listen to people who specialize in climate science. That’s the IPCC. 

What is conspicuously absent from all of this debate about which scientists to believe?

Science. It’s the science, Stupid. Yet Dessler asks us not to consider the science, but who we would trust a dying child to. Yet it is not the case that even “most” scientists at the IPCC are climate scientists, but exactly the “large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem” about whom Dressler complains. Dressler is wrong about the expertise of the IPCC. Neither is it the case that the IPCC scientists represent the “best in the field”.

For a long time, climate orthodoxy has hidden behind “the consensus”. Environmentalists have attempted to defend the idea of this consensus, because it has invested all of its currency in the fact of its existance. If the consensus doesn’t exist, how can the environmental movement proceed with legitimacy? We have already heard arguments about how this new group of scientists lacks authority, expertise, and how these scientists might be funded by Exxon Mobil. Anything but science. The consensus only exists by diminishing the moral character or professionalism of those who do not agree, not by allowing competing theories to be tested by the scientific process. If it carries on like this, the environmental movement will prevent science from being part of the process which forms the scientific consensus on the climate.

Climate science will eat itself, tail first. It is a sick puppy.

Nobody Expects the Cimate Inquisition

‘Sustainable’ blogging (geddit?) is a bit difficult when even the green news-makers have jetted off to catch some sun… This isn’t climate change, it’s silly season, and there’s not much news around.

We have reported before how the environmentalist’s view of the future shares something with the Taliban. Now we bring you… calls for a climate inquisition. Jamais Casico, futurologist and founder of http://www.worldchanging.com/ isn’t the first to call for trials for global warming ‘denialists’. Gristmill’s David Roberts can claim that honour. But that doesn’t make Casico’s comments any less shocking.

Speaking/fantasising about the possibility of a second event such as Hurricane Katrina to hit the USA, regardless of whether or not global warming is the cause (and it seems, regardless of whether or not humans caused it), Casico writes on his blog,

For the global warming denial industry, congressional hearings will be the least of their worries. In a post-Katrina II America, aware that some of the largest companies and the most influential think tanks worked hard to make sure that attempts to mitigate climate disruption were stopped, the perpetrators of this crime may face far greater trials. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch. 

The ‘crime’, it seems is not that corporates and individuals are responsible for the material act of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, but that daring to voice their opinion influences people to continue to consume, which causes CO2 to be emitted. Casico can charge ‘the deniers’ with nothing more than thought crime. Casico cannot comprehend that anyone might have a reasonable objection to either climate science or political orthodoxies, and so speculates as to what is driving ‘denial’:

The companies and think tanks involved in the denialist effort come across not as defenders of their beliefs and industry, but as people willing to say and do anything to protect the accumulation of short-term profits, the future (and the world) be damned. 

Aside from the sinister fantasy of lynch mobs rounding up his political enemies, which Casico seems to be indulging in, what this commentary reveals is another case of the escalation of rhetoric against ‘sceptics and deniers’ that is designed to close down debate and claim the moral high ground. This time, not by making equivalents of sceptics and holocaust deniers, but by equally hollow appeals to victimhood on behalf of people who don’t even exist yet, whose lives have been ruined by something that hasn’t happened yet.

If a dark, nasty future didn’t exist, Jamais Casico would have to invent it – which is precisely what he’s doing. It is only by fantasising about the future that Casico can find people guilty in the present. And for all the complaints about corporates gambling with the future, he has carved himself quite a profitable niche with his bleak visions. Yet this contemporary Nostradamus has a lmited imagination; all he can think of is reasons to avoid the future, not ways of making it better.