Our last post was about Guardian journalist, David Adam, and his inability to reflect critically and impartially on the climate debate. That’s not to say he’s biased… That would miss the point. Which is precisely what Adam does. Adam believes that ‘the science’ is instructive – it tells us what to do.
Adam now produces an article with the headline:
Leading climate scientist: ‘democratic process isn’t working’
Let’s not look at the article for a moment, but just consider the headline (which we accept is not necessarily Adam’s responsibility). It is a scientist’s view that the ‘democratic process isn’t working’. So what? What does a scientist know about democracy that anyone plucked off the street doesn’t know? You might be lucky and pluck a professor of political theory off the street, and he might be able to give you a detailed account of theories of democracy. But could he tell you that democracy was working? What would it mean?
Luckily, the next man walking down the street is a climate scientist. He can tell you whether democracy is working or not. He takes out his laptop, and shows you a Hockey-Stick graph. This proves that democracy is not working.
Or does it? The Penguin Dictionary of Politics begins its definition of ‘democracy’ like this:
Democracy is the most valued and also the vaguest of political terms in the modern world.
Useful, eh? The point here is that ‘democracy’ by itself isn’t a term that carries a lot of meaning, but that we’re all supposed to value. It can be weilded by someone ignorant of its many possible interpretations. Indeed, it can be an entirely meaningless concept. ‘Democracy is under attack’ is suposed to rush us to action, in the same way that the ‘cat is drowning’ is. But while we all know what a cat is, and we can all call a cat a cat, do we share the same understanding of ‘democracy’?
That is not to relativise the concept of democracy, but to point out that that its use in this case is desperately hollow. In this way, environmentalists have sought to hide their ideology behind the objectivity of ‘science’. For instance, according to many greens, climate change creates moral imperatives. Failure to act to prevent climate change by reducing your ‘carbon footprint’ makes you ‘unethical’. In this view, the morality of an action is calculated according to its consequences, not as they are experienced by humans, but to or through the ‘environment’. The environment is like a kind of karmic aether, through which moral acts are transmitted.
As with ‘democracy’, this is a much degraded form of ‘ethics’. For instance, if a person was to generally behave badly – let’s say they were inclined to assert their will violently – we can understand this ‘ethically’ in terms of the relationship that person has with others. We could say his actions prevented others from expressing themselves, or made them unhappy, or that there is something wrong in principle with violence. But we cannot do the same with CO2. A moral actor might use a gas guzzling 4×4 to make an ‘unnecessary journey’. On the other hand, he or she might use it to save a life. But both, according to the logic of environmental ethics, are as bad as the other. They leave a legacy, which will be visited on our children’s children’s children’s children. The moral actor is removed in space and time from his victim. The ghost of his action may strike thousands of miles away, hundreds of years into the future.
In other words, environmental ethics are utter bullshit.
The environmentalists’ need to naturalise ethics with climate science speaks about their inability to construct a coherent ethical perspective in human terms, with human values. It is a lack of self-confidence which forces them to seek authority in a greater force or power than humanity itself. It’s not enough to talk about how humans ought to relate to each other… the environmentalist wants to say how we should relate to the environment. That’s not because we understand how to relate to each other, it’s because the environmentalist believes that the environment exists between us as a moral fact.
What has this got to do with politics?
The same is true of ‘democracy’ as it is with ‘ethics’. Environmentalists simply don’t understand what they mean by the term. Just as the term ‘unethical’ is interchangeable with the word ‘wrong’ in environmental rhetoric, so too the term ‘democracy’ does not refer to a system of values and principles in which ideas are negotiated. It just means ‘my way’. To the article:
James Hansen, a climate modeller with Nasa, told the Guardian today that corporate lobbying has undermined democratic attempts to curb carbon pollution. “The democratic process doesn’t quite seem to be working,” he said.
What does James Hansen know about which corporate lobbying? Is it something that only the ‘other side’ do? Forget the vast lobbying power of dedicated green multinationals such as Greenpeace and WWF, do corporate interests – <cough>Enron</cough> – never lobby for environmental policies?
Speaking on the eve of joining a protest against the headquarters of power firm E.ON in Coventry, Hansen said: “The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.
“The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I’m not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we’re running out of time.”
What money is talking louder than which votes? Votes for whom? Votes for which party? Did someone launch a James Hansen Party, while we weren’t looking?
Hansen’s unsuitability for commenting on matters of democracy is reinforced throughout Adam’s article – even if the author himself doesn’t realise it:
“I think that peaceful actions that attempt to draw society’s attention to the issue are not inappropriate,” Hansen said.
So is it democracy that has failed the environment, or environmentalism that fails democratically? Hansen doesn’t seem to know. Why the need to draw attention to a problem that the electorate is supposedly pushing for? As we’ve argued at length on this site, there is no popular environmentalist movement, and the problem for democracy is that there is nobody for the non-environmentalist majority to vote for.
Hansen said: “What’s being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated.”
That ‘informed public’ is perhaps the most telling of Hansen’s democratic ideals, especially when set against his complaint that corporate lobbying swamps the power of ‘one person one vote’.
Hansen’s understanding of democracy seems to be limited to the idea that a society that doesn’t get what he wants is undemocratic. And yet, Adam has again reported the mere opinion of one vociferous climate scientist, as though it automatically had authority – even on matters completely outwith his field of expertise. This is surely only possible in an arena such as climate change, where ‘the science’ not only determines policy, but also, apparently, the very definition of democracy.
Adam also simultaneously ignores the context in which that opinion is expressed. This is the same James Hansen who has, since 2007, publicly stated: A) that he has been muzzled by his superiors; B) that nobody listens to him; C) that he thinks he should perhaps try to refrain from spouting his mouth off so much in the media; D) that we have only four years left to save the planet; E) that everything is much much worse than anybody else seems to think. To name but a few. And who is now, in the popular media, calling for an (un)popular revolution.
Individually, each of these claims is silly enough. Taken together, they map a spectacular act of scientific and political self-destruction. We can only hope that he also takes those who uncritically report his pronouncements down with him.
BBC bosses today tried to make excuses for the cut-and-paste job by BBC science journalist, Susan Watts, as discovered by Tony at Harmless Sky recently. Answering criticism on Watts’ blog, Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon said:
We did edit sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science. The aim was to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying. You can look for yourself above.
If this is true, it means that the editorial team at BBC Newsnight are shockingly naive. If that is true, then we would like to know, what are they doing producing the networks flagship current affairs magazine programme?
Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt with respect to their editorial oversight, by which we mean that we accept that they are naive, the feature drips with the kind of ideological prejudice that any run-of-the-mill eco-warrior can muster. This is not news, nor is it analysis. It is projection.
Here is a transcript of the feature, Restoring science to its rightful place, with our commentary.
OBAMA: We will restore science to its rightful place [snip] roll back the spectre of a warming planet [snip] we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.
As has been pointed out, this is a cut and paste job, which sets up the background to Watts’ presentation. Peter Rippon claims this has been done innocently, and that ‘fades between each point’ underscore the ‘montage’ of different parts of Obama’s speech, as an ‘impression’ of what he had said, not what he had actually said. But these images are not of Obama, but of a victorian green house in London’s Kew Gardens. Why would different shots of 19th Century greenhouse architecture make it obvious to viewers that what they were hearing was a ‘montage’?
WATTS: President Obama couldn’t have been clearer today, and for most scientists, his vote of confidence will have come not a moment too soon.
So here is Watts’ naked position: Bush was anti science. And now ‘most scientists’ are happy because Bush is gone. Bush = anti-science; Obama = pro-science. Bush is a baddy, and Obama is a goody. Science says so. It proves it. Understand?
Watts says that Obama ‘couldn’t have been clearer’, but she had to splice his words together to get him to make her point.
You don’t need to be a Bush fan to find this kind of retrospective shallow. We’re not Bush fans. Yet, throughout the last eight years, what has struck us is that science has become the stick with which to beat Bush, not because he really stood against science, but because his critics – not just the Democrats – lacked any real substance either. That is to say, as we have in the past, that science is a last-resort of vacuous politics: it fails to make a persuasive case on its own terms, and so borrows authority from ‘science’. Like trying to use ‘science’ to prove that something is immoral, what this reveals is the intellectual exhaustion of the critic.
In the eight years of the Bush presidency, the world saw the Arctic ice cap shrink to a record Summer low, the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and warnings from scientists shift from urgent to panicky.
So Bush melted the ice cap, right?
There has certainly been a shift in rhetoric from ‘urgent to panicky’, but that shift is not justified by ‘the science’. The IPCC’s AR4 gave no reason to believe that thermageddon was any closer than it was when its predecessor AR3 came out. To make it sound like it did, environmentalist commentators – notably those at the BBC – also had to cut and paste.
And as we have pointed out recently, the panicky tone of environmentalists is owed not to the emergence of new climate research but to their need to sustain leverage over a sympathetic establishment. In fact, the big stories over the last few years – the prospect of an Arctic free of summer ice, fears about peak oil after price hikes, and predictions of ‘warmest summers on record’ – all failed to materialise. If recent history shows anything, it is that environmentalists have reached the point of peak doom.
President Bush came to power at the start of a new decade, a new century, and what many thought would be a new era for science. The news that scientists had pieced together an early draft of the human genome had given a palpable lift to the end of the Clinton presidency.
There are many things you can say about the end of the Clinton administration, but ‘palpable lift’ isn’t really one of them. Clinton’s years were characterised by scandal and political crisis, offset by a very aggressive foreign policy – pretty much what the ensuing Bush administration consisted of. For example, as CNN reported in 1998:
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Saying “there will be no sanctuary for terrorists,” President Clinton on Thursday said the U.S. strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a facility in Sudan are part of “a long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism.” […]
The president said he ordered the strike against bin Laden and his compatriots because of “compelling information they were planning additional terrorist attacks against our citizens and others with the inevitable collateral casualties and .. seeking to acquire chemical weapons and other dangerous weapons.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar? As it turned out, the Sudanese factory Clinton bombed turned out to be making pharmaceuticals, not WMD. Just a few months later:
WASHINGTON (CNN) — From the Oval Office, President Clinton told the nation Wednesday evening why he ordered new military strikes against Iraq. The president said Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors presented a threat to the entire world. “Saddam (Hussein) must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons,” Clinton said.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? The point we are making here is that it is difficult for people – journalists especially – to locate territory from which to criticise Bush. Clearly, the War on Terror – and all its rhetoric – had roots in the Clinton era. The Bush administration doesn’t look so different, after all. Different styles, maybe, but the same substance. Unless, as Watts claims, they took different positions on science:
Science was riding high. But Bush was less attentive.
But According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, things aren’t so simple:
How can it be said that Bush was ‘anti-science’ if, as the AAAS seem to indicate, research budgets increased during his administration? In ignorance of what she speaks, Watts continues:
Religion, or at least the religious vote, informed Bush policy. His very public distaste for stem-cell research mattered because it raised public suspicion of science. Creationism has grown stronger, to the point that more Americans now believe in the biblical story of creation than evolution.
It’s not as much Bush’s hostility to ‘science’ that Watts worries about, but the failure of his critics to use ‘science’ to influence public policy. One may well say that Bush’s policies didn’t reflect ‘scientific’ opinion. But the point we have made here, many times, is that science cannot produce moral arguments. Science cannot tell you that it is ‘right’ to abort or research on a foetus. These matters, which seemingly characterise the debate that was influenced by religious attitudes, are only illuminated by science to the extent that it says what may be possible to achieve. The problem, as we have outlined in the past, is that Bush’s critics hide their shame – their inability to make moral arguments – behind science. It is a fig leaf.
Watts is deeply confused. According to her, it is ‘the religious vote’ that influences Bush. But in the very next sentence, it is Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ that raises public suspicion, seemingly with the effect of increasing the prevalence of creationism. One moment, Bush is weak because he respond to the vote, the next he is able to manipulate it. Whether we agree with Bush or not, Watts’ complaint is that Bush succeeded in making an argument to the public through the democratic process. Her complaint is with democracy. The science that Watts believes trumps democracy is good, old fashioned arrogance.
And anyway, where did Watts get the idea that adherence to Biblical interpretations of life on Earth increased under Bush? Not from Gallup, which has data going back to 1982:
Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ is a favorite of those wishing to cast him in the role of enemy of science. But Watts’ statement simplifies the political reality to the point that it bears no relationship to the truth. US policy requires that Federal funds cannot be used for research on embryonic stem cells. State-sponsored researchers can and do work on stem cells from other sources. And meanwhile, university researchers can and do work on embryonic stem cells – just so long as they don’t use federal funds (which makes for some complicated partitioning of lab equipment in many a US university department). For what it’s worth, we, too, are not impressed by US stem-cell policies. But neither are we impressed by the simplistic portrayal of Bush’s stance, especially when the US’s regulation of embryonic SC research is mirrored in the policies of a host of European nations, including such models of Liberal democracy as Germany and Denmark.
Scientists have got used to attempts to silence them. But now they are speaking out again. Unlike economic recession and wars which pass, climate change does not and there are deadlines if we want to avoid a point of no return. In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world.
On her blog, Watts expands on her claims that scientists have been silenced, in a post that Asher Mullard, an editor at the science journal Nature, describes as ‘a meaty overview of a light at the end of the tunnel after 8 long years for scientists’…
Just last week a Nasa scientist, Jim Hansen, whom Bush had tried to silence in the past warned that Obama has just four years to save the world. But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already promoted many to top advisory positions… crucially on energy policy.
We’ve dealt with Hansen’s ‘four years to save the world’ claim elsewhere. But note that, in Watts’ world, the speculative splutterings of a single rogue scientist become ‘In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world’.
If Bush did try to silence Hansen, he didn’t try very hard. Hansen has barely been out of the news this century. According to the Washington Times:
A NASA scientist who said the Bush administration muzzled him because of his belief in global warming yesterday acknowledged to Congress that he’d done more than 1,400 on-the-job interviews in recent years.
To pick but one example from his vast output, in 2007, we reported on Hansen’s 3000-word article in New Scientist where he claimed that sea level rise will be orders of magnitude faster than IPCC projections suggest. When the same magazine, in the same month, reported on Harvard scientist Willie Soon’s paper in the journal Ecological Complexity, which challenged received wisdom that climate change is imperilling polar bears, the scientific argument was ignored in favour of speculation about Soon’s alleged links to the oil industry, and that the research was part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the environmental movement’s use of the polar bear as an icon. Who’s being silenced?
Hansen is Watts’ representative scientist. And yet he departs from ‘the consensus’ as spectacularly as any executive of ExxonMobil – he just happens to do so in a more politically correct direction.
Back to the transcript:
But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already appointed several to leading advisory positions. And although he has to deal with internal squabbles about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax is the best way to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, at least the Obama team does agree on the goal.
So Obama has a unique opportunity to fix the recession and fix climate change at the same time. He just has to have the nerve to follow through. And this year of all years, leadership matters, because the world hopes to thrash out a global deal to cut emissions. So if he does stick to his promises on renewables, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, and hybrid vehicles, he’ll help loosen the grip that fossil fuels hold on all our lives.
So Obama can fix the recession and save the world from global warming… But why stop there? Maybe we could ask him to find a cure for cancer and the common cold too, by next week? Oh, and then there’s that eternal question he could answer – ‘why are we here?’ Obama’s to-do list grows as the people reporting on his progress empty their heads of reason. Watts’ analysis is, as we said at the beginning of this post, not journalism, but projection. Her story says nothing about Obama and his policies, nor does it accurately reflect the role of science and its relationship with public policy, nor does it even give a plausible account of the last decade’s political developments. It doesn’t even tell you anything useful about climate change. It is all about Watts, her hopes and her prejudices, informed only by ignorance, hidden behind a veneer of scientific authority.
There’s another question perhaps Obama can answer by, like, yesterday: what are science correspondents actually for?
Another sure sign that environmentalists are struggling to sustain a rational basis for their influence emerged last week. The pages of the Observer featured the opinion of NASA activist/scientist James Hansen in two articles [1 , 2] and an editorial.
Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama’s first administration, he added.
Of all the hopes pinned on Obama, ‘saving the world’ has to be the most revealing of the hoper, be it the Observer Journalist, the Observer, or Hansen.
As we pointed out last Thursday, the environmental movement’s only leverage is the prospect of catastrophe. It has no popular appeal in any real sense. So when it appears that governments are ‘on-message’, or in any way sympathetic to its concerns, the only way to sustain its undemocratic and unaccountable influence is to escalate the sense of urgency, or their function will become redundant.
This suggests that the hoper’s nervousness is owed, not to material facts about the state of the world – obviously – but their inability to explain the world, and their tenuous grip on the public agenda.
As an apparently sympathetic Obama steps to the fold, so we see the environmental protagonists escalating the sense of crisis.
“We cannot now afford to put off change any longer. We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead.”
After eight years of opposing moves to combat climate change, thanks to the policies of President George Bush, the US had given itself no time for manoeuvre, he said. Only drastic, immediate change can save the day and those changes proposed by Hansen – who appeared in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and is a winner of the World Wildlife Fund’s top conservation award – are certainly far-reaching.
So where did this ‘four years’ figure come from?
In 2006, the same Hansen had argued that
“I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most,” Hansen said Wednesday at the Climate Change Research Conference in California’s state capital.
Less than two and a half years later, the ten years is reduced to four years.
Shortly after Hansen made his ten year claim, UK and Dutch premiers Tony Blair and Jan Peter Balkenende wrote in a letter to the EU that
The science of climate change has never been clearer. Without further action, scientists now estimate we may be heading for temperature rises of at least 3-4C above pre-industrial levels. We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points. These would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy. So we must act quickly.
The fact that science hasn’t – indeed, cannot – identify ‘catastrophic tipping points’ doesn’t bother politicians who use science in this way. The concept of a tipping point is only useful to politicians – it has little scientific meaning. It is a gun to your head. Do you trust the authority of the man holding it, or do you challenge it? If you don’t do as he says and you’re wrong, you might trigger the tipping point. You lose. But if you’re right to challenge it, the trust we have in politicians, and politics built around the myth of catastrophe itself disintegrates. You lose. Either way, the threat is that society breaks down, because either the climate will change, destroying our ‘fragile relationship’ with nature, or the myths on which authority is established are ripped from beneath it. This is the politics of fear.
Greens have presented themselves as radical alternatives to mainstream politics. But they use exactly the same language. In November 2007, we reported Caroline Lucas’s attempts to use ‘catastrophic tipping points’ to elevate herself.
Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.
This was the second time we had picked up on Lucas’s claim that the planet had a deadline. Justifying her claim that climate change denial was equivalent to holocaust denial, she had said previously that
What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.
Last year, vulcanologist Bill McQuire announced that we had just ‘seven years to save the planet‘ in a book of the same name. Amazon describe it thus,
‘Bill McGuire succinctly tackles a series of green queries… the book is an excellent first stop for getting clued up about climate change. ‘ METRO ‘..author Bill McGuire points out that to salvage a civilisation capable of maintaining a semblance of organisation approximate to what we have now, we must achieve a near-zero carbon economy by 2050’. GREENEVENTS ‘McGuire makes telling points about the size of the challenge we face if we are to escape some of the nastier effects of climate change. And his sense of urgency is well-placed.’ FOCUS
(Where would McGuire be, if it weren’t for the end of the world? Certainly not making numerous appearances on TV shows, or selling books. Doom is big business.)
In August last year, policy director and head of the climate change programme at the New Economics Foundation, Andrew Simms announced that we had just ‘100 months to save the world‘.
So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It’s possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth’s average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.
Is it four years or is it six? Or is it ten or fifteen? The tipping point is being used by everyone. The only thing that differs is when this tipping point is supposed to occur.
The idea of a ‘tipping point’ began as scientific speculation that climate systems ‘flip’ from one ‘state’ to another, rather than change as one variable – the concentration of greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere – changes. This idea armed environmentalists with the threat that a changing climate would suddenly – rather than over the course of millenia – reach a point where climate change was so rapid that natural processes on which human society depends would in turn collapse, leaving us starved of resources, and unable to cope with the new conditions.
The problem for environmentalists is that no such ‘tipping point’ has been identitifed by climate science, and the social consequences of moving past tipping points remain poorly defined. The NEF, for example, cannot point to any scientific literature which identifies tipping points. Instead, their 100 month calculation is formed from a variety of headline statements and studies taken from here, there, and everywhere. (They invent a tipping point).
Take for example, the figure of 2 degrees which Simms says is the point which must not be exceeded. The more technical document accompanying his article and campaign website says that this figure,
… is the maximum acceptable level of temperature rise agreed by the European Union and others as necessary to retain reasonable confidence of preventing uncontrollable and ultimately catastrophic warming.
The report doesn’t say where the rationale behind the figure of 2 degrees can be located, nor why we should take the EU’s word for it. Moreover, what is the ‘reasonable confidence’ that the NEF want to ‘retain’ about the future? It implies that what lies beyond 2 degrees is not ‘reasonable confidence’ of there being a catastrophe, but less certainty about there not being one. In other words, it says nothing about climate – 2 degrees is not a tipping point, but an arbitrary point, beyond which we can be less certain about the end of the world than before it. We might just as well observe that ‘catastrophe’ is less likely before a 1000 degree rise in global temperature than after it.
We’ve pointed out before that this is ‘politics by numbers’. In this game, all you need to do to elevate yourself over your opponents is add one to their offer. This done by commissioning someone with the appropriate letters after their name to do back-of-an-envelope calculations using the figures which have already been ‘established’ by other players in the game. It is voodoo science, and it only means anything if you already actually believe it.
Once you have performed the ritual which establishes the new magic numbers, you can present your manifesto. And so it is with the NEF. Their ‘Green New Deal‘ document is
Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programme launched in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, this modernised version is designed to tackle our current crash: the interlinked crises of climate change, recession and energy depletion.
It goes on…
The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially devastating consequences.
As we pointed out recently, one of those three crunch factors – high oil prices – is already a non fact. Like Hansen, the NEF and the Green New Deal Group elevate themselves with these kind of statements. But soon their forecasts will catch up with them.
Following Obama’s inauguration, and the NEF’s attempts to cast their ideas as the contemporary equivalent of Roosevelt’s New Deal it seems appropriate to answer Hansen’s demands to the new president with words from Roosevelt’s inuagural address.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Obama himself mentions fear:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
If Obama is really to choose ‘hope over fear’, he will have to challenge the influence of the likes of Hansen. Can he do it? Well, we hope so.
A CNN article at the end of last week said that
A team of international scientists led by Dr James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say that carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are already in the danger zone.
The ‘danger zone’? Is that ‘science’? Either way, the opinions of these alarmist scientists is hardly news…
Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere currently stand at 385 parts per million (ppm) and are rising at a rate of two ppm per year. This is enough, say the scientists, to encourage dangerous changes to the Earth’s climate. As a result we risk expanding desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, loss of coral reefs and the disappearance of mountain glaciers that supply water to hundreds of millions of people.
Hansen has established his public profile by making incautious statements exaggerating the extent of global warming and its effects. Consequently, he is celebrated by the environmental movement. Yet, as we reported in the past, the curious positioning as a hero puts as much distance between him and the ‘scientific consensus’ represented by the IPCC Assessment Reports as there exists between the IPCC and any climate change ‘denier’. For example, where Hansen has warned of sea-level rises measured in feet, the IPCC’s most recent report talks of just inches.
Hansen-worshipers answer that the IPCC is naturally conservative about its estimations. But on that basis, we might as well dispense with the IPCC – whose reports have successively down-graded their estimates of sea-level rise over the years – and indeed, science itself. The environmentalists switch their investment from the ‘scientific consensus’ to the maverick as it suits them. Not as much a credit crunch as a credibility crunch. A speculative bubble is forming around Hansen.
Here at Climate Resistance, we have long argued that whatever the scientific realities of climate change, it does not justify the special politics that are demanded by environmentalists. This is partly because, however much warming the natural world is subject to, human society is far more dynamic, adaptable, and able to alter itself than the natural world. The human world is not an extension of the natural world. It is not weathered and changed by the elements.
Although at any instant, human society is dependent on natural process to function, the instance of those dependencies are not what human society is predicated on. Human society has experienced all manner of climate problems, localised shortages of resources, and over-abundances of weather. But where it rains a lot, we build drainage systems. Where it doesn’t, we build dams and reservoirs, and divert rivers. We fertilise soil, irrigate dry fields, and build sea defences. Of course, there are the occasional failures of the systems we build, but where there has been the most development, people are far better protected than their predecessors.
So why are scientists so worried about desertification, food shortages, increased storm intensities, and the disappearance of mountain glaciers’?
Until this year, a bigger problem for the developed world than food shortage and desertification was an over-abundance of food production. Over the last few decades, many international organisations and governments have aimed to reduce agricultural production while environmentalists, claiming that that ‘climate change is happening now’ worried about decreasing fertility. This year saw record prices in food and fuel, but not because of peak oil, as was claimed, and not because of climate change. The reason for these price spikes is all too human. As we pointed out recently, in spite of Oxfam’s claim that the poor in Bangladesh are being ‘driven further into poverty because of climate change’, agricultural production and yield had increased, as had GDP. If poverty in Bangladesh is increasing, clearly it has little to do with a changing climate. Similarly, there is little evidence that storm intensity and frequency are increasing.
Hansen thinks these sorts of changes would take several centuries, but he said we would have to deal with a “holy mess…as ice sheet disintegration unfolded out of our control”. As far as current global observations are concerned, Hansen cites both the decline of Arctic sea ice and the worldwide retreat of mountain glaciers as causes for major concern. “Once they are gone,” he said, “the fresh water supplies for hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains will be severely reduced in summer and fall.”
While ice extent may indeed be ‘out of our control’, (as if it was ever in our control) the issue for humans is not controlling the weather, but controlling our vulnerability to it. We do that, not by aiming to control the weather one way or the other, but, as described above: adapting to become resilient to the weather, and to controlling the local environment.
Hansen’s alarmism loses sight of our ability to adapt. Perhaps glaciers will melt. But for the ‘hundreds of people dependent on rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains’, all is not lost. If glaciers melt, it says little in the general sense about the net input to those glaciers. It will still rain and snow in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky mountains. The water will still flow downhill, as it always has. This creates a new opportunity for dam-building, putting the elements more concretely under our control.
And there is the rub. Environmentalists don’t actually want things to be under our control. The objective of environmentalism – some kind of synchronicity with the natural world – is not based on necessary principles emerging from climate science, but on an ethic, a higher purpose of which we are mere subjects.
Dr Hansen says it’s impossible to say when we will reach the point of no return. “It’s like the economy, it’s a non-linear problem,” he said. “You knew, given the continued input of big deficit spending that things would go to pot, but nobody could predict the time of collapse with any confidence. We had better start reducing emissions soon and get back below 350 ppm within several decades — otherwise I doubt that the ice sheets can stand such a long strong pressure.”
Similarly, being able to make statements about what the future consists deprives the environmental movement of its capital: fear. For if we were able to make definitive statements about what the future might bring, we could develop accordingly, again, extending our ability to control adverse effects.
Hansen’s fear and uncertainty about the future will drive society into a catastrophe of its own making, not one inflicted by an angry Gaia. As we have said before, environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more we believe that society is determined not by ourselves, but by climatic effects, the more we will organise ourselves around the idea, limiting our ability to respond to climate – changing or not.
Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the famous Stern Report, which underpins many an argument in favour of climate change mitigation, is behind a ‘carbon credit reference agency‘ launched today.
“If we are to attract the levels of finance necessary to make this a mainstream market and have a strong impact on emissions reduction, risks must be clearly understood, articulated and managed. A detailed ratings system is a vital tool to bring greater clarity, transparency and certainty to the market,” he said.
Of course, where there’s muck, there’s brass.
The agency, run by the IdeaCarbon group of which Lord Stern is vice-chairman [he is in fact vice-chairman of IDEAglobal], said it would offer investors a guide to the quality of credits and the likelihood that they would be delivered. Sellers of carbon credits would have to pay to have their products rated, while buyers would also pay to gain access to the ratings.
IDEAcarbon sell themselves accordingly:
IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.
Other group directors include:
Ian Johnson – Chairman
Ian joined IDEAcarbon following a distinguished career at the World Bank. For eight years he was the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development overseeing its work on climate change and carbon finance. Prior to that he played a major role in negotiating the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed its day-to-day operations for six years. Ian is presently an advisor to Globe, G8+5 and to the UNFCCC.
Samuel Fankhauser – Managing Director (Strategic Advice)
Sam served on the 1995, 2001 and 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also gained hands-on experience in the design of emission reduction projects as a climate change economist for the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Sam joined IDEAcarbon from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where his most recent position was Deputy Chief Economist.
Now, just imagine the fuss that would ensue, were some figure who was depended on for his impartial advice to make public statements on climate change that weren’t in accordance with the ‘consensus’, and it turned out that that person had a financial interest in the public’s perception on matters that he advised about? Might there not be some protest? After all, it’s not as if his advice is subtle:
Lord Stern, the former World Bank chief economist whose landmark report on the economics of climate change warned the world risked plunging into economic depression if action was not taken urgently on greenhouse gases, said carbon trading was a “key plank” in dealing with climate change.
It is often said that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Well, it turns out that it will be great for the rich. As a December ’07 press release shows, there’s plenty to be positive about climate change:
“By 2020 the global carbon market could be worth EUR 240-450 billion” says Lord Nicholas Stern, Vice Chairman of IDEAGlobal Group, in the inaugural issue of CARBONfirst
He’s no fool, Sir Nick. This gives the lie to the claims that environmentalism is the continuation of anti-capitalism – there is clearly room for capitalists at the fair-trade, organic, global warming beano.
Just shouting about hypocrisy gets nothing done, and doesn’t change anything. But how does this happen? Why isn’t Stern embarrassed about this? Why don’t we see an equivalent to Exxonsecrets.org, showing the monied interests buzzing around the global warming issue? Why is it that this kind of barefaced conflict of interests is largely overlooked, while people like James Hansen call for oil company executives to face trials for ‘high crimes against nature and humanity‘, allegedly for distorting the public perception of climate change for profit?
What this shows is that ‘the ethics of climate change’ allow for financial and political interests to be overlooked for the ‘greater good’. The fact that Stern has been instrumental in creating the idea of mitigation serving that greater good must, by the very standards demanded by the environmental movement, surely raise questions about his profiting from it. Yet don’t expect outrage, because, as we have seen before, the ethics of climate change only apply one way. To challenge Sir Nicholas’s apparent profiting from his report would be to undermine the very foundations of so many environmentalists’ arguments. For example, one of our favourites, Sir Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, in his review of the Stern Report and George Monbiot’s Heat, cites Stern as an authority on ‘the facts’ which we are expected to ‘respect’.
Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. […] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures.
Given the occasional inability of environmentalists to resist the temptation of equating those who challenge the political orthodoxy on climate change with those who opposed the end of slavery, it was only a matter of time before someone would liken the reduction of carbon emissions to the Abolition. That Someone, it turns out, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who wants to de-carbonise the world entirely. Weeeeeeeell, it can’t do any harm can it? But more than that, it would be a positive kick up the arse for the economy, apparently. After all, says RFK, the industrial revolution, and all the benefits that brought for humankind, was only possible because of the Abolition. The Business and Media Institute reports:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants to ‘abolish’ carbon usage and sees a direct comparison to the end of slavery … According to Kennedy, “industry and government warnings” about avoiding “economic ruin” should not be heeded because abolishing slavery did not cripple the British economy as was predicted “Instead of collapsing, as slavery’s proponents had predicted, Britain’s economy accelerated,” he argued.
OK, so the Business and Media Institute is hardly likely to be a bastion of objective, detached journalism, and you are welcome to make your own minds about how low Kennedy was actually stooping with his analogy, by reading his piece for Vanity Fair on which the above report reports.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a crap analogy. Slavery, carbon. Carbon, slavery. If carbon reduction were expected to damage the economy, would it be not worth saving the planet after all? Should we regret ending slavery had the Abolition led to economic problems? Are those who merely want to reduce CO2 emissions – James Hansen, say – akin to those who argued for having fewer slaves?
And even if you give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt on his intentions, his wider argument is preposterous. He might as well be advocating that we go around throwing bricks through windows on the basis that the economy would be stimulated by all the extra work it created for glaziers. Sorry Mr Kennedy, but the Abolition was the right thing to do purely and solely because slavery is immoral. And anyway, wasn’t the industrial revolution well under way before slavery was prohibited?
It’s funny how this whole climate change debate thing seems so contemporary. And yet denialism, scepticism, certainty, doubt and liberty, and the tensions between them, were hot topics well over a century ago, as the following passage from Mill’s essay On Liberty shows. Of course, warmers might argue that the urgency demanded by the danger posed by climate change means that we need to revise our understanding of liberty. But weren’t opponents of Mill also arguing the case for a less liberal sort of liberty? Warmers who read this blog might also observe the short shrift we’ve given to casual claims of geometrical congruence between immoral arguments of the past and climate change scepticism, and decide that we are hypocrites. But our point is simply that debates of the past really can inform contemporary ones. And not in a “you disagree with how we want to change things, just like those horrible slave-traders disagreed with how the Abolitionists wanted to change things, therefore you’re as bad as they were” sort of way.
Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being “pushed to an extreme;” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.
In the present age — which has been described as “destitute of faith, but terrified at scepticism,” — in which people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without them — the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not so much on its truth, as on its importance to society. There are, it is alleged, certain beliefs, so useful, not to say indispensable to well-being, that it is as much the duty of governments to uphold those beliefs, as to protect any other of the interests of society. In a case of such necessity, and so directly in the line of their duty, something less than infallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and even bind, governments, to act on their own opinion, confirmed by the general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men, and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practise. This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself. And it will not do to say that the heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or harmlessness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth. The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful: and can you prevent such men from urging that plea, when they are charged with culpability for denying some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received opinions, never fail to take all possible advantage of this plea; you do not find them handling the question of utility as if it could be completely abstracted from that of truth: on the contrary, it is, above all, because their doctrine is “the truth,” that the knowledge or the belief of it is held to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion of the question of usefulness, when an argument so vital may be employed on one side, but not on the other. And in point of fact, when law or public feeling do not permit the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are just as little tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity, or of the positi
guilt of rejecting it.
In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I choose, by preference, the cases which are least favorable to me — in which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality. To fight the battle on such ground, gives a great advantage to an unfair antagonist; since he will be sure to say (and many who have no desire to be unfair will say it internally), Are these the doctrines which you do not deem sufficiently certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the belief in a God one of the opinions, to feel sure of which, you hold to be assuming infallibility? But I must be permitted to observe, that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call an as sumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less, if put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions. How ever positive any one’s persuasion may be, not only of the falsity, but of the pernicious consequences — not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment, though backed by the public judgment of his country or his cotemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. These are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity. It is among such that we find the instances memorable in history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable success as to the men, though some of the doctrines have survived to be (as if in mockery) invoked, in defence of similar conduct towards those who dissent from them, or from their received interpretation.
Now we come to think of it, this post could have been addressed to Paul LaClair. Because Matthew needs to be able to recognise a good argument when he sees one; not to pick factual holes in arguments he already disagrees with because his parents do.
Don’t believe the rumours of well-funded climate change denialism. We at Climate Resistance lack the hi-tech equipment and web infrastructure to offer the kind of webform that Friends of the Earth USA has at its disposal. Maurizio Morabito suggests we use the FoE form to send an alternative message to the Publishers of American Government, offering support, rather than harassment. We think that’s a good idea. But we should also let Prof Hansen and FoE know what we think of their silly campaign.
We wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to expect you to agree with the following, but if you do, then please send it to the following email addresses by copying it into your mail application. Or write your own. Either way, let them know.
TO: James.E.Hansen@nasa.gov ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Hansen and FoE USA,
I am writing to urge you to immediately publish a corrective addendum to your recent efforts to encourage members of the public to be outraged by text in American Government, 11th edition, by Professors James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr, published by Houghton Mifflin. Your calls for pressure to be applied to the publishers to withdraw or amend the book to suit your own political biases are factually inaccurate and misleading, and undemocratic.
Wilson and DiIulio are correct to describe the scientific understanding of climate change as “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty”, especially with respect to the political response to climate change. Although the IPCC has provided projections from various scenarios to inform the political process, none of these projections have been offered as forecasts, but ‘what ifs’. The international political response to climate change science to date has been precautionary, not based on scientific certainty. The extent to which certainty is absent from climate science is epitomized by the contrast between Professor Hansen’s projections for sea-level rise, and the IPCC’s, which differ by an order of magnitude. Professor Hansen would have us believe that the IPCC is wrong, and has gone on public record to that effect. Why should others not be allowed to challenge mainstream scientific and political orthodoxy without attracting accusations of dishonesty?
The application of the precautionary principle in response to fears about ecological catastrophe is not the result of politically-neutral, objective calculation. In recent years, the political environmental movement has been successful in presenting the precautionary principle as a ‘scientific’ response to uncertainty, while greatly exaggerating the scientific plausibility of imaginary apocalyptic scenarios to elicit a response in their favor from a terrified public. In other words, the environmental movement has hidden its politics behind science. And unfortunately, some high-profile scientists have been content to go along with this deception – with the best of intentions, no doubt, but at the expense of democratic debate that draws on the best available scientific evidence.
Allowing alternative perspectives to enter the climate change debate would deprive the political environmental movement of its oxygen, and in turn undermine its political leverage and public profile. I suggest that your demands for statements of correction to American Government in the interests of “the facts” belie a desire for political censorship to silence your detractors and opponents.
Thank you for your attention in this matter.
On Friday, we wrote about the US ‘Friends of the Earth’, who have enlisted James Hansen in their campaign to censor a book on American politics because it might give the impression that there’s something to discuss. Somehow we managed to miss this gem of a page on the campaign’s website…
Tell Houghton Mifflin global warming isn’t a matter of debate
Friends of the Earth has received a copy of American Government, published by mammoth Houghton Mifflin, which is used in AP government classes in high schools nationwide. The latest edition’s chapter on “Environmental Policy” contains a discussion of global warming so biased and misleading it would humble a tobacco industry PR man:
These are not quotes from oil company press releases. These and other such statements are made by the authors of American Government in the same omnipotent, textbook tone with which we are all familiar.
Please join us in writing Houghton Mifflin right now! We will copy your governor to make sure every state is aware of the problem with this textbook.
There follows an electronic form for activists to fill in, which gets sent to Houghton Mifflin (and your governor), to tell them not to allow debate on global warming, to harass them not to allow debate to happen in American classrooms.
We have written before about FoE’s contempt for democracy. And this is one more example of how Environmentalists regard the “ethics” of climate change as trumping fundamentals of democratic society. FoE’s shame is unlikely to be forthcoming, however, because the self-importance of the Environmental movement is growing, and its latest action needs to be viewed with some perspective. And what better perspective than a quick recap of Environmentalism in all its misanthropic glory, as reported by wonderful us during our first year on the job? So…
- In April last year, we wrote about how UK FoE director Tony Juniper dropped his enthusiasm for consensus science when it challenged his desire to return to pre-industrial society.
- Later that month we criticised former media officer of the Royal Society Bob Ward’s campaign to have the DVD version of The Great Global Warming Swindle censored.
- Following an article in the TLS, we wondered how interested in science former president of the Royal Society Bob May actually is when he orders us to ‘respect the facts’.
- In May we reported on the work of German psychologist Andreas Ernst, who claimed to have identified similarities between the psychology of climate change denialists and rats.
- Following that, we looked at the UK Government’s plans to distribute An Inconvenient Truth to every school in the country in order to manufacture an environmentally-obedient generation.
- In July, we reported on a UK poll by Ipsos Mori about attitudes to global warming in the UK and how Green MEP, Caroline Lucas blames the media for present climate scepticism, which she equates to holocaust denial.
- Then we caught former president of the Royal Society telling blatant fibs about Martin Durkin (director of the Great Global Warming Swindle) to an audience in Oxford.
- In August, futurologist Jamais Casico joined others in fantasising about trying climate sceptics in criminal courts.
- In October we reported on the UK Government’s plans to put CO2 targets for the country out of political – ie, democratic – control.
- In November we showed how miserable George Monbiot was complaining about the only hour on television where scepticism of climate alarmism ever got an airing – Top Gear – as though people were forced to watch it.
- We also pointed out FoE’s two-facedness on matters of democracy.
- In December, Andrew Dessler tried to persuade us not to listen to climate sceptics by using the image of a sick child.
- In January, we showed how claims that dissenting views on climate change have been financed by big oil interests lack any sense of proportion, and that green organisations have much more cash available to them.
- Later that month we showed how Marc D. Davidson was attempting to diminish the moral character of Kyoto sceptics by ‘comparing’ their argument tothat made against the abolition of the slave trade.
- The next day, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith exhibit their utter contempt for democracy… It destroys the Environment, you see.
- In February, OilChange International tried to claim that the oil companies had bought your vote.
- Later that month, Caroline Lucas terrified people into voting Green by claiming that 70% of cancers are caused by environmental pollution.
- Later still, we showed how David Roberts’ claim that climate-scepticism is ideological is incorrect, and how he in fact reveals his own nasty ideology, which he hides behind ‘science’.
- And in March, we showed how Naomi Oreskes’ dismissal of climate scepticism as “the tobacco strategy” itself suffered from being a rather desperate strategy, devoid of reason.
What emerges from this list (and there’s plenty more) is the nasty, anti-democratic, anti-human fundamentals of Environmentalism. These examples show how the self-important urgency of Environmentalists allows them to diminish humans, to portray us as too stupid to engage with the decision making process,
too stupid to understand the issues, let alone hear the full range of arguments, lest they corrupt us. The irony is that of all the Environmentalists’ attempts to diminish the moral character of climate sceptics, to banish them, to compare them to fascists, or to reduce the public to unthinking morons undeserving of democracy, none are actually attempts to win the debate – they are just new ways of avoiding it.
You can say whatever you like about climate change, just as long as it doesn’t appear to undermine political action to ‘save the planet’.
You can, for example, be the billionaire founder of the world’s first international, 24-hour TV news channel, and claim that in just 30 or 40 years humans will be cannibals, forced to eat each other’s flesh because all the crops will have died, without people making much of a deal about it. (Into the bargain, you can use your money and influence to advance the political idea that too many people inhabit the planet, and still be called a ‘philanthropist’, without a hint of irony).
But threaten the fragile minds of the young with just the faintest whiff of an idea that there might be more than one side to the global warming story, and Friends of the Earth, armed with a NASA headed letter from James Hansen, will want to have words with you:
A textbook used in high school government courses across the country has come under fire from scientists and environmentalists for its misleading approach to global warming. The textbook, “American Government,” presents basic facts as matters of debate—leaving students with the misconception that there is no scientific consensus about human contributions to global warming when in fact a strong consensus exists. The textbook also dramatically downplays the threats global warming poses.
… Friends of the Earth and the other involved groups are calling on Houghton Mifflin to immediately send a corrective addendum to schools, and ensure that the corrections are included in the next edition of the textbook when it’s published.
The complaint relates to the following text:
1. “It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem, because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming.” (p. 559)
2. “The earth has become warmer, but is this mostly the result of natural climate changes, or is it heavily influenced by humans putting greenhouse gases into the air?” (p.559)
3. “On the one hand, a warmer globe will cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal communities; on the other hand, greater warmth will make it easier and cheaper to grow crops and avoid high heating bills.” (p. 559)
4. “But many other problems are much less clear-cut. Science doesn’t know how bad the green-house effect is.” (p. 566)
None of these statements are factually incorrect, because they are not simply matters of fact. Passage 1 highlights a very important problem with Environmentalism in political science. How do we determine the best course of action when human interests are at odds with what are perceived to be ‘natural’ interests? Environmentalism is problematic because it cannot negotiate this conflict, tending – at best – to apply the precautionary principle in the environment’s favour, claiming (untestably) that ultimately those whose interests are displaced by eco-policies will be better off in the long-run because they wont have to suffer the consequences of environmental degradation. Take Ted Turner, or Sir Crispin Tickell’s view that too many people inhabit the planet, for example. This is ultimately an expression of the idea that people shouldn’t have rights to their own reproductive functions – for the sake of the planet, and it is the state’s role to either regulate reproduction through laws or disincentives, or to engineer values to achieve the same effect. This Malthusian perspective is at odds with other political philosophies which claim that mankind is able to adapt to new circumstances, and to create new technologies through science and politics. And it is indeed a ‘foolish’ politician who challenges this thinking in today’s political climate (unless he isn’t a coward) because he will earn the wrath of the likes of FoE, who position themselves as judges over politicians and policy. That order needs to be challenged if democracy is important.
Passage 2 doesn’t even make a statement, but asks a question. It doesn’t even challenge the premise that ‘the earth has become warmer’. As such, it is hard to see why the questions about what to do about it, and the relationship between science and politics aren’t important to political science students. FoE apparently would rather students learn that one side is right, and the other simply wrong, without any appreciation for how the facts of the matter are interpreted by different perspectives. That might be a worthwhile approach if it is desirable to create students without analytical skills.
Passage 3 isn’t even controversial. It is an acknowledged fact – by the IPCC themselves – that global warming would create benefits and open up areas to agriculture that were previously inaccessible, or simply too cold. Everyone knows that it’s not simply a case of climate change being all bad effects. The difference between the two perspectives is less about matters of scientific fact, and more to do with how problems are considered in relation to benefits. For example, the Environmentalist’s claim to humanitarianism is that “climate change will be worse for the poor”. Yet this principle assumes that there will always be poor people, and so creates an ‘ethic’ out of avoiding making life worse for the poor by minimising our environmental ‘impact’, rather than expressing genuine solidarity by lending a hand in ending the poverty which prevents development. But this ‘ethic’ is counter-productive. Similarly, the problems that people face in a warmer future are contingent on there being no political, economic or technological developments. And it is worth remembering here that the objectives of political Environmentalism are to divert our ambitions away from economic development, to end our ‘dependence’ on technological solutions to our day-to-day problems, and to reorganise society around small-scale, localised systems of production. Environmentalists seek undevelopment – sheer retrogression – in the face of climate change! Under the political conditions that Environmentalists want to create, our environmental conditions will necessarily cause the problems that they predict. As we have said before, Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Passage 4 – “Science doesn’t know how bad the green-house effect is” is not a controversial statement either. We recently quoted scientific historian, Naomi Oreskes – no climate change denier:
Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not “whether” but “how much” and “how soon.” And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.
And as we pointed out at the time, what exists in the future as far as the majority of climate scientists are concerned is not fact, but doubt.
Doubt is the very essence of the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle is at the heart of international agreements and domestic policies on the environment. It was not scientific certainty that drove efforts to mitigate climate change, but th
e same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. … The Environmentalist narrative of catastrophe, doom, and apocalypse, once given superficial scientific plausibility (in that science cannot exclude the possibility of such things happening – which it never could), provides doubt and uncertainty about the security of the future, which in turn provides political momentum and legitimacy for environmental policies.
What is important to Environmentalists is not that we know what will happen in the future – indeed, knowing what will happen in the future would undermine the doubt that Environmentalism thrives in. What is important to Environmentalism is that there is a vaguely plausible argument that it might be bad, and that humans might not be able to cope. Their energies are not focused on developing strategies to overcome the problems they anticipate, but to attacking any approach to them which in turn undermines the culture of doom that gives them political currency.
This news comes in the wake of climate activist Jo Abbess’s demands that the text of an article relating to the recent decline in world temperatures by BBC journalist Roger Harrabin be altered to reflect not the scientific reality, but to emphasise the catastrophic narrative. Harrabin did as Abbess asked (probably just to get the shrieking lunatic off of his back… time will tell) and changed the text of his article.
Harrabin’s article related to the fact that global average temperature appears to be declining, attributed by scientists throughout the world to ‘natural variability’. All this talk of natural variability follows a decade of no warming, and subsequent to a variety of claims that we have been about to experience warmer and warmer weather, which have been contradicted later by revised projections, and climate reality, as we reported on Monday.
Whether or not this means that global warming is or isn’t happening is not the point. What it does show, however, is that scientists have significant problems in accounting for the climate – especially the anthropogenic component – in spite of the ‘scientific facts’. Clearly, those facts are not quite as meaningful as Friends of the Earth maintain:
The book was authored by a prominent conservative, James Q. Wilson, who is affiliated with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute—which has received oil industry funding, and by John DiIulio, who served as director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush White House.
Ahh, it’s not about science, its the ‘it’s all about the funding’ argument again. We like to think we’ve covered this argument in some depth . According to Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets website (even though the accounts of the organisations they intend to expose appear to be matters of public record)…
Total funding to American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research from Exxon corporations since 1998: $US 1,870,000
Well, that’s certainly a lot of money as far as you or I are concerned. But it’s only enough to supply multi-multi-multi-millionaire Al Gore’s house with energy for 60 years, not to mention his travel expenses. It’s nothing in comparison to the billions that Greenpeace has had in its coffers, and nothing in comparison to the hundreds of millions Gore has raised for his eco-army, and nothing next to the billion that Ted Turner has been able to give away, or the influence he is able to achieve. Al Gore’s film was intended to be sent to every classroom in the UK, yet as has been well established, it too is littered with inaccuracies, catastrophism, and outright untruths. Where were the FoE’s demands for scientific integrity then?
FoE draws on the support of James Hansen, who contradicts the IPCC ‘consensus’ with alarmist statements about meters of sea-level rise, yet escapes being called a ‘denier’ on the basis that he differs from the mainstream in a more apocalyptic direction. Hansen is no stranger to the political debate on climate science, and enters this affair on NASA-headed notepaper…
The textbook’s authors repeatedly attempt to cast doubt on the accepted science of global warming. Among other things, the authors state that “scientists do not know how large the greenhouse effect is, whether it will lead to a harmful amount of global warming, or (if it will) what should be done about it” (p. 560); that “profound disagreements” about global warming exist within the scientific community (p. 560);  that so-called “activist scientists” say that the earth’s climate is warming (p. 560);  that “science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect Is, if it exists at all” (p.569);  and that global warming is “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty” (p. 573). [our numbering]
None of the claims about which Hansen complains are controversial. Points 1, 4, and 5 are well established. The advice given by the IPCC and science academies throughout the world is precaution. We have discussed this above, and recently and in posts about the precautionary principle.
Point #2 is certainly true. As Oreskes explains above. Point #3 is self-evidently true, and in the context of point #4, we would remind Hansen of the words of Mike Hulme while he was director of the Tyndall Centre:
The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science. Is any amount of climate change catastrophic? Catastrophic for whom, for where, and by when? What index is being used to measure the catastrophe? The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change.
Clearly there is fundamental controversy within the scientific community. (Indeed, a letter written on NASA-headed notepaper by Hansen’s boss, Michael Griffin, would make for very different reading.) So what is Hansen really complaining about?
Each of these statements is profoundly mistaken in ways t
hat will mislead students about the facts and science of global warming. In recent decades the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence that the earth’s climate is undergoing a period of significant heating, of which human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause. The scientific community no longer doubts whether global warming is happening. Scientific academies from across the globe, including the National Academy of Sciences, have stated unambiguously that human generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of well-documented global warming.
His concern that students will be mislead by the idea that there is no scientific certainty about the best way to proceed politically does not credit those students with the ability to understand that political direction has been achieved through the application of the precautionary principle. He knows that precaution is a vulnerable subject for the environmental movement, because it creates different responses to doubt, and so he protects the uncertainty with what certainty can be mustered. It is not controversial that we do not know what the future climate will be. It is not controversial in the scientific community that ‘global warming does exist’. But that statement has no necessary consequences. The consequences are the subject of controversy. And the mainstream response to those consequences is precaution. If we buy into the precautionary principle, we buy into a political, not a scientific perspective. That perspective holds that we might not be able to respond to climate change by adaptation, through political, economic, and technological creativity. If students were to understand that what determines the response to climate change is our political, rather than scientific perspective, then the argument about what to do has been lost. In other words, it is an orthodoxy – not good science – which Hansen is nervously protecting, an orthodoxy which he is determined will not be challenged, and he will use NASA-headed paper to make his point.
There may be many reasons to challenge the perspective offered in ‘American Government’. But this is not one of them. No doubt, John Dilulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor, and James Wilson, Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, are more conservative than most. But then, most sociology texts are written by people with political perspectives. In the UK, for example, Tony Blair had an intellectual relationship with sociologist Anthony Giddens – the author of many textbooks and ‘third-way’, communitarian and multiculturalist policy ideas. Thatcher similarly with Karl Popper – who needs no introduction. Asking political theorists or social scientists not to have political perspectives is like asking physicists not to have views – or even ideas – about wave-particle duality. And here is the problem. Nervousness about the future precedes and extends well beyond what science can or cannot determine. What looks like an objection to politically-motivated scientific inaccuracy in a textbook brings into relief the fact that people’s minds and the way they see the world are the source of the greatest uncertainty in the world. A political perspective causing such a moral panic reveals only the political exhaustion of the Environmentalists, and, by extension, the movement which considers itself an alternative to conservative thinking – the only way it can think of to challenge conservatism (even though climate scepticism is not conservatism) is to hide behind science, and to call for censorship. No wonder then, that they are against political perspectives in the political science classroom. No wonder they have no confidence in students to make up their own minds about what they read in politics textbooks. Never mind that it was a student – Matthew LaClair – responding critically to the text who started the fuss in the first place. The whole point – now forgotten – of political and social sciences is to challenge, negotiate and explain different perspectives on the world, and to convincingly develop newer and better ones.
But that would mean progress. And progress is exactly what Environmentalism stands in the way of. It would rather we unquestioningly adopted simple lives, didn’t demand better living conditions, didn’t ask questions about whose interests the ‘ethics’ of austerity are working in favour of, and didn’t ask why people should have to endure the hardships that lack of material wealth creates. Letting political (forget ‘scientific’) orthodoxy get challenged in the classroom is a sure fire way of allowing a generation of people to grow up disobedient, and worst still… aspirant. How dare they?
It used to be conservatives who stood for orthodoxies; traditions, and ‘knowing one’s place’ in natural and social orders. Now, those things seem to be what ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’ campaign for. But these new radicals are radical in the same way the Taliban are. They want to change the world, but will brook no dissent. They will bring ‘ethics’ to bear on political matters, but deny political perspectives the right of expression. They will claim that a higher purpose legitimises their campaign, but not allow objections to that purpose.
As we are fond of saying, Environmentalism has thrived in an era of political exhaustion. Now that Environmentalism is at last beginning to face challenges from political science, climate science, and the results of thermometer readings, it’s time for Environmentalists to grow some balls, and stand up to these challenges, or push off.
Writing in New Scientist this week, James Hansen tells us that the scientific community (you know, those ‘thousands’ of specialised scientists at the IPCC) are wrong, and have massively underestimated the extent of polar ice melting as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming.
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?
Apparently he is. And the reason? All the other scientists are being too cautious.
I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. “Scientific reticence” can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.
Scientists, in other words, should adhere to the scientific method except when it’s politically inconvenient. (And only, presumably, when it’s Hansen’s politics that are inconvenienced.)
Most scientists who go against ‘the consensus’ get labelled as mavericks, sceptics or denialists. New Scientist covers their work only to show it up as scientifically flawed, politically motivated, the result of industry-funded misinformation and bad moral fibre, just as they did when they reported on Willie Soon’s paper challenging received wisdom that climate change is imperiling polar bears. Or just as Michael Le Page did in May this year when he wrote:
Indeed, those campaigning for action to prevent further warming have had to battle against huge vested interests, including the fossil-fuel industry and its many political allies. Many of the individuals and organisations challenging the idea of global warming have received funding from companies such as ExxonMobil.
Hansen, however, gets a 3000-word feature all to himself. Even though it doesn’t take much digging around to find that Hansen himself has more than his fair share of dodgy financial interests.
The consensus, it seems, may only be challenged from one direction.