Hari Drama Hari Gaia

Posted by admin on December 6, 2009
Dec 062009

In Friday’s Independent, Johann Hari has achieved a quite remarkable feat.

How I wish that the global warming deniers were right
Are you prepared to take a 50-50 gamble on the habitability of the planet?

In just 1400 words he manages to cram in just about every fallacy from the environmentalist’s handbook: he appeals to the dodgiest of authorities, sells politics, catastrophism and factoids as scientific truth, misrepresents his opponents’ arguments, cherrypicks data, explains human behaviour in biologically deterministic terms and politics in environmentally deterministic ones, and resorts to the green equivalent of Pascal’s wager while accusing ‘deniers’ of religious zeal.

So let’s start at the very beginning, where he ploughs straight in with the ultimate in appeals to authority:

Every day, I pine for the global warming deniers to be proved right. I loved the old world – of flying to beaches wherever we want, growing to the skies, and burning whatever source of energy came our way. I hate the world to come that I’ve seen in my reporting from continent after continent – of falling Arctic ice shelves, of countries being swallowed by the sea, of vicious wars for the water and land that remains. When I read the works of global warming deniers like Nigel Lawson or Ian Plimer, I feel a sense of calm washing over me. The nightmare is gone; nothing has to change; the world can stay as it was.

That’s right – the authority he cites is himself. The insufferably misanthropic and self-important ‘comedian’ Marcus Brigstocke, who has also been to the Arctic to see melting ice – twice – so you don’t have to, did the same thing on a recent edition of the BBC’s Question Time (available in the UK only):

I’ve visited the Arctic twice, and the ice is disappearing. I can tell you that the Inuit people that I met in Greenland, who are not part of some grand conspiracy as Melanie [Phillips] might have it, will tell you, year on year, they are seeing dramatic changes. The ice is reducing significantly. You know, I helped a team of scientists from the National Oceanography centre to carry out their experiments [etc]

We should believe Hari and Brigstocke, their argument goes, because they have access to information that we do not. It’s the very stuff of dodgy dossiers. (Talking of which, Hari initially supported the invasion of Iraq, so we look forward to another article at some point where he confesses how ‘terribly wrong‘ he has been on climate change, too.) What’s more, merely witnessing melting polar ice for yourself is merely evidence that polar ice melts when it’s warming enough. There is a gaping crevasse between what Hari and Brigstocke have seen and what they think it is evidence for – which is that catastrophe beckons. Hari and Brigstocke’s personal investments in the plight of the Arctic means we should be less, not more willing to believe them.

Back to Hari:

But then I go back to the facts. However much I want them to be different, they sit there, hard and immovable. Nobody disputes that greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, like a blanket holding in the Sun’s rays. Nobody disputes that we are increasing the amount of those greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And nobody disputes that the world has become considerably hotter over the past century. (If you disagree with any of these statements, you’d fail a geography GCSE).

The funny thing here is that Hari is correct that nobody would dispute any of these statements, to the extent that even those he has just introduced as ‘deniers’, Ian Plimer and Nigel Lawson, do not dispute them. We can only assume he has read neither of them. Plimer and Lawson hold variously that such statements do not lead inevitably to planetary disaster, that the human influence on warming trends is overstated, that other influences are understated, that the climate system is rather more complicated than such a one-dimensional portrayal would suggest, and that a single-pronged attack on CO2 emissions is undesirable – not that the greenhouse effect is not real or that the world has not been warming. He continues:

Yet half our fellow citizens are choosing to believe the deniers who say there must be gaps between these statements big enough to fit an excuse for carrying on as we are. Shrieking at them is not going to succeed.

What Hari cannot imagine is that large swathes of the public are choosing not to believe the pseudo-scientific hyperbole of alarmists like Hari, even though his very article provides them with all the reason they need. Indeed, in his next breath he resorts to writing off public opinion as the product of primaeval biological urges rather than the result of considered judgement of the available evidence and arguments:

Our first response has to be to accept that this denial is an entirely natural phenomenon. The facts of global warming are inherently weird, and they run contrary to our evolved instincts. If you burn an odourless, colourless gas in Europe, it will cause the Arctic to melt and Bangladesh to drown and the American Mid-West to dry up? By living our normal lives, doing all the things we have been brought up doing, we can make great swathes of the planet uninhabitable? If your first response is incredulity, then you’re a normal human being.

Talk about a backhanded compliment. But as a ‘normal human being’, you are a slave not only to your pre-programmed selfish desires, but also to the mind-controlling propaganda of big business:

It’s tempting to allow this first response to harden into a dogma, and use it to cover your eyes. The oil and gas industries have been spending billions to encourage us to stay stuck there, because their profits will plummet when we make the transition to a low-carbon society. But the basic science isn’t actually very complicated, or hard to grasp. As more carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere, the world gets warmer…

Meanwhile, normal human beings are apparently impervious to the onslaught of PR from green pressure groups. As we’ve shown elsewhere, the funds available to the likes of Greenpeace and WWF are orders of magnitude greater than that spent by the ‘well-funded denial machine’.

And there’s more cherry-picking where that came from:

…Every single year since 1917 has been hotter than 1917. Every single year since 1956 has been hotter than 1956. Every single year since 1992 has been hotter than 1992. And on, and on. If we dramatically increase the carbon dioxide even more – as we are – we will dramatically increase the warming. Many parts of the world will dry up or flood or burn.

According to the Met Office’s annual global data series 1850-1998, 1917 and 1992 were exceptionally cold years: there were only 5 years cooler than 1917 in the preceding 66 years; after 1992, the next coldest year was 1878. And we can all play Hari’s game: every year since 1998 has been cooler than 1998, for example.

Moreover, all Hari has achieved here is to restate his initial uncontested premise that the world has been warming over the last century. Just saying it a bit louder this time doesn’t make it any more important or dangerous, or informative as to how to respond. Which is why he has also had to escalate the alarmism.

This is such an uncomfortable claim that I too I have tried to grasp at any straw that suggests it is wrong. One of the most tempting has come in the past few weeks, when the emails of the Hadley Centre at the University of East Anglia were hacked into, and seem on an initial reading to show that a few of their scientists were misrepresenting their research to suggest the problem is slightly worse than it is. Some people have seized on it as a fatal blow – a Pentagon Papers for global warming.

But then I looked at the facts. It was discovered more than a century ago that burning fossil fuels would release warming gases and therefore increase global temperatures, and since then, hundreds of thousands of scientists have independently reached the conclusion that it will have terrible consequences…

By now, Hari has drifted far from his reference point of the physics of the greenhouse and is bobbing around helplessly in a sea of catastrophism. The gap can be bridged only by a blatant untruth. Having started the paragraph with the statement that what followed were the true facts, he just makes it up. ‘Hundreds of thousands of scientists’? And there we were thinking that the ‘2500 scientists of the IPCC‘ claim was overstating things. All the scientists, in all the world, across all the scientific sub-disciplines, probably only amount to hundreds of thousands. And it gets worse with almost every additional word: ‘Hundreds of thousands of scientists have independently‘ reached the same conclusion? Is that even humanly possible? Does he think that each scientist has their own personal ivory tower or something? ‘Hundreds of thousands of scientists have independently reached the conclusion that it will have terrible consequences‘?

A good argument made by just a single scientist trumps even hundreds of thousands of scientists that exist only in someone’s head. So let us quote the University of East Anglia climate scientist, and former director of the Tyndall Centre, Mike Hulme, who is concerned that science is being used to provide certainty over big, complex political issues:

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).

To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.

Meanwhile Hari hasn’t even got to the end of his paragraph:

…It would be very surprising if, somewhere among them, there wasn’t a charlatan or two who over-hyped their work. Such people exist in every single field of science (and they are deplorable).

So let’s knock out the Hadley Centre’s evidence. Here are just a fraction of the major scientific organisations that have independently verified the evidence that man-made global warming is real, and dangerous: Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, L’Academie des Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, the UK’s Royal Society, the Academia Brasileira de Ciencias, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the US Environmental Protection Agency… I could fill this entire article with these names.

Well, at least he’s not citing citing himself this time. But he is wrong to say that these institutions have independently verified the evidence. Research bodies such as NASA and NOAA do, like Hadley, collect and analyse data, and test hypotheses, but Hari is lumping these together with scientific academies and professional bodies that represent their membership politically, which have simply issued position statements to the effect that the world has been warming, that anthropogenic greenhouse gases probably have much to with it, and that this presents problems. To ‘knock out the Hadley Centre’s evidence’ is to write off, among many other lines of research, its global surface temperature record (HADCRUT), which, along with NASA’s GISTEMP, is perhaps the most scientifically important and politically influential climate datsets in existence.

A further sign of Hari’s ignorance on the matter is that it was the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Centre (CRU) that was hacked, not Hadley. And Hadley is part of the UK Met Office, not, as Hari says, UEA. But Hadley produces HADCRUT in conjunction with CRU, so by Hari’s reckoning Hadley and CRU should both be ‘knocked out’. Which leaves him with a single temperature record, and a bunch of position statements from organisations that exist to represent their members’ interests. Last year, we took a look at the gestation of the statement issued by one of those professional bodies – the American Geophysical Union – and argued that these statements should be seen as political attempts to put science centre-stage of climate debates rather than objective appraisals of the state of knowledge.

And they haven’t only used one method to study the evidence. They’ve used satellite data, sea level measurements, borehole analysis, sea ice melt, permafrost melt, glacial melt, drought analysis, and on and on. All of this evidence from all of these scientists using all these methods has pointed in one direction. As the conservative journalist Hugo Rifkind put it, the Hadley Centre no more discredits climate science than Harold Shipman discredits GPs.

Climategate may not discredit climate science, but neither does climate science uphold Hari’s apocalyptic vision.

A study for the journal Science randomly sampled 928 published peer-reviewed scientific papers that used the words “climate change”. It found that 100 per cent – every single one – agreed it is being fuelled by human activity. There is no debate among climate scientists. There are a few scientists who don’t conduct research into the climate who disagree, but going to them to find out how global warming works is a bit like going to a chiropodist and asking her to look at your ears.

The Science paper Hari refers to is this one by Naomi Oreskes. She does indeed find evidence for a consensus. But it is a consensus only that ‘the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling’. What Hari does not mention is that Oreskes concluded that:

The question of what to do about climate change is also still open

For Hari, the fact of climate change is equivalent to the moral imperative he thinks it produces. To say that ‘climate change is real’, is to say ‘what is to be done’. As with so many other activists, there is no argument about how to interpret climate change statistics to work out a sensible response. So any degree of scepticism, or any argument about how to respond to degrees of climate change with degrees of responses naturally returns Hari to the core, binary, fact: ‘climate change is real’.

Part of the confusion in the public mind seems to stem from the failure to understand that two things are happening at once. There has always been – and always will be – natural variation in the climate. The ebb from hot to cold is part of Planet Earth. But on top of that, we are adding a large human blast of warming – and it is disrupting the natural rhythm. So when, in opinion polls, people say warming is “natural”, they are right, but it’s only one part of the story.

What worries Hari is that the ‘public mind’ has coped with the nuances of the debate. The idea that the extent of climate change and its effects might have been exaggerated is dangerous.

Once you have grasped this, it’s easy to see through the claim that global warming stopped in 1998 and the world has been cooling ever since. In 1998, two things came together: the natural warming process of El Nino was at its peak, and our human emissions of warming gases were also rising – so we got the hottest year ever recorded. Then El Nino abated, but the carbon emissions kept up. That’s why the world has remained far warmer than before – eight of the 10 hottest years on record have happened in the past decade – without quite reaching the same peak. Again: if we carry on pumping out warming gases, we will carry on getting warmer.

Hari wants to claim that ‘two things are happening at once’ – which may well be true – but is not happy with the corollary that it may be more of the natural than the anthropogenic. No scientist could state with the certainty that Hari has that the persistence of post-98 temperatures can be attributed to increases in CO2. ‘That is why…’ Hari claims, but it is premature. It may well turn out to be true, but the point is not that science can or has said anything about global temperatures, the point is that the ‘scientific’ account that Hari gives is intended to make statements about those who would interpret things differently. The scientific account is used to diminish the moral and intellectual character of ‘deniers’:

That’s why I won’t use the word “sceptic” to describe the people who deny the link between releasing warming gases and the planet getting warmer. I am a sceptic. I have looked at the evidence highly critically, desperate for flaws. The overwhelming majority of scientists are sceptics: the whole nature of scientific endeavour is to check and check and check again for a flaw in your theory or your evidence. Any properly sceptical analysis leads to the conclusion that man-made global warming is real. Denial is something different: it is when no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, could convince you. It is a faith-based position.

Which is rather rich coming from somebody who has just demonstrated that he doesn’t know what those he calls ‘deniers’ are denying, or what ‘science says’, let alone somebody who has to make up what ‘science says’ in order to make moral arguments about ‘deniers’. Also on Friday, Hari popped up on the BBC’s Newsnight Review for a discussion on climate change and culture:

Talking about the Arctic, you know, I was out there this summer to report on this. You know, the Arctic in my lifetime has lost 40% of its summer ice. By 2012 the North Pole will be a point in the open ocean

We have no idea where he plucked these figures from. Hari was born in 1979, which, as luck would have it, is when the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) satellite records begin. According to those records, Arctic summer ice has declined by about 30% since then. We wouldn’t want to be too hard on him for what might well have been an honest slip of the tongue. His prophecy (note the certainty of his statement) about an ice free Arctic summer, is far more malignant. The IPCC’s AR4 estimates it will take 50 to 100 years for that to happen. But there was a record melt after AR4 was written, so NSIDC has come up with a ball-park date of 2030 based on extrapolation from recent melting trends. Other estimates range over many decades and well into the next century. We assume Hari must be referring to Jay Zwally’s study, which is mentioned here. If so, he is missing a trick; if he wants a single scientist’s estimate to speak for science, he could have quoted David Barber of the University of Manitoba who predicted an ice free Arctic summer by last year.

At issue is not really ‘what science says’ about the world’s temperature, nor even speculation about the date at which we can expect the Arctic to be free of ice in summer. The majority of climate scientists could easily take issue with Hari’s silly claim, but it wouldn’t be a very interesting read. What is at issue is the way in which Hari carries on not only making up stats such as this, but wielding them as some kind of talisman, which gives him moral authority. His wild speculation about the future of Arctic ice speaks more about the way in which ‘the science’ exists as a means by which Hari can express his shrill internal dialog. He makes stuff up to give himself a voice, and defends it by claiming to be the vessel through which science speaks. He, like the vast majority of scientists, is the sceptic, he announces. Pity that he’s not such a sceptic that he ever checks his own argument. As we’ve said previously, this inability to self-reflect is the symptom of the angry, shrill, non-scientist, moralising, and disoriented journalist-activists such as Monbiot, Lynas, and now Hari. What they write is science fiction. They incautiously assemble scientific factoids, removed from their scientific context, to construct terrifying narratives about the future. This elevates them to the status of planet-saving super-journos, and from this platform their bizarre stories become the device through which they interpret the world. But they are merely peering into their own arseholes, not, as they claim, through the prism of scientific objectivity. What they see is chaos and catastrophe, but what they do not recognise in what they see is that it is entirely their own confusion staring back at them.

Throughout this blog, and in our last two posts in the context of Climategate, we have argued that environmental politics, not environmental science, underpins the war on climate change, and that at the centre of that politics sits the precautionary principle. We are grateful to Hari, then, for supporting our thesis. He ends his article by casting aside all that science and appealing to the precautionary principle in the form of Pascal’s wager:

So let’s – for the sake of argument – make an extraordinary and unjustified concession to the deniers. Let’s imagine there was only a 50 per cent chance that virtually all the world’s climate scientists are wrong. Would that be a risk worth taking? Are you prepared to take a 50-50 gamble on the habitability of the planet? Is the prospect of getting our energy from the wind and the waves and the sun so terrible that’s not worth it on even these wildly optimistic odds?

We’ll leave aside Hari’s claim that ‘virtually all the world’s climate scientists’ agree that climate change is set to render the planet uninhabitable, other than to say that he seems to be confusing ‘virtually all the world’s climate scientists’ with the singular James Lovelock.

So, first, Hari extrapolates from a handful of rather mundane consensus statements about atmospheric physics in order to conclude that there is only one way forward politically. And now he’s telling us that there’s still only one way forward politically even if those consensus statements are wrong. He presents the future as a stark choice between two competing visions – zero carbon or an uninhabitable planet. Environmentalism or death. He reinforces the point with a story:

Imagine you are about to get on a plane with your family. A huge group of qualified airline mechanics approach you on the tarmac and explain they’ve studied the engine for many years and they’re sure it will crash if you get on board. They show you their previous predictions of plane crashes, which have overwhelmingly been proven right. Then a group of vets, journalists, and plumbers tell they have looked at the diagrams and it’s perfectly obvious to them the plane is safe and that airplane mechanics – all of them, everywhere – are scamming you. Would you get on the plane? That is our choice at Copenhagen.

Hari’s little story is intended to be a cautionary tale about which kind of expertise is pertinent, but it fails, as so many dumbed-down analogies fail. In his striving for simplicity, he not only patronises his readers, but he loses any purchase on the arguments in the debate that is taking place. We picked up Andrew Dessler for the same mistake a couple of years ago. Dessler – a former scientific advisor to Clinton – had asked us to imagine the warming world as a child sick with cancer. Would you take the child to the best pediatric cancer specialists, or to non-specialists, he asked:

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.

Unfortunately for Dessler, we tested his claim that the IPCC were the specialist doctors in his analogy by counting the specialisms of the latest IPCC report’s contributors. It turns out that many of them were precisely the ‘social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem’ that he had complained about. (You can read about WGI here, WGII here and WGIII here). Our detractors argued that we had been disingenuous, and that only IPCC WGI counts, the other two groups – which comprised a much larger proportion of ‘non-expert’ opinions – being less concerned with the ‘Physical Science Basis’, and focusing instead on ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, and the ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’. This misses the point that the arguments about what kind of problem climate change is and what to do about it emerge almost exclusively from WGII and WGIII, not from WGI, yet the putative scientific authority of the IPCC emerges exclusively from WGI.

What Hari, like Dessler, forgets is the difference between the sensitivity of climate to CO2, and the sensitivity of society to climate. Or to put it more broadly, there is a difference between the natural world’s sensitivity to CO2, and human society’s sensitivity to changes in the natural world. Hari and his ilk like to stress the equivalence between the environment’s and society’s sensitivity. They seem to feel that once the scientific case has been made, the political and moral argument has been had and won. This environmental determinism, we have argued, reflects the hollowness of their own outlooks, hence the interminable screeching, hectoring and ranty tone of commentators like Hari, and our favourite, George ‘air travel is like child abuse‘ Monbiot.

We can all tell stories. You’re about to get on a plane with your family. A group of shrill and sanctimonious journalists from the Guardian and Independent newspapers tell you that, if you take the journey, poor people all over the world will die wretched, horrible deaths. They show you statistics showing how many people have died already, and how many more will die in the future. ‘You will be culpable for their deaths’, they say. ‘Do you want their blood on your hands?’ they ask. Then another group of non-experts arrive. They say that there are many ways to understand the poverty that kills people, and that not taking the journey won’t make such lives any better. The journalists return, they say that the other group are funded by huge corporate interests, and cannot be trusted because they are either mad or bad. They tell you that they have science on their side, that climate change is real and is happening, and that they have witnessed its ravages for themselves. Who are you going to trust,’ they demand, ‘us, or the other group?’ Shouldn’t you take the cautious route, just in case? After all, they might be right. You step down from the plane. But as you walk across the tarmac, you notice that the journalists are now getting on the plane. Some of them are going to Copenhagen. One is heading across the Atlantic to lecture Canadians about their climate responsibilities. Another is off to the Arctic, to see some climate change.

Beware: Health Warnings

Posted by admin on April 25, 2009
Apr 252009

Speaking of self-fulfilling prophecies, which we often are, Stu has a feature in today’s FT magazine about the negative impacts on our health of precautionary health advice:

Worried Sick
What if health warnings could make us ill? Actually, they can – it’s called the “nocebo effect” and there’s a lot of it about

It’s mostly about medical advice, but it also touches on how encouraging negative expectations about the state of the planet can be asking for trouble:

Even non-specific worries about the state of the world in general can be enough to make us ill, according to research from the University of Auckland. Prior to a huge pesticide-spraying programme in New Zealand, people were asked about their attitudes towards new technologies and environmental threats. After the spraying, those who were most concerned about the health risks reported the greatest number of symptoms.

There’s an online version here.

Of course, in the case of environmentalism, the self-fulfilling prophecy is mediated more by politics than physiology – environmental politics creates conditions that leave us more vulnerable to environmental problems. Both, however, are responses to the same institutionalised, precautionary fear-mongering.

Know Your Times

Posted by admin on April 24, 2009
Apr 242009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revkin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the World's a Cage

Posted by admin on September 11, 2008
Sep 112008

According to World Water Council‘s director-general Ger Bergkamp, Australia is ‘the metaphorical canary down the coalmine when it comes to climate change‘:

In Australia, what was projected to be here in 20 years from now, in terms of the drought, is already here as we speak.

Now where have we heard that one before? It’s not just Australia that is still clinging to its perch only because somebody has nailed it there. If climate alarmists are to be believed, there are as many ‘climate change canaries’ out there as there are canaries in the Canary Isles: penguins, migratory birds, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Tuvalu, sea turtles, Kenyan pastoralists, islands, polar bears, Australian ski resorts, US ski resorts, Australian vineyards, Napa Valley vineyards, Canada’s Inuit, Alaska, mountain ecosystems, tropical ice-caps, Greenland, pika, naturists, the Bering Sea, intertidal zones, coral reefs, to name but a few.

‘Climate canary’ is the perfect metaphor in the age of the precautionary principle. Especially when it can apply to anything you want it to. Because, when you’re watching everything for signs of catastrophe, it follows that you can’t do anything without at least one of your canaries karking it.

Trouble is, it doesn’t quite work. While actual canaries were once very useful for alerting miners to the presence of deadly gases – first they stopped singing, then they keeled over – there is little reason to believe that any of our climate canaries serve their putative purpose. Despite the ‘fact’ that ‘climate change is real and is happening’, none of them seem to have actually popped their clogs yet, or even to have stopped singing. All a climate canary has to do to justify an alarmist newspaper headline is hop metaphorically from one side of its cage to the other, or look at us in a funny way. Like that other favourite metaphor of the risk-averse, the ‘ticking time-bomb’, the climate canary is predicated on the idea that nothing terrible has happened yet, but you can’t rule it out.

The metaphor also fails on the basis that while canaries were used to make mining safer, the climate variety are deployed to encourage us to stop mining completely – and stop doing everything else for that matter – because it might possibly be harmful to canaries.

Its ubiquity means that even the likes of Gristmill have recognised that the climate canary is a dead parrot – that we need something bigger and scarier. We suggest that, next time, Ger Bergkamp might consider ‘Australia more like a climate change canary than previously thought‘.

Smoking Out Unreasonable Certainty

Posted by admin on August 1, 2008
Aug 012008

In conversations with our exasperated green friends, we are often asked what we would accept as ‘proof’ that global warming ‘is real, and is happening’. This is a fairly typical misunderstanding of the sceptical position. Well, ours anyway. We do not argue that humans have not caused global warming. Our position is that even scientific proof of mankind’s influence on the climate is not sufficient to legitimise Environmentalism, or the environmental policies being created by governments in response to pressure from Environmentalists. It is possible to decide that even 10 metres of sea level rise is a price worth paying for constantly increasing living standards; the problem would be in extending the benefits of that increase to those who, in the short term, might lose out. But too often, environmental policies and rhetoric bear no relation to science whatsoever, let alone ‘proof’.

What we believe is happening when people mistake political arguments for scientific ones is that people have lost confidence in making calculations about human values, and so turn to ‘science’ to provide them. Thus we see a mad rush to derive ‘ethics’ from the issue of climate change. It is much easier to create a direction for your otherwise defunct moral compass with a crisis on the horizon. It gives purpose to otherwise purposeless politics. That huge looming catastrophe overwhelms any other considerations that might get in the way. Environmentalism epitomises the widespread loss of moral reasoning. Its desire to possess an unchallengeable moral imperative – as though it were the unmitigated word of God – doesn’t reflect its actually possessing it, but the disorientation of its constituency. When you are lost, you do not look for detail, you look for the biggest thing to orientate you. So it is for Environmentalism. And what could be bigger than the end of the world?

Accordingly, Environmentalists have had to defend the idea that catastrophe is just around the corner. It is where their entire political capital is invested. Without it, they are disoriented; disaster avoidance is a poor substitute for goal-seeking. In lieu of a definitive scientific proposition linking anthropogenic CO2 to the imminent end of the world, the idea of a ‘consensus’ was forged out of necessity (not through scientific discovery), allegedly consisting of ‘the vast majority of the world’s top climate scientists’. These scientists agree, we are told, that ‘something must be done’, even if they don’t agree about why, or how they know. It turns out, in fact, that ‘certainty’ relates not to the scientific understanding of the influence of CO2 on natural processes, but the application of the precautionary principle.

This fragile and nebulous consensus is protected by a variety of myths about anybody who wishes and dares to challenge it: they have vested interests; they have prostituted themselves; they belong to an organised conspiracy; they stand lonely against a vast and entirely unanimous scientific body. One of the most prominent myths is that sceptics employ a ‘tactic’ to subvert the public’s trust in the consensus by challenging the integrity of the scientific theories it is assumed to consist of (even though these theories have not been identified, let alone confidence in them measured). Along these lines, Naomi Oreskes’ thesis gives it the title ‘the tobacco strategy’, which itself owes much to George Monbiot’s book, Heat, which in turn draws on the Exxonsecrets.org website run by Greenpeace. We have written about the ‘tobacco strategy‘ and its variants before. But it hasn’t gone away, and so, reading an article by custard-pie-thrower-turned-respectable-‘science’-writer, and shrill Gaia-botherer, Mark Lynas, we thought it deserved some further attention.

Like the tobacco lobbyists who spent years denying the links between smoking and cancer, global warming denialists don’t have to win the debate – they simply have to confuse the public indefinitely to successfully undermine any political action which might hit the interests of their backers in the fossil fuel industries

The tactic is, according to Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot, to generate doubt about the certainty of the science being presented by climate activists, in order to win public opinion.

It is interesting that all Lynas believes he has to win the debate is to claim that the sceptics don’t have to win the debate, and to somehow link ‘denial’ of one form to another, rather than actually have it. He excuses himself from the debate by saying that all that his would-be counterparts would have to do to win it would be to show that doubt exists. Environmentalists generally, and Lynas particularly, don’t like debate, and avoid it. He doesn’t think he needs to have one; ‘the science’ is settled. And from ‘the science’ flow all of the imperatives and moral absolutes, as if from the mouth of God. Instead of making the case, he insists that it is made. Done. Finished. Over. Settled. ‘In’. Won.

So, what of the link between the denial of the link between cancer and smoking on the one hand, and the denial of the end of the world on the other? What function is it serving, other than to divert attention from the substance of the case for mitigation, which has not in fact been made?

In the case of smoking, ‘denial’ had very little to do with convincing the public that it was safe. Instead, tobacco companies were forced to establish doubt about the link between smoking and cancer because they faced litigation. Whatever the wrongs of ‘denying’ the scientific evidence generally, in the face of litigation it is entirely reasonable to cast doubt on whatever case is being bought against you. That’s the whole point of the legal process; no matter how grievous the crime you are accused of is, and no matter what the strength of the moral case for damages is, you are entitled to a defence. No matter how culpable you are in actual fact, you are entitled to have your defence heard. Courts of law are established on this principle.

In the simple black and white moral universe, anti smoking activists and lawyers set to make many millions of dollars are the goodies, and those profiting from the sale of cancer-causing cigarettes are the baddies. But in the real world, things aren’t like that. Yes, smoking is ‘bad’, and the world would possibly be a better place if no one damaged themselves by smoking. But the anti-smokers ought to have considered the consequences of challenging the tobacco industry in the courts. Would it ever make the world a better place? How would it be effective? In the end, it opened the door to lawyers in search of a huge payoff. That is why and how the ‘denial’ industry – if it exists – began. If this ‘denial machine’ is a monster, the part of Frankenstein is played by those who sought to close down the tobacco industry – and free all those slaves to tobacco – in the courts.

Nonetheless, prominent environmental activists like Monbiot and Oreskes – who, given their academic positions, ought to know better – maintain the image of the evil tobacco lobby in order to ‘link’ its modus operandi to climate sceptics. It’s a cheap shot. And it makes very little sense, not least because, as has been discussed, such ‘denial’ constitutes a legitimate legal defence in the face of litigation bought about by the ‘goodies’, but also because there is no real substance between the two strategies that we wouldn’t find between any form of positive claim about the material universe, and any scepticism of that claim. That is to say that anyone challenging any form of assertion can only go about challenging that claim by casting doubt over it. Monbiot, according to his own website, held a position (fellow, or professorship) in the philosophy department at Bristol University. The mind boggles. Let’s hope that it was not logic which Mobiot ‘taught’. Lynas – not an academic – also objects to challenges to ‘consensus’ science from sceptics.

The arguments change all the time: this year it is “global warming has stopped”, while last year it was “hurricanes aren’t linked with warming”, and the year before “satellites don’t show any warming of the atmosphere”. As each argument is laboriously refuted by scientists, the deniers simply drop it and skip onto the next one.

In fact, there is some fairly compelling evidence that global warming has stopped since 1998, such as it has not actually got any warmer over the last decade. That’s not to say that anthropogenic global warming has ‘gone away’, of course. And there is some even more compelling evidence that neither hurricane frequency nor intensity have increased with global warming. While IPCC AR4 WGI states that there is a ‘slight’ increase in activity and intensity, they also admit that there is a great deal of ‘natural variability’ masking it. It is, of course, always ‘natural variability’ which is used to wave away evidence that is not consistent with the theory. Never mind that ‘natural variability’ indicates a substantial unknown which needs to be isolated before any guilt can be attributed to humans for changing the atmosphere. And never mind that, as Roger Pielke Jr has shown, normalising storm damage against inflation, population, and wealth yields no signal which would excite warmers. Regardless of whether or not hurricane frequency and intensity have increased, the effect of that increase has been more than mediated by our increasing wealth and population. But that doesn’t stop Lynas using the ‘fact’ (it may well not be one) of increasing intensity and frequency to argue in favour of reducing the very wealth that buffers us against environmental problems! Shooting himself in the foot to mediate the effects of shooting himself in the foot would be less stupid. At least that way, he might still have a leg to stand on.

No surprise, then, that Lynas – clearly no friend of logic – refuses to recognise the legitimacy of debate and challenges to the orthodoxy on which his argument is constructed. No prizes for guessing what he fears debate might reveal. Yet sceptics have helped the scientific process produce some notable shifts in the argument coming from the side Lynas believes to be beyond reproach. For example, Steve McIntyre’s continuing work looking at the way global temperatures are derived from proxies has prompted NASA GISS to adjust their methodology, and the temperature record was adjusted as a consequence. Also thanks to McIntyre, the IPCC no longer uses Mann’s famous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph which was the source of so much panic in 2001, when it appeared as a key graphic. This case should tell us about the value of scepticism to the scientific process. Of course, NASA GISS, like many others, constantly appraise their own work. But this process should be open and transparent, particularly as the research is used to inform policy-making decisions throughout the world, affecting the lives – and possibly even the deaths – of billions of people.

As it happens, it is very difficult for sceptics to challenge climate science, because those engaged in creating models of past and future climate do not cooperate with challenges to their methodology, and refuse to release their working. Like Lynas, they too seem to feel that the moral high-ground belongs to them. Climatologist and Professor at the UK’s UEA, Phil Jones – who worked with Mann on the infamous ‘hockey stick’ – for example, told climate-realist, Warwick Hughes, who had asked for details about his methodology,

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

Why indeed? So much for ‘the science’ then. The ‘settled science’. The science which is ‘in’. The science which ‘won’ the ‘debate’. The science to which the ‘vast majority’ of ‘the world’s top scientists’ all subscribe, yet which they have not seen, they cannot see, and can only have access to if they will not subject it to scrutiny.

And there’s the rub. Oreskes, Monbiot, and Lynas – none of them climate scientists, incidentally – make shrill noises about ‘manufacturing doubt’. But in maintaining that the ‘tobacco strategy’ acts against the public interest, they must reject the idea that debate is in keeping with the spirit of the scientific method. Ditto, debate – the fundamental essence of democracy – must also be against the public interest. Who’d have thought that transparent scientific processes and debate are against the public interest? So much for the Enlightenment, too; the age of reason must be over. We must take it on faith that Lynas, Monbiot, Oreskes, and Jones are acting not their own interests but in ours. We have no way of testing that. And they have no way of proving it. We cannot engage in the discussion, we must just accept it. Yet they want the entire world to reorganise its political, social, and economic structures; for the entire world to live different lifestyles; and for our ambitions to be diminished, lest they cause us to behave ‘unsustainably’. That’s easy for them to say. No wonder that all this stuff about doubt and uncertainty becomes so important. Smoke and mirrors.

As we have said, the ‘manufacture of doubt’, or ‘the tobacco strategy’ has been presented by various environmental activists as the work of nefarious conspiracy. The story tells that interests within the oil industry have simply re-run the same script to achieve the same effect on public opinion, for the same ends: continued profit. The oil companies, the tobacco companies, and the hired scientific opinion are the ‘baddies’, and the climate change activists, IPCC scientists, and the class-action lawyers are the good guys. That’s all you need to know.

But think a little deeper, and a different picture emerges. If the tobacco strategy has its roots in a defence against litigation, it follows that the ‘standard of proof’ set by Oreskes, Lynas and Monbiot to legitimise political action to mitigate climate change is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Our exasperated Environmentalist friends, who asked us what ‘proof’ would change our mind, set the bar (pardon the pun) and invite the legal defence. All that needs to be provided to challenge unreasonable certainty is reasonable doubt. It is entirely legitimate, therefore, for sceptics to cast doubt over the scientific case, because the narrative with which Lynas, Oreskes, and Monbiot chose to advance their cause is a courtroom drama. But not only did they invite the legal defence, they also honed the tactics that are now being turned against them by the opposition – they are now on the receiving end of the very precautionary principle that has served them so well for so long.

However, what is being sought by this court is not ‘truth’, but guilt. In spite of green claims to possess scientific truth, the emphasis of this process is not establishing material fact, but the elevation of Environmentalism by diminishing the moral character of its detractors. Environmentalists have failed to make the political argument for Environmentalism using science. Instead of achieving momentum for their political ambitions through mass politics (ie, winning the debate, and getting people to join up), the rhetoric instead takes the form of a kangaroo courtroom drama. The guilt is already established: we, the audience, have already seen the ‘crime’: the ‘denial’ of the link between smoking and cancer. Now, we watch the morality play unfold, just as it did during the tobacco wars.

If a parallel is to be drawn between then and now, it’s that in both cases the ‘denialists’ were created by the ‘good guys’. Neither the case against smoking nor the case for immediate mitigative action on climate change is justified by the science alone. There are the pesky matters of personal sovereignty and responsibility, political legitimacy, democratic process, and other costs/benefits to consider. Being right and being righteous are different things. Which is why Environmentalists have had to resort to consensuses, to legal action, to judgements by unelected bodies, and to denying the very legitimacy of opposition, in order to advance its arguments.

Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, asks in the Yorkshire Post (H/T Benny Peiser):

In the election for London’s Mayor, the Greens got just over three per cent of the vote. Leaving aside such misguided places as Norwich, where the Green Party gained three seats, they struggled elsewhere to poll anywhere near that. [...] Yet Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Nationalists dance slavishly to the Green tune. [...] Why do we put up with this “green” extortion to so little purpose? That’s the real mystery.

We have asked this question before. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet its influence on policy decisions is not challenged politically in this country, and barely anywhere else. How come?

The closest thing to a challenge are the scientific discussions offered by ‘sceptics’, ‘deniers’, ‘realists’ or whatever you want to call them. Of course, these challenges are waved away by many as ‘politically-motivated’ – as if Environmentalism was above that sort of thing. And there’s the rub. ‘Politics’ has become a dirty word, and Environmentalism fills the void, because, with ‘scientists’ backing it, it is presented as a ‘value free’ set of imperatives that we must all respond to. Environmentalists will tell you that it’s not a question of political values, it’s a matter of material fact, scientifically established by the IPCC. But the truth is that the unchallengeable measurements that the movement depends on do not exist. Instead, science only lends Environmentalism credibility through the ‘precautionary principle‘; it is superficially plausible that anthropogenic CO2 will cause global catastrophe (given a substantial number of mainly political assumptions), therefore it is worth treating the possibility of a nightmare as a certainty, according to this doctrine.

From here, Environmentalism easily becomes a religious world view: we start to see disobedient countries through this prism (Burma and its missing mangrove swamps being the latest example); we start to judge the actions of others through green-tinted spectacles; and we start to do the things that are demanded of us, ‘for the sake of the planet’ – not for a genuine conception of a ‘greater good’, but just the mitigation of a worse bad.

Back to Ingham’s question: the Tories (as any party would) will explain their recent success at the polls as a consequence of their taking green issues more seriously. For example, last Friday, on BBC Radio 4′s Any Questions, Chairman of the Conservative Party, Caroline Spellman, said of the successes her party had enjoyed the previous night,

Our council candidates campaigned very simply on following policies that would deliver a cleaner, greener, safer country, one that is more family friendly, and one that gives tax payers better value for money. That is a very simple message, it’s one that the electorate like, that is why they have returned conservative governments – in local government – because they like what they see.

Spellman’s words offer no political vision whatsoever; just a promise of better management of public (and, most likely, private) life than the Labour Party – which is exactly the basis on which Blair took power from Major in 1997. The vote did not reflect an ideological shift among the public, nor Blair’s resonance with the electorate. But contrast Spellman’s words to those of Sir Bernard’s former boss. Whether you agreed with her or not, Thatcher’s aim was a political transformation of the UK, if not the world. She went Green as that vision was running out of steam, in spite of its success (and she closed far more coal mines than any environmental protest could wish for).

Surely, if anyone knows how that played out, and consequently, why the world seems to have gone green, Ingham does?

Disagreeing that politics is dominated by a green consensus is the Independent‘s Andrew Grice, who complains that “nobody is talking about climate change” anymore.

We might just look back on May Day 2008 as the moment when the power of green politics peaked and went into reverse. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. The reaction of the two main parties to the elections was instructive. Desperate to prop up his own position after Labour’s rout, Mr Brown needed to toss a few bones to the voters and jittery Labour backbenchers. So it suddenly emerged that he was about to dump the so-called “bin tax” – allowing councils to charge householders who do not recycle their rubbish. Downing Street didn’t confirm it, and five token pilot schemes will go ahead, but it’s clear the bin tax has been binned.

A temporary halt to the progress of a law demanding that people recycle, or face punishing fines means that climate is off the agenda, apparently.

Grice goes on to complain about the possibility that a 2 pence rise in petrol/diesel tax will be scrapped – even though the current high price of fuel makes these entirely unnecessary, as the Inland Revenue already takes VAT (17.5%) of the sale price (~£1.108) on top of ~£0.50 a litre of petrol. A genuinely ‘anti green’ policy would surely make fuel cheaper, rather than allow it to get much more expensive. Grice continues:

Mr Brown was not alone in relegating the environment to the back burner. David Cameron, the wind in his sails after the elections, held a prime ministerial press conference in which he set out his priorities for government. Significantly, the words “environment” and “climate change” did not appear in his 1,200-word statement.

It is indeed a rare thing when David Cameron utters 1200 words, none of which are green. These seem to be the ones Grice is referring to. Here is another speech Cameron made shortly before that one:

If Cameron has indeed abandoned the environmental cause, he has done it very suddenly. But there’s nothing in the later speech which contradicts it, in spite of Grice’s claims.

Of course, 1200 is a small number of words. If, perhaps, green was ommitted from Cameron’s speech, it was because the cause has been fully embraced by all of the parties. Why mention it? Likewise, does the fact that we can find 1200 words uttered recently by Caroline Lucas that include no reference to the environment mean that our favourite Green Party MEP has also turned her back on Mother Nature? As is the case with most shrill environmentalists, Grice confuses omission with opposition. It is what Cameron didn’t say which upsets him. A bit like a failure to say Amen after a prayer, or to say grace before a meal; it offends religious sensibilities. So Grice treats it as a statement that the Tories have dropped all green policies, and are to stand against them in the future.

No such luck. And, as is clear from the past, the Conservatives have been key to establishing environmental orthodoxy in the UK.

The reason there is no challenge to Environmentalism is that there is nothing to challenge Environmentalism with. Instead, Environmentalism, and the senses of crisis and urgency it generates, are useful vehicles for policies for the sake of policies, and for the purfunctory policy initiatives that masquerade as ‘progress’. Historically, for example, it has been sufficient to announce programs to build new homes on the basis that places for people to live are a good thing. New towns, however they turned out, were planned on the premise that it would make life better, and society more rewarding. Now, homes themselves are problematic. The very idea of housing developments upsets people. They use up resources and roads. They change the view. They are the manifestation of the idea that ‘hell is other people’. Environmentalism is on hand to furnish ways in and out of that problem. For those wishing to resist new developments, instead of making selfish objections to the planning process, they can appeal to the ‘greater good’, and claim that the principle of environmental ‘sustainability’ has not been given due attention. Developers, in reply, can greenwash their proposal, to claim that the greater good is being served. Never mind that homes are supposed to be all about people.

Politics today, whether it be Cameron’s or Grice’s, needs crises – real, or imagined – in order to maintain their relevance to an increasingly disengaged public. These appeals to catastrophe are wrapped up in the language of political change. But claims to be about radical change for the sake of “SAVING THE PLANET” belie an exhausted political perspective on the world that increasingly fails to connect with the public in any other way than through high drama, and struggles to distance itself from its opposition.

The current success of the Conservative Party follows the descent of the Labour party, whose 1997 success followed the descent of the Tories, who had enjoyed, since 1978, success at the polls after Labour’s problems in the 1970s. It seems that rather than winning elections, parties loose them. We punish their embarassing yet inevitable failure to connect with the public and reward their increasing mediocrity. This is the environment that Environmentalism has thrived in.

Critics of Environmentalism from the right claim that it is the reincarnation of failed socialism. Clearly, that criticism is incomplete. Critics of Tory policy, such as Grice, claim that ‘vote blue, go Green’ rhetoric is nothing more than spin; empty gestures to convince the public that it is responding to their fears. This too misses the point that that is also the very nature of the environmental movement, which has, like conservative ideologies of the past, used such fear to stand in the way of progress and harked back to traditional ways of life and natural social orders, lest unintended consequences of change cause upheaval.

Challenging environmental orthodoxy will take more than not mentioning it. That is not because Environmentalism is a powerful political idea, but because it exists as a consequence of the inability of political perspectives – Left and Right – to reflect on their own collapse.

A Textbook Case of Politics

Posted by admin on April 11, 2008
Apr 112008

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 [1]“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); [2]that “profound disagreements” about global warming exist within the scientific community (p. 560); [3] that so-called “activist scientists” say that the earth’s climate is warming (p. 560); [4] 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); [5] 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.

Apr 082008

Last Friday, we asked ‘what happened to the precautionary principle‘. Recent arguments dominating the public discussion on climate change seem to have been about the ‘scientific consensus’ achieving certainty, rather than advising caution in the face of doubt. Yet on inspection, this certainty isn’t real. It is the kind of certainty that there is about being uncertain. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s famously ridiculous ‘known unknowns’ – things which you know you don’t know about, and ‘unknown unknowns’ – things you can be certain you don’t know you don’t know about. Uncertainty can be spun into certainty… All it takes to talk bollocks is balls.

Since that post, we’ve been looking for another good example of the precautionary principle being applied in an argument framed in terms of scientific certainty, like Naomi Oreskes does in her lecture on “the tobacco strategy”. We knew we were onto something when Jeremy Paxman introduced last night’s Newsnight discussion between the former UK Chancellor, Nigel Lawson and former director of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, with the words “The danger from climate change is far more serious than previously thought, claims the top specialist at NASA”. In his bringing the precautionary principle to bear on a problem in the absence of evidence even existing, Chris Rapley did not disappoint.

At the beginning of the discussion, Rapley agrees with Lawson that the 21st century shows no warming trend. But this is not significant in the longer, 30-year time frame, he suggests…



Quite how the last decade’s non-warming is supposed to corroborate climate models, we are not sure, especially since the Hadley Centre have postponed warming until 2010, and told us that the recent cold snap is natural variation caused by La Nina, which logically means that the 97-98 El Nino too must have been ‘natural variation’. In other words, 13 years of either natural variation or no warming are less significant to our understanding of the future climate than the previous 17 years. No cause for not worrying, “doing nothing” is not an option, Rapley reminds us…

Catastrophe is just around the corner… Except it isn’t, because, as Lawson rightly points out, it is not obviously true that climate change means disaster. It just means change. Put another way, what Rapley is asking us to consider is not the facts of climate change, but the possibilities that might unfold, if climate change is being caused by humans. Waiting and seeing is not an adequate response, says Rapley, in the face of the possibility of such danger. But, as we have argued before, what determines the vulnerability of humans to climate is not the climate itself – civilisation endures a vast range of conditions – but our ability to organise ourselves against the elements.

The precautionary principle looms large in this argument. And Rapley finishes by again emphasising not what what we do know, but what we don’t.


Here is the entire video uninterrupted:

Apr 042008

It only seems like yesterday that the Precautionary Principle was the standard currency of Environmentalist rhetoric. But like acid rain and global cooling, the precautionary principle seems to be disappearing from the Green lexicon. Increasingly, Environmentalists are drawing on the putative certainties of science – “The debate is over”, “The science is in” – rather than its inherent provisionality, to support their politics.

Take Naomi Oreskes’ belief that prominent denialists who created the “tobacco strategy” are now involved in undermining the scientific case for action on climate change, by “creating” doubt.

In 1979, Fredrick Seitz became an advisor to the R.J. Reynolds Corporation. His job was to direct a medical research program to confound the links between tobacco and cancer. Between 1975 and 1989 RJR Nabisco Company, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco spent $45 million on this program. And from 1978 onwards, Seitz was its director. The focus of the program was to (quote) identify highly promising young investigators who are underfunded at present, and to fund them to do research that could be then used to argue that the scientific evidence was uncertain. 

What Oreskes seems to forget is that doubt, rather than being generated by the “denialists”, has long been at the very core of environmental politics. Consider the following statement, which is part of the 1992 Rio Declaration, agreed at the Earth Summit…

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats to serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. 

It is even more interesting in the light of Oreskes’ claims that scientific certainty on global warming had been achieved well before 1992:

If scientists understood in 1979 that global warming was going to happen, and if they knew by the early 1990s that it was starting to happen, and if our first president Bush signed the framework convention [at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio], why are we still here, in 2007, still arguing about whether global warming is even happening? 

Article 3 of that declaration states:

The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost. To achieve this, such policies and measures should take into account different socio-economic contexts, be comprehensive, cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and adaptation, and comprise all economic sectors. Efforts to address climate change may be carried out cooperatively by interested Parties. 

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 the same doubt that Oreskes claims is generated by the “tobacco strategy”. In claiming that denialists were generating doubt where there was certainty, Oreskes – a professor of the history of science – re-writes scientific history. More interesting still, Oreskes seems to agree with the “deniers” that scientific certainty – rather than doubt – should drive action.

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. For example, we wrote back in November about how the language used in the IPCC AR4 synthesis report was taken out of context. The IPCC report said:

Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands. Such changes are projected to occur over millennial time scales, but more rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded. 

The fact that “more rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded” means little more than “we don’t know”. Yet as we said at the time, this highly ambiguous statement made it into the headlines – with the help of senior IPCC members – as a statement that ‘The IPCC states that climate change is “unequivocal” and may bring “abrupt and irreversible” impacts’. In other words, it was not what the IPCC knew which was making the headlines, it was what the IPCC didn’t know. This is reflected in an article by Oreskes in July 2006 in the LA Times.

None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always uncertainties in any live science. 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. 

What matters to Oreskes is not the substance of scientific understanding, but an isolated, binary fact that “climate change is happening”. From here, “climate change” can mean anything. Once it has been established as a “fact”, it doesn’t matter what science says, because the doubt incubates the imagination better than certainty, and prohibits scientific expertise from undermining the power of the nightmare.

So is there really a difference between the application of doubt by the warmers, and by the tobacco strategists? The warmers use doubt about future security, while the tobacconists – as they are depicted by Oreskes – doubt that the science is sufficiently complete to make statements about the security of the future. The two “sides” Oreskes invents only differ in how best to respond to the same doubt. The dichotomy that Oreskes asks us to consider is not which argument is more sound, but which is safer, given the honesty of the parties in question. Oreskes invents an opposition and an argument for them, in order for the precautionary principle to look sensible by contrast, because scientific “fact” is not something Oreskes even has
time for.

In a 2004 study, Science and public policy: what’s proof got to do with it? Oreskes writes,

In recent years, it has become common for opponents of environmental action to argue that the scientific basis for purported harms is uncertain, unreliable, and fundamentally unproven. In response, many scientists believe that their job is to provide the “proof” that society needs. Both the complaint and the response are misguided. In all but the most trivial cases, science does not produce logically indisputable proofs about the natural world. At best it produces a robust consensus based on a process of inquiry that allows for continued scrutiny, re-examination, and revision. Within a scientific community, different individuals may weigh evidence differently and adhere to different standards of demonstration, and these differences are likely to be amplified when the results of inquiry have political, religious, or economic ramifications. In such cases, science can play a role by providing informed opinions about the possible consequences of our actions (or inactions), and by monitoring the effects of our choices. 

Oreskes appear to want things both ways. On the one hand, she claims that there is scientific certainty, which is being undermined by tobacconists. But on the other, she claims that scientific certainty is not a necessary requirement for action on climate change, and that no such thing exists. The consequence of this strategy is that the doubt is used to close down the possibility of any approach to climate problems other than mitigation – we have to constantly mitigate against the worst imaginable scenario. (Even though, ironically, great doubt surrounds whether such a strategy would actually have the effect intended.)

A last thing to consider is what certainty might do to Environmentalism. If we really were able to determine what climate problems exist in the future, we would be able to respond efficiently, taking into account both the costs and the benefits of changing the way we live either to adapt to our new circumstances, or mitigating to avoid them. This would deprive the environmental movement of the thing which drives it: fear. Such a loss would destroy Environmentalism. The preoccupation with worst-case scenarios generates legitimacy for Environmentalism only because science is unable to rule out the possibilities that green imaginations generate. Doubt is the fuel of Environmentalism.

The precautionary principle thrives beneath the surface of contemporary eco-rhetoric about the consensus. It’s just that it’s very hard to talk about that at the same time that you’re banging on about how the science is settled.

Blaise the Lord

Posted by admin on February 29, 2008
Feb 292008

This is the first in a mini-series of posts about videos that really annoy us. First up – “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See:

Greg (we almost feel a little bit bad for having a go at someone who describes himself as “A high school science teacher in the process of burning out“[EDIT: especially now that Greg - not Gary - pointed out to us, much more politely than would have been perfectly reasonable, and to our embarrassment, and for which we apologise, that we got his name wrong first try]) presents “inescapable proof” that it is definitely better to “do something” (anything?) about global warming than to “do nothing”. That’s because, if global warming is happening, the consequences of not doing something are too horrible to contemplate, and if it isn’t, then hey, no great harm done. The thing is, this is just a reformulation of the Precautionary Principle, which, as Philip Stott notes, is itself just a reformulation of Blaise Pascal’s famous wager. Stott does a fine job of explaining why Pascal’s Wager (and, therefore, the Precautionary Principle, and Greg) cuts no ice in climate change debates.

We would only add that it is striking that Pascal was arguing the case for believing in something – God – in the absence of proof or evidence. We have pointed out before that once you remove Environmentalism’s scientific fig leaf, all you are left with is an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics. Which is presumably why the video has been received and distributed so enthusiastically. Take out Greg’s sciencey-looking graphs and tables and what remains is an argument for embracing Environmentalism regardless of what science says. It is not science; it is theology – a theology written in the language of science, but which you’re not meant to take too literally or anything.

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