'Science' – Environmentalism's Fig Leaf

by | Feb 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Anonymous

    I object to the suggestion that Nazis are “right wing”. Perhaps I could recommend the book The Road To Serfdom for you? By the way, if you want a far right AGW believer, you could always pick Newt Gingrich (Contract with the Earth).

  2. Anonymous

    The nastiest views have always been found on the left. Whether it is the Sierra Club exec director who favors the ban on DDT precisely because it causes millions to die or the 100 million who have been killed by socialists in the last 100 years, the left has always been the home of nastiness.

  3. Anonymous

    What keeps coming back like zombies from a 70s B movie is neomarxist Lefties ( a la Obama’s campaign staff in Houston, TX with their giant Che Guevarra posters)

    Economic centralized control has effectively been shown to be a logical fallacy since Ronald Reagan’s day. The Soviets imploded, the Berlin Wall fell, China, though totalitarian, tossed the Little Red Book and embraced the free-market.

    By 1990 the ideologically bankrupt Left didn’t have a leg to stand upon while casting stones at market economies and property rights because their theories, both social and economic, were thoroughly discredited. Note that the genocidal and anti-democratic practices of their heroes–Mao, Che, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh–never has deterred the zoombie Left in Western democracies.

    Then along comes the myth of an impending Climate Apocalypse caused by the great evil of rampant wealth-creation, consumerism and especially the high living standard of Fat American suburbanite bourgeois.

    How cool is that for long dead and buried Leftist zoombies? Suddenly, they are rising from the grave with a new religion and a scientific-sounding dogma completely separate, but compatible, with their decaying Marxist flesh.

    Once again they can assault the now globalized market economy from a sanctimonious high ground. This time instead of saving the workers of the world from evil capitalist overlords they are going to save the whole bloody planet Earth from eminent destruction wrought by the same wealth-creating villains.

    Only today, the average bloke with a two car garage, a mutual fund portfolio and a mortgage is the villain.

    But the zombies are the same. And just like in the bad old Internationale days, a totalitarian phase may be necessary to Save the Earth because the decadent democracies are addicted to economic growth. Centralized control of all energy usage will be mandatory to avoid The Coming Climate Apocalypse. The back door to seizing property is to first seize control of energy usage through corrupt carbon trading cons and punitive taxation.

    And of course freedom to express skeptical positions on global warming will have to be curbed, as a form of hate speech, like Holocaust denial is in Germany. Naturally, no one advocates such policies in plain English. Yet. Or do they?

    Change, Yes We Can!!

  4. Mike

    Ideology is not a victimless crime. The debate (or lack thereof) is one thing, vast human suffering and mass murder are quite another. The connection between ideological movements of the 20th Century and 100 million murders is undeniable. Are we prepared for the rise of such evil again? Do we know it when we see it?

  5. Anonymous

    Seems like roberts is putting forward an excuse for the failure of the AGW argument before it has happened. The excuse being that the AGW believers used “science” but the “sceptics” used that filthy thing called “politics”. This only tends to happen when one knows that they are wrong, and the argument is lost, but is too embarrassed to admit it.

  6. Ayrdale

    Wonderful post. A great resource, thanks…


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