Benny Peiser fruitcake
As promised, here is the second of two personal profiles of the founders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist who, while at the UK’s Liverpool James Moore University, admitted in 2006 that “… the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact“. However, this admission was only forthcoming after he was forced to retract criticism he had made of research undertaken by Dr Naomi Oreskes in 2004. But how, and why, did he ever get into that mess in the first place?
According to the De-Smog Blog, he has published 3 research papers in peer-reviewed journals; although none of them is related to climate change. Indeed, it cites Peiser himself as having admitted, in an article for the Times Higher Education supplement on 4 September 2008, that “…I’m not a climate scientist and have never claimed to be one… My interest is in how climate change is portrayed as a potential disaster and how we respond to that“. Fair enough, but why does he not accept what the majority of climate scientists say is happening? Does he know better; or does he think they are lying to us? Is he a genius; or just another conspiracy theorist?
As I said, Peiser has become notorious for criticising Oreskes for a study, published in the journal Science in 2004, which had surveyed nearly 1000 peer-reviewed abstracts and not found a single one dissenting from the consensus view that climate change is being primarily caused by human activity. Again, as De-Smog Blog records:
“Peiser’s ‘claim to fame’ in the war on climate change science was a 2005 study that he claimed refuted an earlier study by [Oreskes]… Peiser originally stated… that Oreskes was incorrect and that ‘in light of the data [he] presented… Science should withdraw Oreskes’ study and its results in order to prevent any further damage to the integrity of science’”.
The Skeptical Science website (subtitled ‘Getting sceptical about global warming scepticism’) provides more detail on what Peiser did wrong:
“Benny Peiser repeated Oreskes survey and claimed to have found 34 peer reviewed studies rejecting the consensus. However, an inspection of each of these 34 studies reveals most of them don’t reject the consensus at all. The remaining articles in Peiser’s list are editorials or letters, not peer-reviewed studies. Peiser has since retracted his criticism of Oreskes survey [saying]: ‘Only [a] few abstracts explicitly reject or doubt the AGW… consensus which is why I have publicly withdrawn this point of my critique… I do not think anyone is questioning that we are in a period of global warming. Neither do I doubt that the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact” (Peiser as quoted by Skeptical Science).
Despite all of this, as we have seen, Peiser went on to team up with Lord Lawson to co-found the GWPF in 2009 and, although he now leaves others to attack the science, he is still not above repeating the message (albeit subliminal and wrapped up in an psychological context) that AGW is not a problem worth worrying about:
“The global warming hysteria is well and truly over. How do we know? Because all the relevant indicators – polls, news coverage, government u-turns and a manifest lack of interest among policy makers – show a steep and deepening decline in public concern about climate change… Public opinion is the crucial factor that determines whether policy makers advance or abandon contentious policies… Media coverage of climate change has dropped sharply… The public’s concern about global warming as a pressing problem is in marked decline not least because of the growing realisation that governments and the international community are ignoring the advice of climate campaigners… [Governments] are assisted in this policy of benign neglect by a public that has largely become habituated to false alarms and is happy to ignore other claims of environmental catastrophe that are today widely disregarded or seen as scare tactics” (Peiser 2011).
Sadly, all of what Peiser says here may be true but, having been forced to admit he was wrong, what is driving him to keep criticising the consensus view of AGW? He is a social anthropologist after all. If he wanted to point out that people should be concerned about AGW, he could do so, but, instead he chooses to attack that consensus. Peiser admits he is not a climate scientist, yet he chooses to doubt the importance of what the majority of climate scientists are telling us. As I said, there are only really two excuses for this: Either he thinks they are wrong, or that they are lying to us. However, he does not claim any expertise, so he must believe that they are over-stating the scale of the problem for political reasons (i.e. the UN/WMO/IPPC conspiracy theory of Fred Singer and Andrew Montford et al).
Furthermore, given that he accepts that some change is occurring, his apparent contentment with a policy of “benign neglect” is therefore either Prometheanism (i.e. the belief that human ingenuity will solve the problem) or Economic Rationalism (i.e. the belief that the problem is not worth the cost of fixing – we will have to adapt). Unfortunately, whichever it is, the tide of scientific opinion is flowing against him: The vast majority of climate scientists (and some social anthropologists like Clive Hamilton) now believe both mitigation and adaptation are rapidly becoming very difficult, precisely because we have spent so long arguing about whether or not we have a problem (e.g. the ’4 Degrees and Beyond International Conference’ [in Oxford, UK] in September 2009).