Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

On the Origin of the Specious by Means of Climate ‘Scepticism’…

with 26 comments

…or the Preservation of Favoured Rhetoric in the Service of Liars.

With apologies to Charles Darwin for the parody of the title of his most famous work (Darwin, 1859), I have decided to mark the start of work on my PhD by posting here the Abstract and Conclusions of my MA dissertation, ‘A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the United Kingdom’.  Existing readers will, no doubt, be aware that the Abstract has been on the About page of this blog since its inception, and other bits and pieces have appeared over time (links embedded below). However, the Conclusions have never been published here before (although I have often alluded to them).  The whole thing, of course, was the basis for my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, which can be purchased in hardcopy or eBook form from any decent online bookstore (click on book cover, right, for details).

Before reading further, however, please note the following:
1. Since writing this, three years ago, I have stopped using the more familiar – but imprecise – term ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’ (AGW), in favour of the less familiar – but more precise – term ‘Anthropogenic Climate Disruption’ (ACD).
2. It is not possible to explain the totality of late 20th Century warming unless humans are the primary cause.
3. Disputing this necessitates believing that the majority of climate scientists are either: (a) being stupid; (b) reaching unjustifiable conclusions; or (c) wilfully stating things they know to be false.
4. Whereas 3(a) is highly improbable and 3(b) is entirely irrational, if 3(c) were true, unlike industry-sponsored misinformation campaigns, it would be unprecedented.   However, fortunately for all those interested in avoiding ideologically-driven denial of science in the service of vested business interests, evidence continues to pour in to show that the scientific consensus is entirely reasonable, rational and reliable.

——-

Abstract
Discourse analysis is understood in the sense proposed by John Dryzek (2005) that it involves the textual assessment of (a) basic entities recognised or constructed; (b) assumptions about natural relationships; (c) agents and their motives; and (d) key metaphors and rhetorical devices used.  As a piece of social science research, no attempt is made to prove or disprove the validity of the scientific consensus view that climate change is happening and that human activity is its primary cause.  However, this reality has been assumed solely in order to analyse the views of climate change sceptics that dispute it.  To this end, the philosophical roots of scepticism; its possible misappropriation for ideological reasons; and the psychological causes of denial are reviewed.  In this context, based on the finding of numerous researchers that conservative think-tanks (CTTs) often act as the primary driving force of campaigns to deny environmental problems, the output of such UK-based CTTs is analysed, along with that of scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others.  Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction.  However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate.  If so, Peter Jacques (2009) would appear to be right to conclude that anti-environmentalism (i.e. environmental scepticism) needs to be exposed as being “in violation of the public interest”.

Conclusions
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus – and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories of various kinds – the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion.  In contrast to all of the above, the politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic rationalist arguments.

Climate change sceptics often object to being called ‘denialists’ on the grounds that they accept the climate is changing but do not accept that we are causing it.  However, this appeal to reason is wholly reliant on the complexity of climate science; and the consequential limited understanding of it amongst the vast majority of the population.

Therefore, although many sceptical scientists and economists may wish to draw analogies between concern for the environment and religious belief; and be very dismissive of “an uncritical acceptance of this new conventional wisdom” (Peacock 2008: 114), this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that, in addition to being the “greatest market failure in history” (Stern) and “a failure of modern politics” (Hamilton), AGW is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity (cf. Meadows et al. 2005: 223).  As James Lovelock has put it:

Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy.  It is true that many scientists, especially climatologists, now see that our planet has the capacity to regulate its climate and chemistry, but this is still a long way from being conventional wisdom (Lovelock 2006: 21-2).

Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ (i.e. the FFL and/or CTTs) by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of AGW; and/or the unsustainable nature of exponential growth in economic development, resource depletion, and environmental pollution (Hamilton, Jacques, MacKay, Oreskes & Conway, etc.).

If the consensus view of AGW is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt to the realities of AGW in a timely fashion has already been delayed by several decades.  This would make it imperative that this delay should end; and that action should be taken.  However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate.  If so, it is also imperative that those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ – waging this disinformation campaign – should be exposed as the real enemies of humanity and the planet.

It is hoped that this research will be of benefit to those seeking to achieve this end.

References

Darwin, C. (1859), On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Murray.

Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd ed).  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hamilton, C. (2010), Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change.  London: Earthscan.

Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life.  Farnham: Ashgate.

Lack, M. (2013), The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse.

Lovelock, J. (2006), Revenge of Gaia.  London: Allen Lane.

MacKay, D. (2009), Sustainable Energy: without the Hot Air.  Cambridge: UIT.  Available online at http://withouthotair.com.

Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt.  New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

Peacock, A. (2008), ‘Climate change, religion and human freedom’, in Robinson C. (ed), Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists.  London: IEA, pp.114-31.

Stern, N., et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change.  London: HM Treasury.

——-

And finally
If you have a genuine interest in understanding who it is that has been lying about climate change for decades, based on the research I have since done (in order to draft my PhD proposal), I would recommend that you read any or all of the following:

Capstick, S. & Pidgeon, N. (forthcoming). ‘What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public’. Global Environmental Change. Corrected proof available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Carvalho, A. & Burgess, J. (2005). ‘Cultural Circuits of Climate Change in U.K. Broadsheet Newspapers, 1985–2003’. Risk Analysis, 25 (6), pp.1457-69.  PDF available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011). ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change, 21(3) pp.1035-44.  Abstract available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385.  Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

O’Neill, S.J., & Boykoff, M. (2010).  Climate denier, skeptic, or contrarian? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107:E151.  Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Sceptics (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism).  PDF of Executive Summary available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

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26 Responses

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  1. Nice one, Martin.

    Paul Handover

    1 February 2014 at 15:51

    • Thank you, I’m glad you liked the element of humour in the title(?) ;-)

      Martin Lack

      1 February 2014 at 16:53

  2. Gavin & Marshall pay-walled.

    You may find this: Misinformation Is Winning – Doubt In Climate Change Climbing of interest.

    anotheralionel

    1 February 2014 at 16:40

    • Oh well, I think all the others are freely accessible.

      Thanks for your link to sad evidence that we live in an ‘Age of Endarkenment’.

      Martin Lack

      1 February 2014 at 16:54

  3. Any comments on the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on AR5 and their decision to invite an equal number of AGW sceptics and Warmists to the advisory panel, Martin?

    That is not something that would have happened three years ago.

    The US Senate inquiry followed a similar policy of requesting contributions from both sides of the debate for the first time, also.

    catweazle666

    1 February 2014 at 21:09

    • I am not sure which Select Committee you mean (Science, Environment, Energy?) but, clearly, false balance is not just a problem for journalists. However, the industry-funded ‘sceptics’ in the UK need to do better than their US cousins (who, bizarrely, parachuted Lord Monckton in to try and rebut the testimony of scientists with a track-record of relevant peer-reviewed research). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVHY4W2zbdM

      Martin Lack

      2 February 2014 at 15:02

  4. Martin. Presumably you have read this latest tosh from Roger Helmer, but just in case you have not, have a read of this http://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/the-sun-drives-climate-not-co2/#comments

    catalanbrian

    4 February 2014 at 13:15

    • Thanks Brian. I will be interested to see if my comments appear on Roger Helmer’s blog…

      Martin Lack

      4 February 2014 at 14:07

      • As do I.

        catalanbrian

        4 February 2014 at 14:42

        • Just in case it does not appear, I post it here instead:

          Apart from a minor aberration between 1996 and 2003, I have been a life-long Conservative voter. Sadly, however, given the way the Party is currently going, I suspect this will not last much longer. Even more unfortunately, I am very reluctant to vote for anyone else – and am inclined to ask people why they think most Euro-sceptics are climate sceptics:

          http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/why-are-euro-sceptics-also-climate-sceptics/

          The last 150 years or so has produced a great deal of ideologically-driven denial of inconvenient science on the basis of theological prejudice (e.g. evolution by creationists) or vested interests (e.g. health risks of smoking by tobacco companies).

          Whether you like it or not, the scientific consensus is that humans are the primary cause of post-Industrial warming of the planet. Rejecting the reality, reasonableness and/or reliability of this consensus can only be justified by believing most relevant researchers to have been either: (1) persistently stupid; (2) reaching unjustified conclusions, or (3) deliberately deceitful.

          Since (1) is highly improbable and (2) would be highly irrational, this only leaves (3). However, given the track record that big corporate interests have for disputing inconvenient science (see above), there would appear to be a good case for invoking Occam’s Razor: i.e. accepting the simplest explanation that accords with historical facts and does not require the rejection of the last 150 years in the developmental understanding of atmospheric physics.

          Thus, for all but those who invoke conspiracy theories (i.e. bedtime stories that make the World seem a much nicer place), the scientific consensus regarding the Sun appears perfectly reasonable:
          (a) Whilst the Sun may help to explain gradual cooling since the end of the last Ice Age, it cannot explain mutli-decadal warming since the Industrial Revolution;
          (b) Whilst natural climate forcings (i.e. the Sun, ocean circulation and volcanoes) may help to explain the slow down in warming since 1998, only anthropogenic influence can explain the record-breaking warmth of the last decade; and
          (c) Given (a) and (b), there is no rational basis for assuming that warming will not continue (unless humans take collective action to minimise it).

          See: http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm

          Martin Lack

          4 February 2014 at 14:51

        • Other comments have now appeared but not mine. Censorship and Denial continue to co-habit.

          Martin Lack

          4 February 2014 at 18:07

  5. Strange, that!

    catalanbrian

    4 February 2014 at 21:05

    • Actually, we may have been too harsh. Comments without links have appeared straight away. I have now asked if they will release those with with links in them as well.

      Martin Lack

      5 February 2014 at 14:09

  6. IMO: I have given denial some thought and tried to re-frame it in terms I might fall foul of. Alternative energy [I will exclude nuclear on this occasion] and GM are two areas where ‘wishful thinking’ can lead to denial of certain facts.

    GM and fracking are two topics that receive emotional responses from those who would otherwise accept scientific arguments regarding ACC. Both have scientific concerns- for instance GM herbicide resistant crops have generated herbicide resistant natural weeds, mare’s tail is a particular problem which cannot be eradicated with more glysophate. When it comes to human safety the Americans have been running a massive trial of GM in the human food chain for the last 20 years or more with no apparent health problem.

    Both fracking and GM have been proven not to be particular health issues yet there is still fear attached to both. Scientifically there is good reason to be sceptical of both but not the catastrophic level.

    Alternative energy appears to some to be a magic bullet- it has certainly proved itself but the economic system that replaces the current fossil fueled one will be very different- we can certainly have the comforts we have now with a transition but we cannot have the same world with ff cars and transport as well as growth as the primary goal of the economy with an electric economy driven by wind tide and sun.

    I can’t actually imagine a world where cheap national and personal debt is a thing of the past- or how governments can finance pensions or student loans or health improvements- in short I cannot imagine a world where ff are phased out at the same rate they were phased in.

    However what kicks in for me is ideology- like many I have tired of an economic world that offers ‘stuff’ in return for the dullness of a commute or dead end job and 30 t.v channels offering the same old plot. My rebellion against the wage slave mentality allows me to see the future as a challenge- yet I have no idea how it will turn out.

    On the opposing side- the delingbots, the ukippers live in a world of wishful thinking- it is not that they want this society to continue as it is but rather return to a golden age when political correctness and gay marriage did not tarnish the dream. It is an old story- ancient Egyptians, Romans, Victorians, Islamists, and of course the fascists of the last century all held that today’s world had been corrupted by a corrupt group and who stood in the way of a true destiny.

    If only gays, the EU, immigrants, left wing teachers, the pc crew etc were deposed then cheap energy [insert nostalgic dream]would return.

    The ‘jam for everyone’ is a dream but it is exploited by politicians and lobbyists- perhaps the politicians end up believing it themselves.

    julesbollocks

    6 February 2014 at 17:48

    • Thanks Jules. All our energy problems are solvable, but only if the fossil fuel companies will allow the solutions to be marketed: Solutions such as Bioroot Energy, which can make hydrocarbons to order from any waste – solid liquid or gas – containing carbon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRl9RRpPadA

      Less solvable is the problem of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet.

      Martin Lack

      6 February 2014 at 19:19

      • You have hit the nail on the head with your final paragraph, although I would word it “The unsolvable problem is that of……….” And Julesbollocks I am also tired of the economic world that offers “stuff” in exchange for wage slavery. That is why I retired early and live a very simple life off grid here in Catalunya. I had had enough of the grab it all world that had developed over my lifetime. And yes, your analysis of the UKIP viewpoint is spot on.

        catalanbrian

        6 February 2014 at 19:52

        • Thanks Brian. I have had one reply from Roger Helmer on Twitter but suspect he is now ignoring me. I am going to try cutting and pasting my comments on his blog without links (because it may be that they have ‘blacklisted words or links in them).

          Martin Lack

          7 February 2014 at 12:00

      • ‘Less solvable is the problem of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet.’

        Indeed and a number of other related problems including a broken economic model. Well it is only broken for the majority of inhabitants of Planet Earth and not the ever increasingly wealthy top one percent.

        I picked up a little book a few years back, its size and price was such that I bought about four copies, one for myself and others for relatives:

        The Little Earth Book.

        Full of punchy little essays covering many of the sore points.

        Worth looking up if you have not seen this one.

        anotheralionel

        7 February 2014 at 12:56

  7. I’m officially shocked- well not quite given there has been a slow trend towards the ‘right’ when it comes to politics. I am talking of my mother, now retired she was a teacher with left-wing progressive ideas and well educated yet I have just learnt from her [with regards to the current weather] that there is so much uncertainty about ACC, ‘we just don’t know how much is human caused’ and ‘there is nothing we can do to change what happens to the climate’ and ‘the climate has always changed’ and ‘humans will adapt’.

    So I doft my hat to the denial industry- they have shown success in spreading doubt and misinformation, their paid scientists for hire give the impression of balance. Yet my admiration is the same I would have for a well executed murder [as Columbo is impressed with the scheming murderers].

    The lobbyists are doing a job and the public appears to want to hear the wishful thinking rather than the inconvenient truth. There are no good guys or bad guys, the evil that lurks is as much a part of humanity- and that is the challenge.

    julesbollocks

    7 February 2014 at 10:45

    • Having tried and failed to break into the advocacy/lobbying field of employment, I am now trying to provide a service to humanity by illuminating the precise mechanisms by which industry has misled right-wing politicians (and thus the public) in the UK (primarily in the print media). It would be nice to think we shall not be fooled by this tactic in the future but history suggests otherwise (and yet I feel compelled to try and prevent that future materialising).

      Martin Lack

      7 February 2014 at 11:57

      • Good for you.

        One small light- the fake sceptic have to keep the misinformation going 24/7/365 and will run out of b/s, however as they run out of excuses the chance to change things reduces.

        julesbollocks

        7 February 2014 at 12:46

      • Is Delingpole reduced to flailing and Lindzen to vilifying all other scientists who happen to have an impact on climate research:

        Climate science is for second-raters says world’s greatest atmospheric physicist. It seems that Lindzen has reached the Bitter Old Man stage. He does not look well.

        anotheralionel

        9 February 2014 at 13:49

        • 100% conspiracy theory for sure.

          He probably has lung cancer.

          Martin Lack

          10 February 2014 at 17:56

  8. OT but worth a look as being very timely.

    Thanks to a reply to a post at Climate Crocks directing to The Carbon Brief where a link to The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK PDF.

    As one remarked – disturbing.

    anotheralionel

    11 February 2014 at 12:36


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