Lack of Environment

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

Why am I here?

with 4 comments

My Dad with my children in 2008.

My Dad with my children in 2008.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, Henry Chester Lack (1926-2009), who would have been 88 today.

The University of Liverpool run an online training module for all off-Campus and/or International students in the first year of their PhD studies. As part of this, I have been asked to explain (to a non-technical audience) why I am doing what I am doing. Here is what I said:

—–

Q1. What do I intend to research?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1988. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Q2. Why does it interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment. In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

Q3. What do you want your audience to learn as a result of reading this?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value). Whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

Q4. How can I make things more interesting?
Here is a quote from one of the heroes of modern climate science, Stephen H Schneider, who said: “If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier.” In other words, the rejection of a clear preponderance of evidence is ideologically-motivated denial (not skepticism). To see the context within which Schneider reached this conclusion, please see the following article by John Mashey on DeSmogBlog (i.e. ‘Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science’) recently:
http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/04/18/pseudoskeptics-are-not-skeptics

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Written by Martin Lack

30 April 2014 at 16:00

4 Responses

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  1. From an historical perspective [and I'm being optimistic that there will be a future to reflect on the past] we are in, perhaps human history, a defining moment equal to the industrial revolution. Therefore, it is important to understand the powers or individuals that refuse to accept the science as well as their motives.

    If you detach one’s self from it all, it is fascinating – like an alien research vessel orbiting our planet and observing the mechanism of either a civilisation’s salvation or destruction.

    Interesting times!

    julesbollocks

    1 May 2014 at 01:56

    • Thanks Jules. It may be that Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ should be on the National Curriculum. Sadly, however, I think we are almost out of time – as children starting school this year may still be in it when the curtain comes down on civilisation as we have known it:

      http://www.livescience.com/20778-earth-headed-environmental-collapse.html

      http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/jared-diamonds-warning-from-history/

      http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/terminal-greenhouse-crisis/

      Martin Lack

      1 May 2014 at 08:51

      • In that was a suggestion to make your work really stand out – that is to be a Spock in your spaceship. You could almost look at it as a really exciting. You don’t have to be a sociopath, but the chance to study this key point in all civilisations [perhaps on all planets with civilisations] is rare. I know you give a damn but perhaps your work will stand out if you take objectivity to heart.

        julesbollocks

        1 May 2014 at 11:03

        • Thanks Jules. I realise that I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve (e.g. the gratuitous use of “counter-factual” in my answer to Q1, above). I am also aware of the need for objectivity and dispassionate writing in an academic context. However, rightly or wrongly, I decided it was OK to fail the objectivity test in this particular instance (i.e. where the audience is fellow PhD students researching a wide variety of mutually unfamiliar subjects).

          Martin Lack

          1 May 2014 at 12:03


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