Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Benny Peiser’ Category

You know we’re in trouble when…

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The Sunday Telegraph starts advocating polices that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Two days ago, one of Britain’s oldest and most-respected broadsheet newspapers decided to shred the last few bits of credibility it might have had by publishing an anonymous editorial piece calling for the Climate Change Act 2008 to be repealed.

I am therefore sorry but, I just had to post this response:

Thank goodness the Sunday Telegraph is not a widely-read newspaper.  This kind of advocacy for policies that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption is short-sighted to say the least.

If you don’t like our countryside being despoiled by windfarms, new sets of National Grid power lines, and new nuclear plants…  What you should be advocating is greater subsidies for households that install solar PV panels on their roofs, which will reduce UK demand for centrally-generated electricity of all kinds.

Oh and, by the way, shale gas is not low-carbon intensity:  Because of the methane release it involves, it is extremely high-carbon intensity.  Now we know we need to reduce our global CO2 emissions and that further delay will mean greater ultimate cost (i.e. Sir John Beddington, today)… the international push to extract shale gas – and all other unconventional hydrocarbons –  is completely irrational.

If anyone is curious, the pronouncements of the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, to which I referred above, can be seen and heard in this video on the BBC website.  This was a fascinating development, coming, as it did, on the same day that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) announced that it was willing to enter into discussions with the Royal Society – to try and resolve the fact that the two organisations hold diametrically-opposed views regarding the validity of the scientific consensus that ACD is already happening.

This prompted me to send the GWPF’s Director, social anthropologist Benny Peiser, the following email:

Dear Dr Peiser,

I note, with genuine interest, your acceptance of the offer by the Royal Society to put the GWPF in touch with mainstream climate scientists.

I note also the public statement by the Sir John Beddington – who says evidence of anthropogenic climate disruption is now unequivocal and further delay in reducing emissions will mean harder and more expensive policy changes in future.

I should therefore be very grateful to know how much longer you think the GWPF is going to continue to insist that the science is uncertain and that calls for action are politically motivated.  For example, how long will it be before the GWPF accepts that we need to decarbonise our power generation systems – by implementing a revenue-neutral Fee and Dividend system as proposed by Dr James Hansen and many others.

Yours very sincerely,

Martin Lack

No answer as yet.

Reality dawns on people ignoring scientists

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I would hereby like to draw together two separate pieces of research published last week:

1. Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart (Desmogblog); and

2. AP-GfK Poll: Science doubters say world is warming (Associated Press).

debate is over

Need I say more? Sadly, yes, because – with people like Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser influencing the policy of the current Chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne – reality seems no nearer to dawning on the people with the power to change the way things are done.

The Three Monkeys – Monckton, Foster and Peiser

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Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Why the picture of monkeys?

The short story:
1. Lord Monckton believes Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) is a myth (i.e. a hoax or a false alarm).
2. Rev. Foster believes that ACD is inconsistent with God’s plan for humanity (i.e. as revealed in the Bible).
3. Dr. Peiser presumably believes ACD will go away if he ignores it (i.e. he has not responded to my emails).

The slightly longer story:
I recently sent an email to Lord Monckton (ex-UKIP), Rev Philip Foster (Repeal the Act) and Dr Benny Peiser (GWPF). I thought my email was reasonable and polite, whereas the response I got from Monckton was neither. Both my email and a summary of Monckton’s response were posted on this blog last week. However, as I have explained, Monckton was not willing to admit any possibility of his being wrong: Anthropogenic climate disruption is a myth. End of story. Therefore, he appears to be the Hear No Evil monkey. Today, as promised, I will explain why Rev. Foster appears to be the See No Evil monkey; and Dr Peiser appears to be the Speak No Evil monkey.

Rev. Foster is actually a retired Church of England vicar and a published author. He is also, unsurprisingly perhaps, a very nice person. However, just like me, he is not infallible. I have previously tried to engage Rev. Foster in debate regarding the content of his book, While The Earth Endures: Creation, Cosmology and Climate Change. In order to do this, I apologised to him for any offence caused by the humorous title I gave to my factual review of his book on Amazon. However, he will still not even admit that the famously unreproducable 1909 experiment of Professor R. W. Wood (demonstrating that a greenhouse gets hot by preventing convection not by trapping radiation) means that our “greenhouse” analogy is poor: It does prove that atmospheric CO2 cannot trap outgoing long wave radiation. This is just as well really; because Life on Earth would be impossible if CO2 did not do this.

Another favourite tactic of Rev. Foster is to accuse me of what C.S. Lewis called ‘Bulverism’ (i.e. telling someone they are wrong without first demonstrating why they are wrong). This is a very facile criticism to make; especially if you are in the habit of rejecting as suspicious any evidence that does not confirm to your pre-existing view of reality: If that is the case, this then becomes an entirely self-referential position; a completely impregnable fortress of confirmation bias; and an utterly unfalsifiable argument.

Finally, there is Rev. Foster’s theology; as set out in his book and expounded to me in his emails. Although he is clearly not a Young Earth Creationist, I think Rev. Foster is an eternal optimist; because he appears to believe that:
— Ecological scarcity is not possible because the Bible says God has made abundant provision for humans;
— Over-population can’t happen because we have been commanded to go forth and multiply; and
— We cannot trash the planet because God won’t let us.
I have suggested to him that the history of the Jews as set out in the Old Testament – and indeed the entire history of human civilisation – suggests he may be wrong about these things. Sadly, Rev. Foster doesn’t see it that way… He is the See No Evil monkey.

As for Dr Benny Peiser being the Speak No Evil monkey; that’s an easy one: He has never responded to any email I have sent him; whether it was addressed to him personally or copied to him. Presumably, like Monckton, he has also chosen to be offended by my use of humour (e.g. in my entirely factual account of his misrepresentation of climate science and scientists). As does Monckton, he presumably also mistakes this for an ad hominem attack. Unfortunately, they are both wrong, because the term is conventionally used when someone attacks the messenger because they cannot falsify the message. However…

I don’t need to falsify their messages because they have been falsified already; and
the Laws of Physics cannot be changed by endlessly repeating erroneous ideas.

Written by Martin Lack

20 August 2012 at 00:02

Sampson and the Temple of Economic Dinosaurs

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To mark the first anniversary of this blog, last Friday, I re-posted the first ever item on this blog, which summarised the inspiration for my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK; and the results of my research into one of the groups studied – namely economists. At the end of the re-posted piece, I said that this (economics and/or “sceptical” economists) was a subject to which I would return this week. This is primarily because the last two of the six pillars of climate change denial are proving the hardest to demolish. For ease of reference, these six pillars are as follows (with their most common sound bytes in brackets):

1. Global warming is not happening (a.k.a. “global warming stopped in 1998”).
2. Global warming is not man-made (a.k.a. “the climate has always changed”).
3. Global warming is not significant (a.k.a. “less than 1oC after 250 years is no big deal”).
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad (a.k.a. “CO2 is plant food”).
5. Global warming is not a problem (a.k.a. “we will adapt” / “technology will save us”).
6. Global warming is not worth fixing (a.k.a. “we cannot afford to fix it” / “we cannot stop it”).

Most of the economists I researched for my MA were associated with the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA); with the most notable exception being co-Founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Lord Lawson. For those that are interested (and/or not familiar with the early days of this blog), I posted quite a bit in the latter months of 2011 about both the IEA and GWPF and, therefore, do not propose to re-post it all now. However, as intimated at the end of last Friday’s post, I would like to draw attention to the list of names on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council:

Professor David Henderson (IEA economist)
Adrian Berry (Journalist – science)
Sir Samuel Brittan (Journalist – economics)
Sir Ian Byatt (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Robert Carter (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Vincent Courtillot (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Freeman Dyson (contrarian Physicist)
Christian Gerondeau (Economist)
Dr Indur Goklany (Economist)
Professor William Happer (contrarian Physicist)
Dr Terence Kealey (Biochemist)
Professor Anthony Kelly (Metallurgist)
Professor Deepak Lal (Economist)
Professor Richard Lindzen (contrarian Physicist)
Professor Ross McKitrick (Economist)
Professor Robert Mendelsohn (Economist)
Professor Sir Alan Peacock (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Ian Plimer (contrarian Geologist)

So, of these 18 advisors… 8 are economists, 3 are physicists, 3 are geologists, 2 are journalists, 1 is a biochemist and 1 is a metallurgist. Indeed, Lindzen is the only one who could claim to be anything close to a genuine climate scientist. Furthermore, in defence of my use of the term “contrarian”, I would defy anyone to prove that these individuals hold views that are anything other than those of an extreme minority within their respective professions.

Of course, this invites “sceptics” to claim that they are like Galileo but, fortunately, science has moved on from the Middle Ages; and it is no longer controlled by the Church of Rome. Furthermore, the only obscurantist and anti-intellectual entity today is the fossil fuel lobby – which now pays PR firms (such as Hill and Knowlton) to peddle misinformation and perpetuate doubt (just as it did for the tobacco industry).

As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, the GWPF was founded by economist Lord Lawson and social anthropologist Benny Peiser and – as is very clear from the above – it is focussed on economic arguments for inaction. However, along with the IEA, it is beginning to look increasingly anachronistic. Whist other similar think-tanks with an economic focus such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Taxpayers’ Alliance have conceded that climate change is happening, the IEA and GWPF continue to stick to the hardcore conspiracy theory that it is a politically-convenient false alarm.

Thankfully, I think the World is moving on and leaving dinosaurs like the IEA and GWPF behind. Most readers will probably be aware by now of the “we will adapt” position statement of Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil). Clearly, Tillerson has conceded defeat on the demolition of Pillars 1 to 4 and, therefore, stands between Pillars 5 and 6 – like the Old Testament anti-hero Sampson – trying desperately to prevent the Temple of Denial from collapsing around him.

This is indeed encouraging but, all the same, I wish that someone like Tillerson could bring himself to see and/or admit that fossil fuels are history; renewable energy is the future and, as such, investment in it should be seen as affirmative action. Of course, as Bill McKibben recently highlighted in Rolling Stone magazine, there is one very good reason why Tillerson cannot do this: Fossil fuel companies are already trading on their future profits from burning all of the Earth’s fossil fuels. If they announced tomorrow that they were going to cease all exploration for unconventional sources (deep sea oil, shale gas, and tar sands), their share price would plummet even faster than that of a “rogue institution” such as Standard Chartered Bank.

I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and offer the World a definitive solution; but I can’t. All I can say is that I am not comfortable with the idea of gambling the future habitability of planet Earth on our ability to find a way to safely and permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and artificially lock it away underground. This carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology may well prove essential but, it is simply not acceptable to use CCS as an excuse for not phasing out the use of fossil fuels in all forms of heating, cooling, power and transportation (with the reluctant exception of aviation where no obvious substitute exists).

The phase-out of fossil fuel use (wherever it can be substituted using existing technology) is something G20 Nations agreed to do 3 years ago (in Pittsburgh, PA) and, with every year that passes, the need to act becomes progressively more urgent. Despite the fanciful claims of the “sceptics”, it is no longer just supposed “alarmists” like James Hansen that say this: The International Energy Agency agrees; as do economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus.

Benny Peiser fruitcake

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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).

The Global Wonky Policy Foundation

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The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is actually a very appropriately-named organisation; because it is advocating policies that will ensure global warming is maximised.

The GWPF was founded by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson (now formally known as Lord Lawson of Blaby) and social anthropologist Benny Peiser on 23 November 2009 (i.e. in the run-up to the UNFCCC COP15 summit in Copenhagen), declaring itself to be “…open-minded on the contested science of global warming [and] deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated…” (GWPF 2009). Therefore, as well as necessarily invoking conspiracy theory to dismiss most climate science as unreliable, this is also a very clear statement of what John Dryzek and others call Economic Rationalism.

Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson published his Appeal to Reason in hardback (2008) and in paperback (2009) with an additional Afterword (but otherwise unchanged). The book contains a wide range of sceptical arguments but, in the 2009 Afterword (responding to his many critics) Lawson, despite acknowledging his own scientific illiteracy, still felt that it was legitimate to claim the “three greatest lies” to be that (1) the science is certain and settled; (2) global warming is actually happening; and (3) carbon dioxide is a pollutant (Lawson 2009, page 107).

Benny Peiser
In his former biographical entry on the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) website (http://www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis) Dr Benny Peiser was described as a social anthropologist with his research interests having been focused “…on the effects of environmental change and catastrophic events on contemporary thought and societal evolution”. Arguably, however, Peiser has become notorious (amongst climate scientists at least) for challenging research findings published by Naomi Oreskes and then having to retract his criticisms when they were shown to be invalid (De-Smog Blog). Despite this, he has continued to maintain that fears over global warming amount to “hysteria” subject to waning public concern due to so-called “issue fatigue”; and public cynicism regarding the motives of politicians espousing contentious policies (Peiser 2011).

Conclusions
There is much more to say about both Lawson and Peiser but I think it best to defer that to two separate future posts. However, I would like to conclude this sorry story by referring to the GWPF’s ludicrous decision to ask Chartered Accountant and Bishop Hill blogger Andrew Montford to produce a critique of the Climategate enquiries. (See my Category Index (above-right) for more detailed criticism of Andrew Montford and his totally fallacious Hockey Stick Illusion book.)

In the topsy-turvy sceptical world that people like Delingpole and Montford inhabit, it might not be that surprising that the GWPF would ask Montford to write a report into what they feel were 3 totally inadequate inquiries into the scientific research being undertaken by the UEA/CRU. However, unsurprisingly, Montford finds evidence of a state-sponsored conspiracy to provide excuse to tax people more heavily:
With the government embarking upon a radical decarbonisation programme, global warming is one of the most important questions facing the people of the UK today… While attempts to hide the truth from the public might have worked in the past, they simply wilt under this kind of scrutiny” (page 6).

However, it would seem that, in reality, few people believed him. For example, Montford’s GWPF report was considered in a further review of the matter by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (The Reviews into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit’s E-mails: First Report of Session 2010–11), which concluded (on 25 January 2011) that:
The disclosure of data from CRU has been traumatic and challenging for all involved. While we have some reservations about the reviews which UEA commissioned, the key point is that they have made a number of constructive recommendations. In our view it is time to make the changes and improvements recommended and with greater openness and transparency move on” (page 4).

Anyone who doubts the legitimacy of these conclusions (upholding the original findings that found no reason to doubt the actual science) is, as conspiracy theorists always do, just widening the scope of the perceived cover-up to avoid dealing with reality. Furthermore, it would seem that this is still, even now, exactly what the GWPF is doing.

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UPDATE (30 November 2011) – Despite repeated emails from me and a letter from Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, the GWPF has still not modified its position. Quite the opposite in fact; they are still content to cite the same discredited contrarian sources of prejudiced misinformation.

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