Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ Category

Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

with 12 comments

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?

With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:

(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
or
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.

What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P

If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).

N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.

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

Written by Martin Lack

30 April 2014 at 16:00

Occam’s Razor works for me!

with 13 comments


‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback.  I decided to purchase a copy.  Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.

In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural.  That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.  

Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!

However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’.  This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.  With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me:  Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.

Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice:  Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?

Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?

If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1)  There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”…  Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.

If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains

with 8 comments

Rousseau in 1753, by Quentin de La Tour
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

This must surely be a contender for the most well-known opening line of a personal treatise on political theory.  Written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) in, possibly his most famous work, The Social Contract (first published in 1762).  Is it not more readily identifiable than the opening lines of works by Adolf Hitler or Karl Marx?  OK, let’s not argue about it.  That would be a distraction…

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they. (Rousseau)

I have been aware of Rousseau (and this quote) for some time – at least since coming to appreciate the importance of the seventeenth century Age of Enlightenment. For ease of reference, the relevant Wikipedia article begins thus:

“The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in the late 17th and 18th century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange…”

To long-established readers of this blog (and/or those that do not question my motives or integrity), it may seem odd that I acknowledge the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment.  This is because I am socially-conservative; and would argue that modern science is founded upon the rational belief in an existential Universe (rather than argue that it is undermined by irrational belief in a non-existent God).

In my defence, I would say that this is part of what makes me what Stewart Brand calls an eco-pragmatist (as opposed to either an idealist or a radical).  I believe that the way we do things needs reformation – not revolution.  This is the essence of the school of thought known as ‘Ecological Modernisation’ – which I summarised on this blog in a three part series of posts (i.e. starts here) in September 2011. However, let’s try and get back to Rousseau…

I was recently reminded of this Rousseau quote (and of the political, religious and societal turmoil caused by Enlightenment thinking) while watching yet another DVD.  If I am hard to pigeon-hole politically, this is probably why I have suddenly become such a fan of the Danish film director Susanne Bier – whose films are hard to categorise cinematically.  This all started with me watching Love Is All You Need (2012) – and being really impressed by Trine Dryolm who almost outshines her co-star Piers Brosnan.  Susanne Bier admits that she sets out to make her films hard to categorise and, unquestionably, she succeeds.  I enjoyed the film – and Trine Dryholm’s performance – so much that I decided to get out two more films featuring the latter.  This resulted in me watching Bier’s previous film, In A Better World (2010) and A Royal Affair (2012), by Nicolaj Arcel (another excellent Danish film director I had never heard of) and co-starring fellow-Dane Mads Mikkelsen – best known (by me at least) for playing the main Bond villain, ‘Le Chiffre’, at the roulette table opposite Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006).

If you have not seen any of the above three Danish films, I would heartily recommend them all.  However, it is A Royal Affair that brought me back to thinking about the Age of Enlightenment in general and Rousseau in particular. As I will now try to explain…

The Age of Enlightenment was generally a good thing but, as I have said now many times, it is also the basis for one of the most significant fallacies of modern times – the belief that humans are superior to Nature (rather than being part of it).  However, the reason for my focus on the quote from Rousseau is that, although I may be taking it out of context, I believe it may explain why so many humans are failing to appreciate the seriousness of our current predicament. On the Wikipedia page for Rousseau, the Political Theory section is quite helpful – if you want to understand the context within which The Social Contract was written.  However, I am, quite unashamedly, going to take it out of that context; and apply it to environmental politics today.

To me, at least, the opening quotation resonates with my understanding of how and why so many perfectly intelligent people can be so blinded by ideology that they choose to believe that:
“Climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research.”
Rather than accept that:
“Business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business.”

However, there is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.

Whereas, there is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

It is hard to understate how angry this makes me. However, as John Ashton, former climate change advisor to the British government said in a speech given at the Bedford School recently, we should be angry about this but getting angry is not enough.  We should put this anger to use and – rather than give up on the political process – engage in it in order to change it.  He also suggested that this requires us to stop being fatalistic and see the future as something we can change (rather than something that is just going to happen to us).  Here is that talk, which is well worth watching.

I will conclude this missive by reproducing below two comments I posted elsewhere recently:

(1) In support of an article, entitled ‘Rocks Hold The Truth About Climate Change’, written by Ted Nield (the editor of the Geological Society’s website and Geoscientist magazine), on the Telegraph website:

Well done, Ted, for setting the (palaeoclimatic) record straight.

Given the massive conflict of interest that any petroleum geologist automatically has – when facing the reality that it is impossible to explain the totality of post-Industrial climate change unless burning fossil fuels is its primary cause – it is hardly surprising that the occasional ‘contrarian’ view gets aired on the Geological Society’s website.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

The denial of inconvenient science did not end well for the Catholic Church 400 years ago. Today, however, the only obscurantist Establishment is the Fossil Fuel Lobby (FFL), which now stands isolated and alone – following the demise of the Tobacco industry’s campaign – trying to turn residual uncertainty in science into unreasonable doubt.

Given that the Tobacco industry set up the first ‘Astroturf’ groups 20 years ago to deliberately campaign against climate science and other things (i.e. not just to defend smokers’ interests) – and that this is now all in the public domain – it amazes me that so many perfectly intelligent people continue to be fooled by the same strategy as perpetuated by the FFL. Whatever happened to: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”…?

(2) In support of an article, entitled ‘Super Typhoon Haiyan: Realities of a Warmed World’, written Michael Mann (Penn. State Uni. and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars), on the Huffington Post website:

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

More water evaporates from a warmer ocean; and a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. Evaporation is what drives our weather; and more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time provides more energy for more storms of greater intensity. Thus, so-called ‘global weirding’ was predictable (and therefore was predicted) from the basics of atmospheric physics. What is amazing is that so many are ideologically prejudiced against accepting this fact (and that it is now being validated by unfolding events).

The ideologically-driven denial of science did not end well for the Catholic Church over 400 years ago. The only obscurantist Establishment today is the Fossil Fuel industry. However, deniers of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) would have done well to heed the warning of George Santayana from over 100 years ago: “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it”.

All those who pick a fight with history and/or science are destined to lose eventually.  However, it is just a shame that we are all – along with those who dispute the nature of reality – tied to the railway track and unable to get out of the way of the approaching train that is ACD.

So here’s to those chains of ideological blindness being broken very soon.

How many more must die because of climate change denial?

with 8 comments

Warmer oceans cause more evaporation; leading to more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time.  This results in more frequent storms of greater intensity than before.  This email from Greenpeace therefore needs no further introduction from me:

—————————

Dear supporter,

These are extremely tough times for the people of the Philippines. Unfortunately, this disaster is not over yet and recovering from it will take a lot of time and resources. Nothing will make up for the lost lives though.

I often say this and unfortunately it is true on this occasion as well. It is those who are the least responsible for climate change who are getting hit the hardest by its impacts.

I received the email below from the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Von Hernandez. It was such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do that I asked if I could share it with you. He agreed.

Please continue to show solidarity with our colleagues, their families and the Filipino people and remind our governments that every fresh investment in a fossil fuel project is a bet against our children and children’s future on this planet, as Von put it himself.

In solidarity,

Kumi Naidoo
International Executive Director
Greenpeace International
———-

Dear friends,

It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now.

Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly clear that the damage wrought by the super typhoon has been colossal, the devastation absolute.

As of this writing, almost a thousand people have been officially confirmed to have lost their lives. The number of dead, however, is expected to exceed 10,000 — as more reports continue to filter in from other cities, islands and villages that were flattened by the apocalyptic winds and enormous walls of sea water that came rushing ashore.

More than 10 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this single event. Hunger, sickness and despair now stalk the most hard hit of areas, even as aid from both local and international sources started to trickle in. The President has already declared a state of national calamity.

It will probably take a few more days, maybe weeks before the total extent of this disaster can be confirmed. But for sure, this is now considered the worst natural calamity that the country has ever experienced. 

While storms and typhoons are indeed natural occurrences, the ferocious strength and destructive power delivered by this typhoon have been characterized as off the charts and beyond normal.

This is also not the first time. 

Last year, there was Bopha, which resulted in more than 600 fatalities, and before that a number of other weather aberrations too freakish even for a nation that has grown accustomed to getting more than 20 of these howlers in any given year. As if on cue, and following the template of Bopha in Doha, Haiyan also came at a time when the climate COP is taking place, this time in Warsaw.

Some of you would have already heard about the emotional opening speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation at the climate summit, bewailing the absence of responsible climate action at the global level and refusing to accept that the fate of Filipinos may now be irretrievably linked to a future where people are served super typhoons for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Once again, a disaster such as this one, underscores the urgency of the work we do as a global organization on climate change. 

It is in fearful anticipation of tragic scenarios such as these why our staff and activists go through great lengths, putting their life and liberty at risk, to take action at the frontlines of climate destruction — whether that’s in the forests of Sumatra or the hostile waters of the Arctic.

I would like to believe this is part of the larger narrative why 30 of our colleagues remain in detention in Russia. And it is our hope that they find courage and inspiration to endure the injustice they are going through, moving the planet away from the clear and present danger posed by runaway climate change.

We thank you all for the messages of solidarity and support you have sent our way at this time.

More importantly, I would urge you to use this moment to remind your governments that every investment in fossil fuels is an investment in death and destruction. 

The impact of new coal plants being built or new oil fields being developed — do not remain in their immediate vicinities — they translate into epic humanitarian disasters and tragedies, as we continue to witness in the Philippines.

Regards,

Von Hernandez
Executive Director
Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Written by Martin Lack

15 November 2013 at 16:30

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

with 19 comments

As for the flat Earth, the debate is over.

I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood.  This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…”   In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.

There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).

Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz.  This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.

Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false.  However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right.  This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong.  I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly.  However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:

Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).

So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:

“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”  Yes, that applies to everyone.  Here are a few facts:

IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause.  If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event.  The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications.  This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy.  Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped.  See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).  

Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP.  This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited.  For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info).  As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.

While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’.  Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic.  See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.

The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk.  Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent.  Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.

IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter.  Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor.  See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.

The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming.   This myth has been repeatedly debunked.  This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.

There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise.  CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems.  Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog

Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.

But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.

It’s about proper open debate.  The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.

While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat.  For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant.  Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science? 

Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.

The importance of being earnestly wrong

with 5 comments

I began my previous post by asking the question: “Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations?”  I followed this by observing that:  “This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.”

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is, of course, a very funny and very famous book by Oscar Wilde.  Sadly, this post is neither funny nor famous (not yet, anyway).  In fact, this post is prompted mainly by a TED video (embedded below) of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz – the author of ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’.

As the TED website makes clear, in its biography of her, Kathryn is a journalist who has written articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines and is also a former editor of the Grist blog.  She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East.

Anyone who automatically assumes that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false…  needs to watch this video.  Although this may sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it probably is not.

Earlier this year, the movie ’Greedy Lying Bastards’ went on general release – and so will soon be available on DVD.  Accordingly, reviews are now appearing in the media again.  This one by Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian website is typical.  For many people, therefore, the truth that the fossil fuel companies have financed a longstanding campaign to perpetuate doubt regarding climate science is a well-established fact – as incontestable as the fact that the tobacco industry did exactly the same for decades in order to sell as many cigarettes as possible.  However, there remains a sizeable minority of people on this planet for whom, it seems, the very repetition of this fact is proof of its falsity.  For these people, who generally decided what they wanted the truth to be a very long time ago, any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right (or that the person presenting the evidence has been duped by – or is part of – the conspiracy to perpetuate a lie).

Of course, if you try and point this out to such people, you are accused of peddling your own conspiracy theory.  However, tobacco companies have been taken to court and found guilty of trying to hide the link between cancer and smoking.  Climate scientists have only ever been taken to court for saying things fossil fuel companies do not want us to hear.  This too will be dismissed by the factually-challenged as evidence of a wider conspiracy; now including the judiciary.  However, for these people, is there no point at which the simplest explanation (which is supported by observable and documentary evidence) becomes more reasonable than an ever-expanding conspiracy (which is not supported by the vast majority of available evidence)?

This brings me back to something else I said on my previous post:

Unfortunately, for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant:  Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments.  Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists.  However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious:  The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.

So, again, the question remains:  What about all those people who are not being paid to misinform (i.e. the so-called ‘Merchants of Doubt)’?  How do we explain their existence – and how can we tell the difference between those who are being deliberately deceitful and those who are merely wilfully ignorant?  To be blunt, how can we spot the difference between someone who is just bigoted and someone who is being paid to be wrong?

I am afraid that I do not know for sure but, having spent an entire year carefully examining all the evidence, I am entirely satisfied by the scientific, historical, and observational evidence – and the logical arguments – that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the Earth’s climate.  Therefore, although I can never be certain, despite everything Kathryn Schulz says in the above video, I think it is legitimate to question either the sanity or motives of anyone who repeatedly ignores the fact that their arguments have been shown to flawed; and/or repeatedly re-states things that can easily be determined to be false.

No-one should be in any doubt about this: such people are not being sceptical; they are in denial.

Sadly, I recently had to delete an entire comment on my most recent post by someone identified only as ‘Oakwood’. He or she claims a professional need to remain anonymous but spends an awful lot of time posting comments on blogs by non-experts such as Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat), Steven McIntyre (ClimateAudit) and Andrew Montford (BishopHill).  It is, therefore, not that surprising that much of the content of what Oakwood’s comments elsewhere can be traced back to things by these non-experts (whose arguments have all been repeatedly falsified and discredited).

I therefore decided to send Oakwood an email in which I started by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts…”  In response, Oakwood started by saying he agreed with that assertion but, sadly, followed it with yet another re-statement of his own “facts” that are not actually facts at all… Then, as if to add insult to injury, Oakwood followed that litany of previously debunked arguments and climate myths (which I will look at in detail tomorrow), with this masterpiece of unfalsifiability:

…you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’.

This is a self-sealing argument that is entirely predicated on conspiracy theory:  If the consensus is real, reliable and reasonable, there is no legitimate reason to doubt the science.  Therefore, doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Tomorrow, probably not for the last time, I will rebut all of Oakwood’s “facts” in part two of this series, entitled: ‘The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood’.

Why the World Bank says we must decarbonise now

with 30 comments

In the context of 3 billion years of history, are we now witnessing the ‘last hours’ of most life on Earth?
(Click photo and/or read below for more information)

Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations?  This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.

Unfortunately for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant:  Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments.  Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists.  However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious:  The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.

Similarly, it seems, our national governments appear determined to ignore warnings from professional bodies, national scientific academies, and international organisations.  Anyone who asserts that humanity needs to stop burning fossil fuels as fast as possible is, it seems, immediately dismissed as an environmental ‘alarmist’.

If you stop to think about it objectively, even for a moment, the reasons for this are very obvious:  Far more serious even than the USA defaulting on its debt repayments, the problem is that the share prices of the World’s fossil fuel companies are entirely dependent upon the assumption that all the Earth’s fossil fuels will be burned.  This is referred to as ‘business as usual’ (BAU).

Thus, in the minds of our politicians at least, if they accept the reality that we have a problem at all, the only solution to the problem is one that allows fossil fuel companies to continue with BAU.

Unfortunately for our politicians, fossil fuel companies, and all life on Earth (human and non-human), such a solution does not exist and is, almost certainly, technologically unachievable in the timescale that it would now be required.

The solution everyone is hoping will emerge is carbon capture and storage (CCS). This is a subject about which I have written a great deal; and I do not intend to repeat myself now other than to say this: CCS will only be able to help solve our problem when the rate of removal of CO2 from our atmosphere is greater than global emissions.  Getting CCS to work will take decades (as will decarbonising our economies).  It is quite possible that we do not have decades of time in which to do either but, one thing is for sure, it makes no sense to delay making a serious attempt to do either.

Therefore, I believe all would do well to ponder the question as to why the World Bank published ‘Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development’ last year.  There is a big clue given in the ‘Abstract‘, which reads as follows:

Economic development during the next two decades cannot mirror the previous two: poverty reduction remains urgent but growth and equity can be pursued without relying on policies and practices that foul the air, water, and land.

The World Bank accepts that humanity cannot go on treating the Earth with contempt; treating it as if both its resources and regenerative capacity are infinite.  This is because, as is becoming increasingly obvious (in the case of the latter at least), they are not infinite.

This brings us to the crux of this post, which is to refute the entirely bogus argument that we humans have nothing to be afraid of because climate change is natural; life has survived it in the past; and will therefore do so again. There are at least two problems with this line of argument:
1. Because we were already in a warm interglacial period – and atmospheric CO2 is now 40% higher than at any time in the last 1 million years – it is highly unreasonable to dispute the fact that post-Industrial warming is unnatural (i.e. all sparrows may be birds but not all birds are sparrows).
2.  In the entirety of Earth history, there have been 5 mass extinction events (i.e. periods when between 50 and 95% of all species have been wiped out).  These events are each associated with periods when global average temperatures were more than 5 Celsius warmer than they are now (and there is strong evidence that a sixth mass extinction is already underway).

In responding to sensible comments on my previous post, ‘A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al.‘, I found myself referring to the most recent mass extinction event in the Earth’s history, the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred 55 million years before present (MaBP).  However, as the following video graphically demonstrates, what is now happening to the Earth’s climate as a result of the post-Industrial burning of fossil fuels, is looking increasingly like the Permian mass extinction event, which occurred 252 MaBP.

This video is only about 10 minutes long, so I hope people will watch it. If not, however, the main points are summarised below:
1. There have been five mass extinctions before and humans are now almost certainly causing a sixth.
2. The ongoing melting of terrestrial ice will now cause sea level to rise continuously for several centuries.
3. This is probably unstoppable but is survivable (i.e. assuming all humans can move away from coastal areas).
4. All past mass extinction events occurred when global average temperatures > 5 Celsius warmer than now.
5. Common to each event is further rapid warming triggered by methane release from permafrost and seabed.
6. We already have evidence that rates of both species extinction and methane release are now accelerating.
7. Positive feedback mechanisms (such as disappearing sea ice) will soon make methane release unstoppable.
8. If this ‘tipping point’ is passed, anthropogenic climate disruption will almost certainly be unsurvivable.

This is why the World Bank agrees that we need to decarbonise our global economies as fast as possible.

I think it is time to start dealing with reality

with 3 comments

The text below is reproduced from a comment I have just posted on the Climate Slate website. The comment itself was prompted by my having recently watched the movie ‘Chasing Ice’, conceived and produced by James Balog and Jeff Orlowski. This documents how James came to set up the Extreme Ice Survey and reveals some genuinely alarming facts such as the reality that many of the Earth’s glaciers have retreated further in the last 10 years than they did in the entire 20th Century.

Without further ado, therefore, here is my comment:

With apologies to all, I have not got time to argue percentages with anyone. There is today no legitimate debate about whether the end of the [Holocene] sea level and climate stability of the last 12 thousand years is human caused. This is because its ending cannot be explained solely by reference to natural forces (i.e. those that operate on shorter timescales and/or are random).

Those with a vested interest in the continuation of business as usual have turned residual uncertainty in climate science into unreasonable doubt regarding climate scientists. Given that the tobacco industry did this so successfully to medical science, it is not really that surprising that the fossil fuel industry has copied its modus operandi. What is surprising, however, is that so many perfectly intelligent people have been (and continue to be) fooled by the same ‘Merchants of Doubt‘  (e.g. fooled by ‘Astroturf‘ groups into believing that they are in a fight to preserve their liberty).

There is only one plausible explanation for this, which is that people prefer conspiracy theories to reality because they make them feel better about the World and/or themselves. However, I think it is time for people everywhere to stop reading their ‘bedtime stories’; and start dealing with reality.

The worst-case scenario is that anthropogenic climate disruption continues to accelerate and becomes unstoppable (i.e. climate sensitivity becomes irrelevant because no new equilibrium will be reached). If we allow that to happen, the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history will be inevitable. Fortunately, amongst those best-qualified to have a valid opinion, the majority view is that change is not quite unstoppable yet. However, the majority view is also that the change we have caused is already – and will be – irreversible in any timescale meaningful to humanity (i.e. it will take tens of thousands of years to be reversed).

“The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition [of CO2 to the atmosphere] is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more.”
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/climatechange

Anyone genuinely open to the idea of following the evidence wherever it leads should be very concerned by the carefully-considered choice of words in the above ‘Position Statement on Climate Change’ published by the Geological Society of London (or, indeed, any similar statement by any equivalent National body anywhere in the World).

To dismiss this as politically-correct fear-mongering is to admit you are a conspiracy theorist.

If you have not already done so, please get ‘Chasing Ice’ out on DVD.  Failing that, at least view the photographs (e.g. below – click on image for more) and/or the time-lapse photography on the Extreme Ice Survey website.

Wind-driven snow peppers an “ice diamond” on the beach at Jökulsárlón (Iceland).

Nice website, shame about the ideological blindness

with 20 comments

Masthead-v6

A  blogger friend of mine who subscribes to NaturalNews.com sent me the a link to an article on it, entitled ‘Global warming computer models collapse; Arctic ice sheets rapidly expand as planet plunges into global cooling’ , challenging me to find the scientific flaws in it.

Sadly, this was very easy:  There is no valid science in the article, which is written by Mike Adams, who… “is an award-winning journalist and holistic nutritionist with a passion for sharing empowering information to help improve personal and planetary health…” (i.e. he is not a scientist).

Indeed, upon reading the article and doing some investigation of its sources (etc), it quickly became apparent that the article is, in fact, just a regurgitation of misinformation posted by scientifically-illiterate journalists in the Mail on Sunday (David Rose) and Sunday Telegraph (Hayley Dixon).  ***Update – Apparently ‘Hayley Dixon’ IS David Rose (see first comment posted below)***

Dana Nuccitelli, author of a number of peer-reviewed articles on the scientific basis for concern about human-caused climate change, has done two good demolition jobs on these articles: (1) briefly (on both) on the Guardian website; and (2) in more detail (on David Rose) on the SkepticalScience website:

(1) - Arctic sea ice delusions strike the Mail on Sunday and Telegraph

(2) - Arctic sea-ice ‘growth’, a manufactured IPCC ‘crisis’ and more: David Rose is at it again

However, for the record, this is my response to the (un)original article by Mike Adams:

The flaw in the article is that it is full of statements of opinion dressed up as fact; and that those opinions can only be justified by dismissing the consensus view of our predicament as a political and/or scientific conspiracy. Indeed, this article is quite remarkable in that it manages to include just about every ‘sceptical’ argument I have ever heard. All of which are answered on sites like SkepticalScience/Arguments.

The problem, of course, is that if you are a conspiracy theorist, any source of information that conflicts with your beliefs is automatically rejected as being part of the conspiracy. If so, how do I know that it is not me that is the conspiracy theorist? That is simple: My beliefs are not just my beliefs; they reflect the settled view of the vast majority of relevant experts based on an examination of all of the evidence.

Therefore, unlike the erroneous consensus that the Earth is flat that was overturned by the weight of conflicting evidence, the consensus that humans are the primary cause of climate change will never be overturned by people like Mike Adams who cherry-pick the only data capable of justifying an alternative view.

To dismiss the vast majority of experts as stupid, mistaken, or deceitful, is not just conspiracy theory; it is also highly improbable. As I have now said many times, it is more likely that the Moon Landings were faked and/or that 9/11 was an inside job.  

Clearly, people like Mike Adams (who has chosen very unwisely to live in Tuscon, AZ – one of the World’s most unsustainable cities) are perfectly at liberty to choose to believe conspiracy theories rather than accept science. However, in doing so, the vast majority of the evidence suggests that they are being ideologically blinded to the intellectual dishonesty required to make that decision: The decision not to follow the evidence to the fully justifiable conclusion that humans are primarily responsible for what is happening to our planet and need to modify their behaviour accordingly.

Resources are not infinite, and perpetual growth in consumption of any resource is therefore ultimately impossible. Fossil fuels will run out one day and we therefore need to plan for a World without them. However, now that we know burning them is endangering the climatic stability that made all life on Earth possible (i.e. the settled view of the vast majority of scientists), we need to phase out fossil fuel use wherever possible; and as fast as possible.

If we do not plan for this transition (to a fossil fuel-free future), it will happen anyway (and be a lot more abrupt, costly, and unpleasant). Therefore, as someone once said, “Failing to plan is tantamount to planning to fail!”

Written by Martin Lack

11 September 2013 at 16:00

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