Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘denial’ Category

Climate change denial IS conspiracy theory

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I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change.  People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.

However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet.  This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts.  Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:

Scientific conspiracy theories:  ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).

Political conspiracy theories:  ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).

Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it.  This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.

Stephan Lewandowsky

In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things:  NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.

In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research.  Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.

Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether.  Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) - who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.

As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:

On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.

Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website –  the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).

If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.

It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.

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UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction

Climate change is here and now

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Please don’t be a Climate Ostrich.

The UN is not being ‘alarmist’ in order to achieve global Zionist and/or Communist domination.

Working Group 2 of AR5 warns that the effects of human caused climate change are most likely to be severe, pervasive and irreversible.

The pH of seawater is increasing due to rising CO2 content of our oceans. Because the pH scale is logarithmic, pH 7 is ten times more acidic that pH 8.

The threat to marine life from continuing pH reduction in seawater is a scientific fact, not a political conspiracy.

As the BBC’s Roger Harrabin reported last week, dying coral off the coast of Papua New Guinea does not care that the CO2 bubbling out of the sea floor is volcanic in origin – it is just dying.

For Marine Biochemistry 101 – please see Wikipedia.

Written by Martin Lack

31 March 2014 at 17:07

If I cannot blog I will Tweet

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I am struggling to make time to blog so may have to investigate getting Tweets to appear here automatically.  In the meantime, there is this…

David Cameron at PMQs last Wednesday (Guardian/Press Association)

History repeats itself because people do not listen

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Thanks to Greenpeace for the inspiration…

Industry has been manufacturing doubt regarding inconvenient science for decades. They have confused the public and paralysed our politicians. All we must do now is deal with the consequences.

Over to Greenpeace for the call to action:

Is this what it would take to get action from the government on climate change? http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM

With a climate change denying environment minister like Owen Paterson in charge, it may well be. But we don’t have to wait to see. Join the call to sack Paterson – and replace him with someone serious about climate change. http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM

What more can I say? 

Written by Martin Lack

13 February 2014 at 18:34

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

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…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.

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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.

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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].

The birth of climate change scepticsim was foretold

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isaiah
I started the year with The Sceptics’ Creed – based on the statement of faith recited every week in many churches. In a similar vein, then, here is the birth of Climate Change Scepticism as (not) foretold in the Bible by the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a chill is born,
to us the Sun is dimming,
and climate disruption be on our shoulders.
And it will be called
Woefully counterfeit, a mighty hoax,
Everlasting garbage, the price of progress.
Of the greatness of scepticism and denial
there will be no end.

(Definitely not Isaiah 9:6)

Written by Martin Lack

9 December 2013 at 13:00

Posted in Climate Change, denial, Environment, Humour, poetry

Tagged with

Occam’s Razor works for me!

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‘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

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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.

Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity

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Last week, I finally got to see Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s brilliant Greedy Lying Bastards documentary about the industry-funded campaign to discredit climate science and scientists. Even for someone like me – familiar with the subject matter – there was a great wealth of detail packed into this 90-minute documentary and/or the extras on the DVD.  Therefore, even if (unlike me) you got to see the film at the cinema, I would recommend that you get it out on DVD as soon as you can.  Indeed, as with Chasing Ice, you might even want to consider buying your own personal copy to keep for posterity (or for use in any class action Law Suits you may pursue at some future date).

Ecologists are prone to pointing out that trees cannot migrate.  They also don’t respond well to mandatory evacuation orders and – along with houses – tend to get burned in forest fires.  Thus, Greedy Lying Bastards begins with news and home movie footage of the June 2012 fires in Colorado, with the poignant voiceover – of what the devastating fires were like to witness first-hand – provided by some of those who lost their homes as a result:  To me, the most striking thing is that, in many cases, the homeowners complied with the evacuation orders but did not expect to end up homeless.  The message being fires come and go but, though they did not appreciate it at the time, the 2012 fires were on an unprecedented scale and out-of-control.  Although Rosebraugh could not have known it when he embarked on the production of this documentary, sadly, this has since become an all-too-familiar storyline.

Record-breaking fires, droughts, floods, freezes and storms have now become annual events:  This is what anthropogenic climate disruption  - as opposed to global warming – looks like and, it seems, we may have to get used to it.  Climate is not weather; and no single unusual weather event is indicative of climate change.  However, climate is the term used to describe the typical weather expected (in any one place) on the basis of long-term observations.  Therefore, when you have (as we do now) frequent and repeated instances of unusual weather in many different parts of the planet, this is indicative of what objective scientists – both liberal and conservative – now call global anthropogenic climate disruption.  

As Michael Mann points out early on in the documentary, the term ‘positive feedback’ sounds like a good thing but, as is now becoming painfully obvious, it is not.  A better term would be ‘vicious circle’:  As a result of a variety of vicious circles, the change that humans have caused is now becoming self-reinforcing and – unless we take concerted action – this will soon accelerate beyond our capacity to stop it:  Given the kind of responses required, the scientific consensus view is that we now have very little time to take action to prevent (effectively) irreversible change from also becoming unstoppable.

Another early contributor to the documentary is Kevin Trenberth who – echoing the subsequently-published ‘Climate Departure’ research of Camillo Mora (et al) – points out many places are already recording unprecedented rainfall and temperature events.  However, as he does throughout the documentary, Rosebraugh juxtaposes scientific facts with human examples of the consequences of those facts:  Such as the 30% reduction in crop yields experienced by third generation farmers in mid-Western states like Kansas – Farmers who say the droughts of 2011 and 2012 are unprecedented in living memory.  Such people do not need climate scientists to tell them that it is significant that this should have happened two years running.

Flipping back from citing examples of scientists with a history of industry-funded denial of environmental problems caused by industry – like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels – Rosebraugh then takes the viewer off on a trip to to Kivalina in Alaska… Kivalina is a Inupiat community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea (i.e. north of the Bering Strait separating Siberia and Alaska), which will now have to be relocated because of excessive coastal erosion.  As one of the community leaders points out, sea ice and/or pack ice used to protect their coast but now, given long ice-free periods in almost every year since 2004, coastal erosion is unmanageable. Interestingly, in 2008, events at Kivalina were the trigger for a class action Law Suit against 24 Energy Companies in the USA – similar to the action taken against the Tobacco companies a decade earlier.  Sadly, this case was dismissed by the District Court in Northern California on the grounds that “regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts”.

The most shocking thing in the movie, however, is perhaps sight of a February 17, 1993 memo from within the Tobacco giant Philip Morris, which reveals the birth of the industry-funded campaign to deny climate science.  In a reality-inverting style that might even have surprised George Orwell, this front group was named ‘The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition‘ (TASSC).  Thus it was that, with the help of ideologically-blinded scientists like Fred Singer, the tobacco industry helped finance the setting up of supposedly-independent groups that would campaign to protect their industry’s interests.  However, as the memo reveals, beginning a practice that would later become known as ‘Astroturfing’, they made sure these fake ‘grassroots’ organisations would not be linked to their industry by ensuring they campaigned against things other than tobacco.  These included GMOs, nuclear power and nuclear waste but, top of the list, was global warming.  So it is that Rosebraugh reveals the counter-intuitive fact that the Fossil Fuel industry did not just copy the Tobacco industry’s idea of denying science:  Climate change denial was in fact the Tobacco industry’s idea.

With memos like that dated February 17, 1993 in the public domain, how is it that we are still arguing about whether or not industry funds the denial of inconvenient science?

Moving forward to the post-Tobacco era of denial, Rosebraugh reveals all the links between Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party.  The one glimmer of hope in all this must therefore be the electoral failure of Mitt Romney (and now Ken Cuccinelli too).  Is it too much to hope that those who deny science have now become unelectable?  The recent victory of Tony Abbott in Australia suggests it may be too early to say on a global scale but, in the USA at least, it may be that those who wish to pick a fight science and history are now going to lose.

This brings me to what I see as the second really alarming thing in the documentary – the revelation of the full significance of term ‘Citizens United’.  As a UK citizen, my understanding of this subject was, to put it mildly, somewhat confused.  I had thought this was just the idiosyncratic name given to a court case in the USA that resulted in Corporations being treated as individuals – thus allowing much greater scope for them to influence the outcome of elections.  In plain English, this could be described as a corruption – if not outright abrogation – of the democratic process.  However, as Rosebraugh illustrates, such a notion is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Towards the end of the documentary, the Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one Joel Reynolds, reduces our human predicament to a very simple assertion:

We face a choice between the survival of the planet and the survival of corporate profit.  

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This brings me briefly to mention the extras included on the DVD, which include the following:

1.  An explanation of how and why the IPCC is not a politically motivated organisation by Achim Steiner – the Director of UNEP.  Ardent believers in the Agenda 21 conspiracy for Communist World Domination via the UN will of course say to themselves, “Well he would say that wouldn’t he!”.  However, such zealous believers – such as these guys – need to actually listen to what he says and then come up with some actual evidence to demonstrate that he is lying.

2.  A factual summary of the effects of lobbying in the USA, which highlights the 1 billion US Dollars fossil fuel companies spent between 1998 and 2011 – $147 million in 2010 alone.  They used this money to: protect their $4 billion/year subsidies; to block cap and trade legislation (or any other effective legislation to put a price on carbon pollution); to preserve a weak legislative framework that allows them to pollute our atmosphere with impunity; and to promote policies favourable to their profitability.  And how was all this achieved?  Primarily by means of a network of over 700 political lobbyists on Capitol Hill, which is more than one for every elected representative.

3.  An assessment of the poor quality of media coverage of the climate change issue:  Put bluntly, climate change is the consequence of a great many journalists to differentiate between objective scientific fact and prejudiced unscientific opinion.  Sometimes, although now quite rarely, those who deny the nature of reality do manage to put forward a genuine scientist.  However, by indulging in what Max Boykoff calls “He said, she said” journalism, some media outlets fail to assess – or report – the motives and/or special interests of those putting forward minority views.  This failure is either irresponsible (willful ignorance) or disingenuous (ideological blindness) – or is just evidence of incompetence.

4.  Case study 1 – Peru:  As in many other parts of the World, glaciologists have used photographs taken almost 100 years ago to determine that about 70% of the glaciers left in Peru after the last Ice Age have now disappeared.  This did not shock me half as much as discovering that, as the glaciers have disappeared, the local climate has become more extreme.  Given my life-long interest in geography, however, I really should have been able to work this out for myself:  Proximity to glaciers high up in the Andes Mountains has exactly the same moderating influence upon climate as does proximity to the sea in low-lying areas (i.e. maritime climates have less overall variation in annual and diurnal temperature than continental climates).  As a result, local high altitude farmers have seen a 50% drop in crop yields and an increase in disease and mortality in their animals.

5.  Case study 2 – Uganda:  In 2010, months of unusually heavy rain resulted in mudslides.  However, even more remarkably, many farmers in Uganda now say that their climate has changed:  Since 2007, there has been no recognisable seasonality to rainfall and as such no specific time to plant crops or harvest them.

I think all this can be summarised as follows:  Anthropogenic climate disruption is already here; and with it has come increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, suffering and premature death.  The only question that therefore remains is this:

How bad must things get before the morally reprehensible political lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – which is perpetuating energy policy paralysis – becomes socially unacceptable?

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:

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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
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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

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