Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘denial’ Category

Evolving the map of climate ‘scepticism’…

with 5 comments

Sorry for the long gap between posts… Herewith an updated version of my previous post.  This, then, is the final version of my attempt to describe my research to fellow first-year PhD candidates at the University of Liverpool. From the feedback received on this, however, it is clear that I have still failed to explain stuff like the theoretical basis for my research (i.e. “…is it is constructivist, institutionalist, or positivist?”).  Err, yeah, right.  What do you expect? I don’t claim to be an expert. Not yet, anyway.

———-

If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.
DenialOfScience

My research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. The key was finding the right PhD supervisor, which has resulted in my focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion. See The Power of the Commentariat by Hobsbawm & Lloyd (2008).

globalwarming_theoriesWhy does this 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.

What am I going to do?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. 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.

Elsasser&DunlapTable3How will this be done?
The current understanding of ‘climate scepticism’ (CS) is hampered by confusion and disagreement amongst social scientists regarding: (1) what constitutes its core features; and (2) how CS discourse is evolving and engaging with current political, policy and scientific developments. This impedes the identification of: (3) key voices in the CS commentariat; and (4) the processes and institutional dynamics behind the evolution and mediated dissemination of CS discourse.

This project will address these four gaps in our current understanding of CS by providing: (5) an evidence-based assessment of the prominence, structure and evolution of CS discourse; and providing a platform for assessing: (6) the implications CS has on or for the public understanding of climate change; and (7) the quality of contemporary and future public debate about climate concerns.

Building on the most recent work of Elsasser and Dunlap (2013) – see their summary table shown here – and many others, I intend to devise a definitive typology of CS arguments, which will include: (a) conspiracy theorists; (b) trend, attribution and impact sceptics (Rahmstorf, 2004); and (c) the increasingly-dominant category – in journalism and politics – of policy sceptics (Painter, 2011). This will then be used as the basis for mapping the evolution of CS arguments over time, which is my fundamental objective.

sust devt iconWhy is this worth doing?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

References:
Hobsbawm, J & Lloyd, J. (2008). The Power of the Commentariat: How much do commentators influence politics and public opinion? Published by the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism (PDF summary available online here).
Elsasser, S. & Dunlap, R. (2013). ‘Leading Voices in the Denier Choir: Conservative Columnists’ Dismissal of Global Warming and Denigration of Climate Science’. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(6), 754 –776.
Rahmstorf, S. (2004). The climate sceptics – see PDF on website of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Scepticism, Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism – see this excellent summary by Leo Hickman on the Guardian website (11 Nov 2011).

Written by Martin Lack

28 June 2014 at 00:02

Mapping the evolution of climate change ‘scepticism’ in British newspapers since 1990

with 23 comments

This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…

———-

If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.

DenialOfScienceMy research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…

The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.

what ifWhat’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. 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.

Why does this 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.

globalwarming_theoriesWhere is the conspiracy?
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).

However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).

Therefore, 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).

sust devt iconWhat does this matter?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

Written by Martin Lack

1 June 2014 at 00:02

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

Climate change denial IS conspiracy theory

with 50 comments

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.

————

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

with 7 comments

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

with 12 comments

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

with 28 comments


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

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