Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
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…
— Martin Lack (@LackMartin) March 3, 2014
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?
…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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, are pop culture symbols representing the choice between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue).”
In September 2010, I resigned from my last full-time job (i.e. something for which an employer paid me for services rendered) in order to do a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Environmental Politics. This followed months (if not years) during which I had become increasingly concerned about ‘the painful truth of reality’ (that the Earth is no longer able to cope with size of the human population on it) and ‘the blissful ignorance of illusion’ (that perpetual growth in resource consumption and/or degradation are possible and/or sensible).
The last two-and-a-half years have, in many ways, been an absolute nightmare for me: I did not do my MA with the intention of returning to hydrogeology afterwards. Indeed, by the time I finished my MA, I had concluded that the most sensible thing would be for me to pursue my research in the form of a PhD. Despite all this, having investigated an array of alternative ways forward, I have spent a great deal of this time applying for hydrogeology jobs. However, having got my MA research published in the form of a book – and having had a number of academics subsequently tell me I should pursue my research further – I am now delighted to announce that:
I have been offered & accepted a place as a full-time PhD student at the University of Liverpool.
For me, doing my MA was the equivalent of Neo’s meeting with Morpheus in The Matrix. Just like the character of Neo in the movie, I have spent most of my life feeling there is something very wrong with reality – I just could not say why. In the course of doing my MA, however, I read a number of things that began to help me understand what the problem is. Chief amongst these were the following:
‘Betrayal of Science and Reason’ (1996) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.
‘Environmental Skepticism’ (2009) by Peter Jacques.
‘Requiem for a Species’ (2010) by Clive Hamilton.
‘Merchants of Doubt’ (2010) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
One third of my MA involved researching and writing a dissertation. As a result of my reading these books, I chose to research the subject of climate change scepticism – as summarised on the About page of this blog. Having completed my research, this is how summarised my work in the closing chapter of my dissertation (i.e. as submitted in August 2010):
Whereas the majority of [conservative think tanks] 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… 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… this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that… [anthropogenic climate disruption] is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity… 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. [‘Revenge of Gaia (2006) p.21-2].
…If the consensus view of [climate change] is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt… 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.
However, for this objective to be fully realised, it may be necessary to demonstrate the extent to which this disinformation is being orchestrated; rather than just being the consequence of a few misguided but influential people. For this to be achieved, would require significant research, based on Jacques et al. (2008), on a scale similar to that undertaken by Oreskes and Conway; and for this to be widely publicised in similar fashion to their Merchants of Doubt book. The starting point for all of this would therefore probably have to be a PhD.
And so, two years later than originally scheduled, that is what I am now going to do.
I should wish to hereby acknowledge the assistance of Elaine McKewon – who found my book on the Internet and contacted me – without whose encouragement I would not have produced a sensible research proposal; identified a shortlist of UK-based academics with relevant research interests; and sent it to them. Of this dozen (or so) academics, three or four expressed some interest, two suggested it needed refining and one offered to supervise it (and helped me refine it). All of this may explain why my activity level in the blogosphere reduced in the second half of 2013. Therefore, although I intend to continue blogging (albeit – as now – on an infrequent basis), my main focus for the next few years will be pursuing my research in the form of a PhD.
As such, my desire to “derail climate change denial” may still be a distant dream but, at least I can now say with confidence that it is a work in progress; one to which I am personally making an active contribution.
Most recent Email received from Greenpeace:
2013 was undisputably the year of the Arctic, and if you skip to the end of this email, you’ll find a link to a film that relives some of the highlights.
But don’t go just yet, because I want to pass on an amazing victory that you have been instrumental in achieving, even if you didn’t realise it. It involves the world’s largest palm oil trader and an incredible new commitment that could mean the difference between saving or wiping out the last Sumatran tigers.
Making palm oil shouldn’t mean destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. But dangerous and greedy companies are trashing them to grow oil palms. It’s pushing orangutans and tigers ever closer to extinction.
My colleagues have spent months investigating the palm oil industry. Everywhere they went – whether investigating oil palm grown illegally inside a national park, speaking to families trying to protect their livelihood, or working with charities that rescue animals from palm oil companies’ bulldozers – they came across the same name.
That name was Wilmar International.
You probably haven’t heard of Wilmar, but you’ve almost certainly bought something containing its palm oil. Wilmar is a commodities trader and 45% of the world’s palm oil passes through its hands – some coming from a number of very unsavoury companies.
Our evidence linked Wilmar and its customers to the destruction of tiger and orangutan habitat, human rights abuses and conflict with forest communities.
And throughout the autumn, we exposed how Wilmar was laundering this dirty palm oil and selling it to major brands, like Gillette, Ferrero, Cadbury, L’Oreal and Clearasil. Our campaigners in Indonesia protested at Wilmar’s offices and rolled out massive banners in freshly-cleared forest, showing Wilmar’s customers just what they were buying.
Then something interesting happened.
First Ferrero announced a detailed, ambitious plan to only buy forest-friendly palm oil. Then Mondelez (which makes Cadbury) and L’Oreal made an initial commitment to no deforestation (although they’re still working out the details).
And when its customers started moving, Wilmar had no choice but to follow suit.
On 5 December, Wilmar announced it would stop clearing forests and buying oil from companies that it knew were engaged in forest destruction. “We know from our customers and other stakeholders that there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil,” said Wilmar’s CEO, Kuok Khoon Hong as he launched their new ‘no deforestation’ policy, “and we intend to meet it.”
Even though you won’t have sent an email to Cadbury or L’Oreal about their palm use, being part of Greenpeace meant that you didn’t need to. Just the possibility that you and millions of others around the world might take action was enough to persuade these companies to act now. That’s the kind of power you hold.
So thank you for helping to make such outstanding progress, and for everything else we’ve achieved together this year.
And now here’s that video!
|Happy new year,
[Greenpeace (and me)]
Dear Readers (new and old),
In the hope that I may hereby cater for all possible tastes, 3 electronic Christmas cards are appended below: theological; geopolitical; and personalised. I trust that at least one of the attached will be appreciated.
Thanks for your interest in this blog; and/or your passionate advocacy for the issues it raises. Early in the New Year, I look forward to sharing with you some good news (which will also explain why my blogging activity has reduced in recent months).
Lloyds of London have warned that fossil fuel exploration of the Arctic will damage an important ecosystem. With that in mind, here is the latest email I have received from Greenpeace:
Any moment now, Gazprom will pump the first drops of oil from beneath the icy Arctic seas.
But Gazprom’s plans to open up huge areas of the Arctic to drilling depend on its powerful partner, Shell. This January, Shell has a new boss taking over. That means we have a major opportunity to stop both companies from destroying the pristine Arctic.
Why would he listen to us? Because Shell’s investors want to make money, not take risks. Shell’s board want the investors to be happy, and as a new CEO, he will want to start with a clean record.
More and more industry insiders are warning that Arctic drilling is a losing battle. Shell already suffered a massive PR fail and a criminal inquiry for its series of mishaps trying to drill in Alaska last year. And Gazprom, already infamous for a 2011 rig accident in which 53 people died, came under serious fire recently for its role in the imprisonment of the Arctic 30.
This might be the best chance we’ve ever had to protect the Arctic. If Shell scraps Arctic oil, Gazprom will be cut off from the resources it needs to expand oil drilling to grotesque proportions. And it will send a clear signal to other oil companies that Arctic oil just isn’t worth the risk.
Our movement to save the Arctic is incredibly strong. We sent 2.5 million messages to Russian embassies demanding freedom for the Arctic 30, who were finally released on bail last month. Nearly 5 million of us have added our voices to a call to create a global sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole, protected from oil drilling and destructive industry. We won’t stop growing, or fighting, until we win.
Thank you for everything,
The BBC have very helpfully posted the recent Panorama programme ‘Energy Bills: Power Failure’ on YouTube (as embedded below). Presented by Tom Heap (who regularly does spots on CountryFile), it is very fair-minded and includes contributions from a wide range of people. Therefore, even if you do not live in the UK, I would recommend watching the programme because: it is very good at describing the problems that we all face; and makes it crystal clear that we must find a solution (but does so in a way that somehow avoids being dogmatic).
Some questions I would like help in answering are as follows:
1. What is the instrumental music used in the opening night-time sequence in Blackpool?
2. Why do so many poor people use the most expensive (pay-as-you-go) way to heat their homes?
3. Can we give Angel Gurria (Secretary-General of OECD) a Nobel Prize for plain-speaking?
4. How can anyone avoid concluding that Ed Milliband is an opportunist and a con-man?
5. Why did the CEO of RWE nPower not admit profit margin on generation (as opposed to sales)?
6. Is the need for decarbonisation actually incompatible with power generation being privatised?
7. Why has carbon capture and storage not been made a priority in order to continue burning coal?
8. Is it realistic to think that (in a post-carbon era) energy will ever be cheaper than it is now?
9. When will the UK government admit that fracking is not actually low-carbon and (thus) not the answer?
10. Has Michael Fallon not read the BGS report that says only 10% of shale gas is probably recoverable?
UPDATE (23/12/2013): I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn” by Ellie Goulding (see comments below).
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)
‘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.