Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Fred Singer’ Category

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?

Global Weirding and Optimism Bias

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Last night’s Horizon programme on BBC TV was entitled ‘Global Weirding’. I had not heard of this term before but, apparently, it was not just dreamt up by the programme producers in a moment of appalling uncreativity.

The negative review of the programme that Andrew Marszal has posted on the Telegraph website (and most of the comments thereon) provides further validation of Dr Tari Sharot’s work on Optimism Bias; about which I and Paul Handover (of Learning from Dogs fame) have both blogged recently.

It is almost incredible that people (I use the term in a very loose sense) can watch a programme like this and yet remain comfortable in their bubble of unreality. Because they (apparently) watched the programme, Cognitive Dissonance does not explain their failure to recognise its significance (i.e. cognitive dissonance sufferers would not have watched the programme). However, Optimism Bias explains their behaviour perfectly. Yes, these people show commendable “bravery” (or is it unwarranted confidence in their rightness of their delusion?) for watching the programme but, nevertheless, the filter they use when watching stuff like this has a sanitising effect that makes a reverse-osmosis water purifier seem like the first phase of a sand and gravel processing plant!

To me, the programme producers seem to have gone to great lengths to avoid being accused of bias or being “alarmist”; and just allowed the data (i.e. collective noun) to tell its own story. Therefore, to continue to believe that the Sun or natural variability is capable of explaining the fact that, for example, Texas can experience record-breaking rainfall and record-breaking drought in consecutive years would appear to be pushing Optimism Bias into the realms of insanity. As if to underline this point, Weatherdem recently posted this characteristically well-executed summary of weather data; demonstrating just how abnormal current weather patterns are in the USA.

Amongst the evidence supporting an anthropogenic cause for the ongoing climatic disruption we are experiencing are the facts that:
— If it were the Sun, the atmosphere would not be warming from the ground upwards; whereas if the warming is being caused by an energy imbalance (i.e. outgoing long-wave radiation being prevented from escaping into Space) this is exactly what you would expect.
— If it were the Sun, the warming would be most obvious in sub-tropical latitudes, whereas if it is energy imbalance the warming will be most pronounced in polar latitudes; exactly what is happening.

Then we have the evidence of solar expert Dr Mike Lockwood who very pointedly conceded that, although blamed for causing the Little Ice Age (1650-1700AD), the Sun is not responsible for the extremely cold UK winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11. On the contrary, the Horizon programme gave a perfectly plausible explanation for what did cause this extreme cold weather (and all the other extremes featured); and also explained how it is that none of this extreme (cold) weather changes the fact that, on average, the world is warming up.

Katharine Hayhoe was seen very clearly making the point that as the Earth has warmed-up, so the average humidity of the atmosphere has increased by 4%. Thus, even though large parts of the USA, UK and Australia may be in drought, when the rain does fall it is likely to be very heavy and, in the meantime, someone somewhere else is undoubtedly getting more than they expected (or probably needed!). Along with warming oceans giving rise to more frequent and more intense storms, increased average humidity is part of a pattern of atmospheric behaviour that was predicted over 20 years ago.

People like me often cite James Hansen’s testimony before US Congress in 1988 as the time since which many humans have been in active denial of the truth. However, the reality of the situation is that the denial started much earlier than that, may be even as early as when President Lyndon Johnson first admitted that we have a problem in 1965. Then there is the case of John Mercer being ridiculed in 1978 for daring to suggest we have a problem (whose treatment James Hansen cited as a reason for widespread scientific reticence in 2007)… Certainly, not much has changed since 1982, when Mike MacCracken was busy telling anyone who would listen (and many would not) that we have a problem.

So, you see, James Hansen did not walk away from the Pioneer Mission to Venus on a mere whim, he took note of what his fellow scientists were telling him and decided that this was something upon which he should focus; and we should be grateful that he did. What we should be somewhat less than grateful for is the orchestrated nature of the campaign to discredit him and many other climate scientists that then arose out of the mendacious work of people like Robert Jastrow, Bill Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz, and Fred Singer… When the Devil was handing out crimes against humanity, they clearly mis-heard him as having been offering “times aspent in true sanity”

However, compared to this, we should (IMHO) be positively enraged by the fact that the work of these Cold War physicists (with no Communists to fight), has been continued right up to the present day by equally ideologically-blinded experts in ultimately selfish and self-defeating obscurantism such as – yes you guessed it – MIT’s Richard Lindzen; but also the likes of Princeton’s Will Happer. Believe me, if I was seeking a Stalinist revolution, such truth-challenged people (a Barry Bickmore has called them) really would be first on my trains to re-education camps in Siberia (and would thereby count themselves lucky to have avoided the firing squad).

Lindzen’s litany of laissez-faire libertarianism

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Professor Richard Lindzen has been a prisoner of libertarian ideology for a very long time. He left his scientific objectivity behind a very long time ago; and has been telling anyone who would listen (and unfortunately a great number have listened) that global warming is “a false alarm” for at least 20 years:
Lindzen, R.S. (1992), ‘Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus’, CATO Institute [online].

Just over a year ago, Fred Moolten put together a very well researched summary of Lindzen-think, which is well worth reviewing in the light of more recent events: Richard Lindzen vs the aerosol forcing .

Finally, and most recently, I am extremely grateful to Lionel A Smith for sharing with me the benefit of his many years of research into the hypocrisy, obfuscation and misdirection that have characterised everything Lindzen has ever said about global warming…

Lindzen undermines the IPCC at every chance when, as a scientist still thinking like a scientist, he should know that his words are false. Here’s further evidence (as if you need it) that Lindzen can be slippery is clear to many:

If Richard Lindzen shows up at your door, slam it

Is Richard S. Lindzen deliberately lying, or just deluded?

Lindzen Illusions

for those wondering why Tobacco keeps cropping up in discussions of Lindzen

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What more evidence do MIT or the AGU need in order to decide that – in addition to personally and mentally abdicating responsibility of anthropogenic climate disruption – Lindzen has long since departed from the convention of upholding truth and objectivity in following the evidence to reach a scientifically-defensible conclusion?

On the contrary, Lindzen has clearly spent most of his working life fighting on the side of those – whether it be tobacco companies or fossil fuel producers – who wish to prioritise short-term business profits over long-term environmental sustainability; and the habitability of planet Earth.

I therefore think that people like Lindzen and Singer should be put on trial for crimes against biodiversity (i.e. not just humanity).
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For those of you who think I over-state my case and/or am too much of an “alrarmist”, maybe the more moderate language of the Geoloical Society’s November 2010 statement on climate change will cut more ice…

What are the grounds for concern?
The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall; increased acidity of the oceans; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater.

There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.

The dark arts of climate denial exposed

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Thanks to someone on the inside of the Heartland Institute (HI), we now have concrete evidence of the lengths to which big business is willing to go in order to promote the idea that anthropogenic climate disruption is not happening.

The day before yesterday, someone calling him/herself the Heartland Insider sent the DeSmog Blog website PDF copies of a variety of the confidential documents including the Minutes of recent Board Meetings, Annual Reports and Budgets.

The documents were sent to the DeSmog Blog website but have now been circulated quite widely, in the hope that climate change denial will now be seen for what it is – a business-led conspiracy to prevent action being taken to address a genuine environmental problem; purely because doing so will damage the vested interests of an extreme minority of very wealthy people…

The other main difference between this and Climategate (i.e. in addition to the fact that this conspiracy is real not just an illusion) is that what has been made available is comprised of entire documents; not just data-mined extracts from them. As such, the material does not require and over- or mis-interpretation in order to be deeply damaging to the denialist cause: These documents speak for themselves; the mendacious intent of Heartland Institute is laid bare for all to see.

Bob Carter, S Fred Singer, and Anthony Watts (of Wattsupwiththat? infamy) are all confirmed as being directly sponsored to spread misinformation (i.e. as in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt). One of the few things that remains veiled in secrecy is the identity of the HI’s biggest single donor; who has given them several millions of dollars over the course of the last decade (indeed 2011 was disappointing in that this mystery malefactor gave them less than a miserly 1 Million US Dollars)… Even so, amongst the declared donors are corporations like Microsoft. I hope this will not go unchallenged…

However, I think the most despicable thing exposed by the release of these documents is that the HI is (or maybe now “was”?) still considering a programme of re-education for High School teachers who have generally been taken in by “alarmist” thinking. Despite all the data indicating that they are losing their stupid argument with reality, the HI is (or was until very recently) considering funding a new campaign to provide a “…curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science”! It is all very reminiscent of attempts to get Creationism taught in school in preference to Evolution.

One of the HI’s most successful ventures has been the Non-govermental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) and the annual International Climate Change Conference (ICCC), which routinely gets well-known climate “experts” like James Delingpole (Oxford English graduate) to share their insights…

As I said at the outset, we have known this sort of thing was going on for about 4 years, but this is the first time we have had internal documentary evidence to show the extent of to which the HI is prepared to go to spread its misinformation.

For the background to this issue, you could do no better than download and read:
Jacques, P. et al (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’ in Environmental Politics, Volume 17 (3), pp.349-85.

Unstoppable Global Warming by Singer and Avery

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In 2007, Fred Singer and Dennis Avery published their book, Unstoppable Global Warming – Every 1500 years. Unfortunately, as with all the data in this book, the front cover photo must have been carefully chosen to not show any sign of change unprecedented in many thousands of years. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Furthermore, if your name is Anthony Watts, please note that James Hansen and I have not collaborated to write the book pictured here, which does not exist, because this is a joke! (Phew, I’m glad we’ve got that straight!)

Credit should be given to Singer and Avery for their very clear explanation of the causes of the 8 ice ages the Earth has been through in the last 750,000 years. However, this is almost the last time (in the revised, updated, and re-organised 2008 version of the book) that scientific facts are completely correctly and unambiguously stated. The remainder of the book is full of cherry-picked data and highly-prejudicial commentary and, although ice core data is repeatedly referred to, the whole data is never presented graphically in order that readers may contextualise the arguments being made.

Figure 1 from Hansen et al (2008)This is not surprising, however, because anyone who looks at all of the data (again reproduced from Hansen et al (2008) here for convenience) can see that the dominant and significant changes in temperature (between glacial and interglacial periods over at least the last 425,000 years) completely dwarf any changes operating on anything approaching a 1500-year cycle. Even if everything Singer and Avery say about the existence of such cycles is true (although they offer no convincing explanatory mechanism), that does not change the fact that they are ignoring the bigger picture; the explanation for which is fundamental to proper understanding and/or appreciation of the significance of what has happened since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. Therefore, Singer and Avery appear to be guilty of having gone on a “fishing trip“… Having decided that CO2 is not the cause of the problem (and/or that there is no problem), they have gone looking for an alternative message and, rather like those that find the face of Jesus on a piece of toast with marmite on it – they found one.

With regard to their suggestion that the Sun may be responsible for this supposed 1500-cycle of modest warming and cooling (although it could also just be random variation), the only widely-recognised cyclical changes in the Sun’s total irradiance are those due to sunspot activity (with a period of anything between 7 and 14 years – varying in brightness by 0.1%). Apart from this, the average energy output of the Sun has been remarkably constant over geological timescales (estimated to have increased by no more than 0.5% over the last 65 million years). Therefore, the one thing we can be certain of is that the Sun is not the primary driver of the unprecedented warming of the Earth since the Industrial Revolution.

It really is a no-brainer; the “elephant in the room” is carbon dioxide (CO2): The Sun does not explain any of the significant temperature changes in the Earth’s history; it cannot even explain the overall modest cooling trend during the last 7,000 years of the inter-glacial period during which modern civilisation has developed. Furthermore, whereas changes in the Earth’s orbit and/or inclination of its axis of rotation can explain the repeated glaciations of the last 750,000 years, they do not explain the changes in atmospheric CO2 that have accompanied them. Once you understand that, the imminent danger we face becomes obvious; and the accelerating melting of ice sheets, glaciers, permafrost and sea ice around the world just goes to show how delusional and dangerous the misinformation in this book is. Buyer beware!

Unstoppable Global Warming may well be taking place but, the Earth has not seen anything like it for 15,000 years and, given that we are already in an interglacial (warm) period, where we are now heading, it may well not have seen for over 50 million years. Reader beware!

Is Richard Lindzen the devil’s advocate?

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As I said yesterday, this is a sort of addendum to my review of James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren, arising out of Hansen’s characterisation of Lindzen as behaving like a lawyer – putting forward only information and argument favourable to his “client” (page 12); and as someone that does not seek truth because “a lawyer [merely] seeks a win for his client” (page 56).

A brief Google search reveals that Lindzen has repeatedly threatened with litigation anyone who asserts that he denies that smoking causes lung cancer but, here again, he is just being disingenuous, playing with words, and trying to re-write history. The plain facts of this matter are that he was for many years periodically paid large sums of money by Phillip Morris to defend their product against claims that smoking was detrimental to the health of those that smoke and/or others present when they do so.

In so doing, he was a member of the same ideologically-driven bunch of scientists with neo-Conservative tendencies that decided, by 1992 at the very latest, that environmentalism was and is the enemy. These are the people that Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway identify as “Merchants of Doubt”; some of whom I have called “the four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse (i.e. Jastrow, Nierenberg, Seitz, and Singer). Although 3 out of 4 of these horsemen may now be dead, many more have saddled-up and taken their place… Therefore, it was not for nothing that the German Environment Minister at the 1992 Rio Summit went on the record as saying, “I am afraid that conservatives in the United States are picking ‘ecologism’ as their new enemy” (Luke (2000) – reference details [and link] appended below).

Not only was it a tobacco company executive who, in order to maintain sales and profits, once infamously decided “doubt is our product”, it was a tobacco industry lobby group (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition [TASSC]) that also brought into common parlance the terms “sound science” and “junk science” in an attempt to deny the seriously detrimental health effects of long-term cigarette smoking (see Ong and Glantz (2001) – reference details [and link] appended below). So it is that these mischievous right-wing ideologues have repeatedly sided with special interests groups (i.e. business leaders – be that in the pesticide, tobacco, or energy industries) in a series of campaigns that have – make no mistake – been against the public interest.

One final point I believe worthy of note is this: Richard Lindzen has a long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is also famous for having been the home of the team of researchers whom The Club of Rome, from 1972 onwards, got to do the work for their Limits to Growth reports. In this respect, it should be noted that the former was a group of very wealthy people who were concerned about the profligate and reckless consumption-obsessed society they saw around them 40 years ago (and which is still with us today). Therefore, MIT should be commended for the complete absence of political interference in the research and publications of those that work within it. This stands in stark contrast to the record of shocking – and utterly hypocritical – political interference in the work of NASA during the tenure of George W Bush (see yesterday’s post). One must hope that this has now stopped.

Unfortunately, political interference in science may have stopped but, with people like Richard Lindzen still around, supposedly-scientific interference in politics certainly has not yet been stopped. Furthermore, Hansen has demonstrated just how damaging this ideologically-driven and politically-prejudiced interference has been, and how far back it can be traced: He cites the case of John Mercer who, in the late 1970s, warned that burning fossil fuels may lead to the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Forget “may lead to…” – it is now happening (e.g. see this Climate Denial Crock of the Week item about the Pine Island Glacier)!… But people like Mercer and Hansen are rare, thus Hansen laments the general scientific reticence to speak plainly, forcibly and repeatedly; and to refuse to accept political interference, posturing and prevarication. On the contrary, Hansen asserts that scientists have generally been more concerned about being accused of “crying wolf” than of being guilty of “fiddling while Rome burns” (page 87-8).

Well, given that Rome is well-and-truly burning, or the ship is well-and-truly sinking (or whatever other metaphor you prefer to invoke), one is left hoping that real, objective, climate scientists – as opposed to those like Lindzen that are prisoners of neo-Conservative, anti-environmental prejudice – will find their voice and win the attention of the public and politicians alike. This is because I think Hansen is right to conclude that we are all in breach of Article 2 of the UNFCCC, because “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” is already underway and, as yet, we are doing nothing effective to stop it.

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References:
Luke, T (2000), ‘A rough road out of Rio: The right-wing reaction in the United States against Global Environmentalism’, in Low, N. et al. (eds.) Consuming cities: The urban environment in the global economy after the Rio declaration, New York: Routledge (pp.54-69). [Available for free download here]

Ong, E. & Glantz, S. (2001), ‘Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms’, American Journal of Public Health, Volume 91(11), pp.1749-1757. [Available for free download here]

How does James Hansen sleep at night?

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James Hansen is widely regarded as one of the most important people in the now at least 30-year-old campaign to get concern over anthropogenic global warming (AGW) taken seriously. I must admit that I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to have spent most of your working life championing a cause and to have so little to show for it. However, I do not think that it is self-pity that may keep him awake at night.

In the Preface to his book, Storms of my Grandchildren, Hansen vividly describes some key events from his early years and early career. For example:
1. In December 1963, he witnessed an unusual lunar eclipse (i.e. when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow). This particular eclipse was unusual because the moon became invisible (instead of appearing red due to some light from the Sun being bent as it passes tangentially through the Earth’s atmosphere). This prompted Hansen to work out how much volcanic dust (from a very large eruption 9 months earlier) must have still been in the atmosphere in order to prevent the moon appearing red. So began, presumably, a fascination with atmospheric physics (as opposed to any other branch of the subject).
2. In 1978, after more than 10 years of studying Venus (including getting NASA to send the Pioneer probe to the planet to investigate it), Hansen decided the really important stuff was going on much closer to home: Therefore, even before the Pioneer probe had reached its target, Hansen resigned from the Mission and, instead, began to focus on what we are doing to our own atmosphere. However, what started out as a new research project has, of course, since consumed the rest of his illustrious career.

By 1988, Hansen was certain enough of his understanding to testify before a Senate Committee and before a Congressional Inquiry (in 1989). Unfortunately, rather than convincing politicians that action was required, Hansen’s testimony proved to be the catalyst for a campaign to discredit him, his work, and anyone (like Ben Santer) who agreed with him. Central to this campaign, of course, were the Cold War physicists Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz, and S. Fred Singer (now with no Communist enemy to fight), using as their primary vehicle of choice the George C Marshall Institute. More than 20 years later, only one of these what-you-might-call “four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse” is left alive (i.e. Singer) but, my God, have they caused one hell of a lot of trouble and, arguably, their legacy may yet get much worse.

In the first Chapter of his book, Hansen recounts one other event that is worthy of note: This was his first ever head-to-head encounter with Richard Lindzen, at the second meeting of Vice-President Cheney’s Climate Change Task Force in 2001. On page 12, Hansen describes Lindzen’s approach as that of a lawyer putting forward only information and “arguments that favor their client” (a strategy Hansen regrettably only later recalled that Lindzen had previously used to great effect in defending the Tobacco industry); whereas Hansen accepts that his style of presentation was more scientific (including assessment of all data and discussion of probability). Sure enough, Hansen was told afterwards that, as he had suspected, members of the Committee were left confused and unable to make firm decisions because two experts appeared to have equally valid but completely contradictory views on the same subject. As Hansen says, a draw in any such “debate” is a loss precisely because “policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming”.

Hansen also laments the way that Lindzen and his fellow “sceptics” have, over the years, repeatedly “moved the goalposts”. Whenever, one of their arguments is falsified they never admit they are wrong; they just start another argument. Indeed, we can see that happening again at the moment: Having denied for at least 16 years that the world is warming, so called “sceptics” are once more seeking to re-write history and claim they never disputed this; seeking instead to move the “debate” onto attribution (i.e. how much of the change is anthropogenic).

However, in reality, we already have answers to all of their spurious arguments. Therefore, in the ongoing campaign to protect the status quo, they continue to obfuscate and confuse; and they continue to deny very clear facts regarding recent geological history (i.e. the last 35 million years) and its implication (i.e. that what we humans are now doing to the planet is significant and dangerous). For example: The average global temperature rise between the so-called Little Ice Age (sufficient for major rivers like the Hudson and Thames to freeze in the 1700s) and the mid-20th Century was less than half of one degree Celsius. Whereas, as the BEST team have very kindly now accepted, the average rise since 1960 is more than twice as much (i.e. 1 degree Celsius).

Furthermore, Hansen’s climate models, calibrated and validated as they have been (by being able to reproduce historic data and correctly predict the temporary effects of major volcanic eruptions such as that of Mt Pinatubo), indicate an overall Climate Sensitivity (i.e. the eventual temperature increase caused by a doubling of atmospheric CO2) as being between 2 and 4 Celsius (within 50 years). This means that unless humans stop burning fossil fuels very soon we are likely to cause a rise in global average temperatures resulting in conditions the Earth has not seen for 35 million years when, with CO2 at 450ppm and falling, Antarctica fist became glaciated); and from which state the Geological Society of London estimate it will take the Earth 100,000 years to recover. Therefore, if sea levels during Ice Ages were 50 to 100 metres lower than today (due to Ice being locked-up in vastly-increased ice caps), what is so crazy about assuming that sea level will rise if existing Ice Caps disappear as predicted (if not faster)?

This, then, is why I suspect James Hansen may have trouble sleeping at night. He has known all of this for at least 20 years and yet, it seems, many politicians, journalists and people are living in denial… If the truth hurts, it is not my fault; and I am not going to stop saying it.

Sammy Wilson MP – an ex-Environment Minister

with 2 comments

Apart from Graham Stinger (a former chemist) – and Classics graduate Lord Monckton (who has turned climate change scepticism into an art form) – all sceptical UK politicians have a background in economics and/or business. As it is the economic arguments against taking action to address ongoing climate change that seem most resistant to being repeatedly debunked by people like Sir Nicholas Stern, I suspect this is not a coincidence. Furthermore, apart from Graham Stringer, all but one of the openly-sceptical MPs in the UK is a Conservative Euro-sceptic as well (more on this tomorrow).

The only other non-Conservative is the Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson MP, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since Wilson is clearly very intelligent, and a very dedicated and successful politician, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his sceptical views on climate change have been prejudiced by his acceptance of these economic arguments. Indeed, his faith in the rightness of his own judgement is clearly very strong but, just as we cannot all be better-than-average car drivers (Ben Goldacre), so at least 49% of us must have worse-than-average ability to be objective. Here is his story:

Sammy Wilson’s autobiographical entry on his website makes it clear that he has an economics background; and entered Parliament after a short but very successful career in the Education sector (and first entering public service as a Belfast City Councillor in 1981).

In June 2008, Wilson became Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister and, right from the start, was not afraid to make it clear he was “sceptical that all climate change is caused by CO2 emissions” (BBC News, 10 June 2008). Within months, not surprisingly perhaps, he was in trouble with green campaigners for describing their view on climate change as a “hysterical pseudo-religion“; adding that he believed it occurred naturally and was not man-made. However, he also said he believed that resources “should be used to adapt to the consequences of climate change, rather than King Canute-style vainly trying to stop it” (BBC News, 5 September 2008). On New Year’s Eve that year, despite ongoing criticism, he was still adamant that: “Spending billions on trying to reduce carbon emissions is one giant con that is depriving third world countries of vital funds to tackle famine, HIV and other diseases… I think in 20 years’ time we will look back at this whole climate change debate and ask ourselves how on earth were we ever conned into spending the billions of pounds which are going into this without any kind of rigorous examination of the background, the science, the implications of it all” (as reported in the Belfast Telegraph [emphasis mine]). Wilson, is clearly a believer in the UN/WMO/IPCC conspiracy theory of Fred Singer, Andrew Montford, and many others

As evidence of how the Internet enables comments by public figures in local government to be seized upon as legitimising propaganda by those with vested interests anywhere in the world, within a week, this interview was reproduced in full on an American website (i.e. the West Virginia Coal Association). However, within weeks, Wilson was also facing a vote of no confidence in the Northern Ireland assembly (BBC News, 12 Feb 2009); although the DUP leadership declared their continuing support for him. However, within months, Wilson had been moved to the Ministry of Finance and Personnel (BBC News, 22 June 2009).

One could be forgiven for thinking that Wilson just likes being controversial but, if so, surely he would have at least toned-down the rhetoric after being removed from his post as Environment Minister? However, quite the reverse is true. For example, in a New Year’s message to readers of his blog in 2011, he began by confusing weather and climate (as many others like Christopher Booker have also done); claimed that global warming has stopped (as trumpeted by numerous sceptical organisations in the US); and claimed that this “has caused the Global warming fanatics to hide, change and make up data to back their increasing threadbare theories of world climate”. Furthermore, his website retains a very full and frank summary of his views on the subject:
Our climate is changing; there is little doubt that global warming had taken place in the last 30 years of the 20th century. However actual evidence (not forecasted computer models) now shows us that the earth has actually been cooling since 1998. I dispute the theory, and it is only a theory, that the world is warming due to CO2 emissions and other human activity. Throughout the history of the earth temperatures have fluctuated, and we know this due to records which state that grapes used to be able to be grown in Scotland during Roman times and ice skaters could be seen on the Thames during the Victorian era. We have witnessed a period of global warming towards the end of the 20th century and we are now entering into a cooler period. These have occurred due to the natural variations in the temperature of the planet, not because of human activity.”

This is almost a verbatim repetition of the views of Dr S Fred Singer in Unstoppable Global Warming but, it does not matter how many times they are repeated, they are still wrong: What is now happening is not like anything that has happened before; because we humans are pumping at least 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s volcanoes combined.

I think the main thing we can learn from all of this is that Wilson – and many others like him – is imprisoned by his own ideology; his adherence to Adam Smith’s free market economics (despite the fact that we do not live on the frontier to a New World of boundless opportunity) prejudices him against accepting that Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is unfolding in front of our eyes (because, in the absence of a New World frontier, the utopian fantasy of pursuing perpetual growth cannot have a happy ending).

Benny Peiser fruitcake

with 6 comments

As promised, here is the second of two personal profiles of the founders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist who, while at the UK’s Liverpool James Moore University, admitted in 2006 that “… the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact“. However, this admission was only forthcoming after he was forced to retract criticism he had made of research undertaken by Dr Naomi Oreskes in 2004. But how, and why, did he ever get into that mess in the first place?

According to the De-Smog Blog, he has published 3 research papers in peer-reviewed journals; although none of them is related to climate change. Indeed, it cites Peiser himself as having admitted, in an article for the Times Higher Education supplement on 4 September 2008, that “…I’m not a climate scientist and have never claimed to be one… My interest is in how climate change is portrayed as a potential disaster and how we respond to that“. Fair enough, but why does he not accept what the majority of climate scientists say is happening? Does he know better; or does he think they are lying to us? Is he a genius; or just another conspiracy theorist?

As I said, Peiser has become notorious for criticising Oreskes for a study, published in the journal Science in 2004, which had surveyed nearly 1000 peer-reviewed abstracts and not found a single one dissenting from the consensus view that climate change is being primarily caused by human activity. Again, as De-Smog Blog records:
Peiser’s ‘claim to fame’ in the war on climate change science was a 2005 study that he claimed refuted an earlier study by [Oreskes]… Peiser originally stated… that Oreskes was incorrect and that ‘in light of the data [he] presented… Science should withdraw Oreskes’ study and its results in order to prevent any further damage to the integrity of science’”.

The Skeptical Science website (subtitled ‘Getting sceptical about global warming scepticism’) provides more detail on what Peiser did wrong:
Benny Peiser repeated Oreskes survey and claimed to have found 34 peer reviewed studies rejecting the consensus. However, an inspection of each of these 34 studies reveals most of them don’t reject the consensus at all. The remaining articles in Peiser’s list are editorials or letters, not peer-reviewed studies. Peiser has since retracted his criticism of Oreskes survey [saying]: ‘Only [a] few abstracts explicitly reject or doubt the AGW… consensus which is why I have publicly withdrawn this point of my critique… I do not think anyone is questioning that we are in a period of global warming. Neither do I doubt that the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact” (Peiser as quoted by Skeptical Science).

Despite all of this, as we have seen, Peiser went on to team up with Lord Lawson to co-found the GWPF in 2009 and, although he now leaves others to attack the science, he is still not above repeating the message (albeit subliminal and wrapped up in an psychological context) that AGW is not a problem worth worrying about:
The global warming hysteria is well and truly over. How do we know? Because all the relevant indicators – polls, news coverage, government u-turns and a manifest lack of interest among policy makers – show a steep and deepening decline in public concern about climate change… Public opinion is the crucial factor that determines whether policy makers advance or abandon contentious policies… Media coverage of climate change has dropped sharply… The public’s concern about global warming as a pressing problem is in marked decline not least because of the growing realisation that governments and the international community are ignoring the advice of climate campaigners… [Governments] are assisted in this policy of benign neglect by a public that has largely become habituated to false alarms and is happy to ignore other claims of environmental catastrophe that are today widely disregarded or seen as scare tactics” (Peiser 2011).

Sadly, all of what Peiser says here may be true but, having been forced to admit he was wrong, what is driving him to keep criticising the consensus view of AGW? He is a social anthropologist after all. If he wanted to point out that people should be concerned about AGW, he could do so, but, instead he chooses to attack that consensus. Peiser admits he is not a climate scientist, yet he chooses to doubt the importance of what the majority of climate scientists are telling us. As I said, there are only really two excuses for this: Either he thinks they are wrong, or that they are lying to us. However, he does not claim any expertise, so he must believe that they are over-stating the scale of the problem for political reasons (i.e. the UN/WMO/IPPC conspiracy theory of Fred Singer and Andrew Montford et al).

Furthermore, given that he accepts that some change is occurring, his apparent contentment with a policy of “benign neglect” is therefore either Prometheanism (i.e. the belief that human ingenuity will solve the problem) or Economic Rationalism (i.e. the belief that the problem is not worth the cost of fixing – we will have to adapt). Unfortunately, whichever it is, the tide of scientific opinion is flowing against him: The vast majority of climate scientists (and some social anthropologists like Clive Hamilton) now believe both mitigation and adaptation are rapidly becoming very difficult, precisely because we have spent so long arguing about whether or not we have a problem (e.g. the ‘4 Degrees and Beyond International Conference’ [in Oxford, UK] in September 2009).

Most scientists don’t believe AGW is happening (?)

with 10 comments

Nope, sorry, I don’t accept the validity of this statement. There may be protestors within various Institutions; and lists of people who dispute the consensus view on Wikipedia; and lists of unscientific people that do not; but…

Wikipedia also contains a great deal of evidence to suggest that the overwhelming majority of scientists of all kinds accept the genuine consensus view that AGW is happening:
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

Indeed, the above (very long article) includes reference to the fact that more than 97% of published climate scientists take this view:
See http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.full.pdf+html

Furthermore, there is also no EVIDENCE of a massive scientific conspiracy just to keep a few researchers busy. In fact, as George Monbiot has said, “It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals“.
See http://www.monbiot.com/2005/05/10/junk-science/

And as James Hoggan has said: “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“.
See http://www.desmogblog.com/about-climate-cover

And finally, as I have said, “There is simply no evidence for your 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…

So, will people please stop saying things that are not true? No matter how many times you say such things; it will not stop them being false. But it will prevent concerted, effective action being taken on a global scale to address a truly global problem.

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