Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ Category

You know we’re in trouble when…

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The Sunday Telegraph starts advocating polices that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Two days ago, one of Britain’s oldest and most-respected broadsheet newspapers decided to shred the last few bits of credibility it might have had by publishing an anonymous editorial piece calling for the Climate Change Act 2008 to be repealed.

I am therefore sorry but, I just had to post this response:

Thank goodness the Sunday Telegraph is not a widely-read newspaper.  This kind of advocacy for policies that will accelerate anthropogenic climate disruption is short-sighted to say the least.

If you don’t like our countryside being despoiled by windfarms, new sets of National Grid power lines, and new nuclear plants…  What you should be advocating is greater subsidies for households that install solar PV panels on their roofs, which will reduce UK demand for centrally-generated electricity of all kinds.

Oh and, by the way, shale gas is not low-carbon intensity:  Because of the methane release it involves, it is extremely high-carbon intensity.  Now we know we need to reduce our global CO2 emissions and that further delay will mean greater ultimate cost (i.e. Sir John Beddington, today)… the international push to extract shale gas – and all other unconventional hydrocarbons –  is completely irrational.

If anyone is curious, the pronouncements of the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, to which I referred above, can be seen and heard in this video on the BBC website.  This was a fascinating development, coming, as it did, on the same day that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) announced that it was willing to enter into discussions with the Royal Society – to try and resolve the fact that the two organisations hold diametrically-opposed views regarding the validity of the scientific consensus that ACD is already happening.

This prompted me to send the GWPF’s Director, social anthropologist Benny Peiser, the following email:

Dear Dr Peiser,

I note, with genuine interest, your acceptance of the offer by the Royal Society to put the GWPF in touch with mainstream climate scientists.

I note also the public statement by the Sir John Beddington – who says evidence of anthropogenic climate disruption is now unequivocal and further delay in reducing emissions will mean harder and more expensive policy changes in future.

I should therefore be very grateful to know how much longer you think the GWPF is going to continue to insist that the science is uncertain and that calls for action are politically motivated.  For example, how long will it be before the GWPF accepts that we need to decarbonise our power generation systems – by implementing a revenue-neutral Fee and Dividend system as proposed by Dr James Hansen and many others.

Yours very sincerely,

Martin Lack

No answer as yet.

Reality dawns on people ignoring scientists

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I would hereby like to draw together two separate pieces of research published last week:

1. Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart (Desmogblog); and

2. AP-GfK Poll: Science doubters say world is warming (Associated Press).

debate is over

Need I say more? Sadly, yes, because – with people like Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser influencing the policy of the current Chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne – reality seems no nearer to dawning on the people with the power to change the way things are done.

Nuclear, wind and wave power chiefs in joint appeal on green energy

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I have been very critical of the UK’s Coalition Government recently – and I am particularly concerned about the completely opposing views of Energy Secretary (John Hayes) and Climate Change Minister (Ed Davey).  However, I am clearly not the only one who is concerned…  As is made clear by this very significant article published on the website of The Independent newspaper on Monday:

The leaders of Britain’s nuclear, wind and tidal industries today put aside years of mutual suspicion and antipathy with an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change…

John Hayes really needs to stop basing what he says on the completely discredited views of people like Lord Lawson and Christopher Monckton and start paying attention instead to what actual scientists say.

It is also good to see that Greenpeace may be willing to abandon its axiomatic rejection of nuclear power generation. However, I remain bemused as to why Dr Amory Lovins’ assertion (in Reinventing Fire) that we could survive on renewables alone is not taken seriously…

It is good to see unanimity in the face of Government duplicity.  However, Carbon Capture ans Storage (CCS) is just fossil fuel industry propaganda to provide an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels. We may need the technology to help prevent an ecological catastrophe but, CCS should not be used as an excuse to perpetuate the insanity of burning all fossil fuels simply because they are there. Humanity must exercise some self-restraint and leave some fossil fuels in the ground. If we do not, our civilisation will go the same way as all those that have previously disappeared because they failed to respect the fact that their environment had a finite capacity to cope with the scale of their activities.

Since we now know this, failure to modify our behaviour will be the ultimate human folly.

Fostering Denial – Epilogue

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Last Thursday the Stop Climate Chaos coalition organised a Green Is Working demonstration outside the Treasury Building in the centre of London.  The weird thing is that I did not hear about this before it happened.  On the contrary, because I attended Richard Lindzen’s misrepresentation of the truth in London on 22 February this year, I was sent an invite to the Green Isn’t Working counter-demonstration, organised by a certain Rev Philip Foster (retired).  I sent Philip an email wishing him all the best in his attempt to argue that renewable energy is not sustainable… and have been having an exchange of emails with him ever since.  However, I think we are both now tiring of this, so I decided to try and end it:

——–

OK Philip.  I know that I started this exchange – so you don’t need to remind me – but I think it is nearing a natural conclusion.  However, before it does, overlooking the many questions you have ignored (and some of the more bizarre things you have chosen not to ignore), I would like to focus on your two final remarks:

1. Well, just to be contrary, [rejecting scientific evidence for ideological reasons] is how I think alarmists are behaving (again I make this point in my book). I think Mark Twain expressed it well: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact”

The long-term effects of the energy-trapping properties of more CO2 in our atmosphere are not conjectured; they were predicted and they are now being observed.  Furthermore, the people who are short on facts are those who dispute this. “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 the palm of your hand. 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.”  – George Monbiot (2005)

2. For good or ill, I am pretty certain that the scientific argument is now established; and we are winning the economic one.

This is a truly astonishing statement, for two reasons:
(a) Despite the fact that almost every reputable professional, academic, and/or scientific body on the planet has endorsed the scientific basis for concern regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), you seem to want to claim – not just that the science is uncertain – that the scientific basis for scepticism has been established.  This is ridiculous.  I think bookmakers would give you better odds on the Earth being only 6000 years old.
(b) Despite the conclusion reached by the Stern Review in the UK (2006); the Quadrennial Defense Review in the USA (2010), and the International Energy Agency (2012) – that ACD is a problem we simply cannot afford to ignore any longer – you are trying to claim you have won the argument; and that nothing should be done (because the problem does not exist).  This too is ridiculous.  Our government may be unwilling to accept the full reality of what needs to be done, but it most certainly does not deny that we have a problem.

Therefore, with regret, if I have correctly interpreted your remarks, I think further debate with you is pointless.  There are many organisations – such as the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange, and Taxpayers Alliance  – who accept the reality of the ACD problem; and with whom fruitful discussion about policy may therefore be had.  However, for the minority – like the GWPF and Repeal The Act – who appear to want to continue to dispute even that basic science of ACD; I can see no way in which discussion can be progressed.

Fostering denial in the C of E (Part 2)

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This is the second half of my rebuttal of the ideologically and theologically prejudiced denial of climate science by the Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, Bishop of Chester.  The first half was published yesterday (and should be read first in order to understand the context and what it is that I am reviewing).

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Having reduced the evidence for ACD to something that is contingent and uncertain, Bishop Peter describes concern over ACD as “climate alarmism”.  However, use of such a pejorative term (implying that there is no cause for alarm) can only be justified by belief that the modern consensus regarding climate science is unreliable, unreasonable, or unreal.  This in turn requires that the majority of climate scientists must be either stupid, wrong, or deceitful.

Bishop Peter’s next target is computer models, which he describes as expensive and complex; and cites the data-mined, de-contextualised, emails illegally obtained from the CRU/UEA (a.k.a. ‘Climategate’) as evidence of scientific malpractice and/or dishonesty. He then takes a swipe at all the vested interests “springing up” who have a reason to engineer “alarm”.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the fossil fuel industry is by far the largest vested interest – receiving tax credits and subsidies many times greater than either academia or the green economy.

Next, Bishop Peter attempts to minimise the significance of a 0.8 Celsius rise in temperatures over the last 100 years by reference to the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA); and attacks the validity of the famous Hockey Stick graph (i.e. in the IPCC’s 2003 reports).    However, these concerns (that current warming is not unprecedented) have been widely debunked; so I will not attempt to do so again here.

Next on Bishop Peter’s list of ‘expert’ witnesses is the Professor of Earth Sciences, Ian Plimer; and his book Heaven and Earth, which is a lengthy re-statement of a variety of contrarian ideas and second-hand opinions including the “volcanoes are causing the warming” and  “CO2 is plant food” memes).  Unfortunately (for Plimer and Co.) this has also been widely discredited (e.g. here by Michael Ashley in The Australian newspaper).   With regard to the latter meme, recent research has repeatedly found that any positive effects of CO2 increase are irrelevant when account is taken of negative impacts of increased temperature and shortage of water – as experienced in the USA this year.

Once again, Bishop Peter equates concern over ACD with religious belief – something that, in doing my MA research, I found to be most common amongst economists.  This suggests to me that Bishop Peter is merely repeating arguments fed to him by his friends at the GWPF.  Whatever the case may be, equating concern over climate change with religious belief is yet another fallacious argument; as it requires great faith to dismiss all the evidence for the reality of the problem.

Next, Bishop Peter completely mangles the truth that secular humanists fool themselves that we can control Nature, in order to bolster a fallacious argument that it is foolish to think we can have any impact on our climate.  This is swiftly followed by the argument that the ACD problem, even if it were proved to exist, is probably too costly to fix:  Yet more economic rationalism from the GWPF me thinks; and completely at odds with the view of most commentators today –  that ACD is a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.  Sadly, economic arguments will always be the last bastion of denial of science – especially if doing something to stop things getting worse will impact negatively on massive vested interests in the maintenance of “business as usual”.

Next, Bishop Peter turns his attention to carbon capture and storage (CCS), correctly observing that, despite much talk, it is still little more than a concept. However, if CO2 is not the cause of the problem – who cares?  Surely, then, CCS is an irrelevance; a complete waste of time and money?  I am afraid I am at a loss to understand the point being made.  What is clear, however, is that Bishop Peter believes that we should burn fossil fuels simply because they are there (because God has provided them for us to do just that).

Nearing the end of his walk-through of debunked contrarian ideas, Bishop Peter laments the fact that UK government policy “is in a mess” and admits that the use of hydrocarbons is unavoidable for some purposes.  I agree – aviation is an obvious example.  However, that leaves huge scope for substitution in other processes; what we lack is the political will to take action.  However, what Bishop Peter completely fails to do is to acknowledge that policy is a mess because policy inaction is the goal of those that deny that burning fossil fuels is damaging our environment– and always has been.  Denial of responsibility is a tried and tested business strategy, pioneered by the manufacturers of organic pesticides and the tobacco industry.

In his final paragraph, Bishop Peter calls for “a non-political debate” about policy.   However, this is a tacit admission that he thinks climate change is a hoax and a politically-motivated conspiracy designed solely as an excuse to tax people more heavily.  In his final sentence he even claims that expenditure on the “unproven” science is hurting the poorest in society.  Sadly, this is yet more reality inversion – what is now hurting the poor the most is the consequence of decades of denial orchestrated by the fossil fuel lobby.

And so it can be seen that, in the course of less than 1000 words in the Church Times, Bishop Peter neatly affirmed his support for all six pillars of climate change denial, namely that:
1. Global warming is not happening.
2. Global warming is not man-made.
3. Global warming is not significant.
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad.
5. Global warming is not a problem.
6. Global warming is not worth fixing.

Just one problem with that hypothesis; most scientists, economists and environmentalists have long since concluded that it is.  Therefore, for his part in peddling such scurrilous misinformation, I believe Bishop Peter should be truly ashamed of himself.

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In light of the comment made on yesterday’s post by thefordprefect (referring to the irrationality of a certain Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming), it seems appropriate for me to repeat part of my response here:

Not all Christians are fully signed-up members of The New Flat Earth Society…  The Evangelical Climate Initiative (2006) is (or was?) an alternative viewpoint: One endorsed by many Christian charities; including the UK’s Tearfund (i.e. The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund).

Fostering denial in the Church of England

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Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware of my previous exchanges of emails with the retired vicar, Rev Philip Foster (author of While the Earth Endures: Creation Cosmology and Climate Change).  They will also be aware of how, after a lengthy exchange of views, I was forced to conclude that Rev Foster thinks that overpopulation, climate change, sea level rise and mass extinctions cannot happen – simply because God will not allow it.  For those that are unaware of this back-story, please read ’The Three Monkeys – Monckton, Foster, and Peiser’ (20 August 2012).

All but very recent readers should also be aware that, over the summer, I attempted to get some sense out of The Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, the Bishop of Chester  (no relation to Philip so far as I am aware) who is on the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).  In my email to the Bishop, I asked (as politely as I could) what scientific background he had (if any); how many other Bishops share his views; and how he can dismiss the concern of the vast majority of Christians on the planet.  I also asked (somewhat impertinently) if he could do this without reliance upon:(a) scientific-sounding arguments that conflict with the generally-accepted Laws of Physics; (b) invoking conspiracy theory to dispute the reality, reliability and reasonableness of the modern-day consensus regarding what is happening to our climate; and/or (c) claiming that climate change ‘sceptics’ are like Galileo (fighting against the Establishment).

In his initial response, he advised me that his first Degree was in Chemistry; claimed not to know how many bishops share his views; and said he did not “dismiss” any concerns of other Christians.  Apart from this, he provided me with a copy of an article he had published in the Church of England’s own newspaper, the Church Times on 21 October last year  (i.e. ‘Look to Adaptation; not Alarmism’ posted online [mostly behind a paywall] on 19 October).  When I pointed out to him that he had failed to comply with my request (to respond without invoking a, b, or c), he expressed disappointment that I had not actually responded to the content of his article.  However, when I did so, he thanked me for sharing my views and suggested we end our exchanges:  Am I the only one to see this as a win-win scenario for the Bishop?  He criticised me for failing to respond in detail and then ignored my refutations of his arguments when I did..!

In my comments to Bishop Peter, I suggested that, since he has is not an active climate scientist, his article appeared to be a lengthy restatement of a litany of contrarian arguments that have been repeatedly falsified elsewhere (e.g. in peer-reviewed literature and/or on the Skeptical Science website).  Am I being unfair?  Well, I invite you to decide based on the evidence of his own words.  Or rather, I would, were it not for the fact that the Bishop has declined to give me consent to publish what he sent me (which may be different from what the Church Times published) – although he acknowledged that he cannot stop me publishing my opinions of what he wrote.

Therefore, because I think this is such an important issue, pertaining to the public understanding of science and respect for scientists, I believe that there is an over-riding case to be made for illustrating the ways in which Bishop Peter’s article is full of opinion but devoid of commonly-accepted scientific fact.  However, since I cannot do this without quoting from what he sent me, I must therefore rely on the fact that Copyright law includes a “fair use” clause, which stipulates that “the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included”

———

As can be seen by following the link to the Church Times website (above) – where the first few sentences are visible for free) – Bishop Peter begins his attack on the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) by citing the conditional nature of all scientific knowledge – effectively claiming that climate change “sceptics” are like Galileo.  However, as I said to Bishop Peter in my comments, this is an entirely spurious and fallacious argument.  Furthermore, the Church of Rome is thankfully not the arbiter of scientific truth today; and the so-called sceptics are not fighting against an anti-scientific and obscurantist establishment.  In fact, they are probably helping to preserve one; it is called the fossil fuel industry.

Bishop Peter then cites the case of the Royal Society, which was criticised by a minority of its members (i.e. not climate scientists) for endorsing the consensus view of ACD.   He quotes the views of Lord Broers (another non climate scientist) disputing the link between CO2.  This is therefore an endorsement of the marketplace of ideas fallacy – that all opinions are equally valid – enabling anyone to pick and chose which commonly-accepted scientific evidence they will and won’t accept.

———

Having given you a taste of what is to come, I will conclude my review of the Bishop’s almost 1000-word article tomorrow.  For now, though, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts on the alternative to what both Philip and Peter Foster are peddling.  This peculiarly Christian form of denial is, in effect, a theologically-driven form of libertarianism, which is founded on the belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the environment because God is in control and/or Jesus is coming back soon.

However, even for the most devout, sincere and/or evangelical Christians – and everyone else too – there is an alternative to this utilitarian “use it up and wear it out” nonsense.  You don’t need to be a tree-hugging fanatic who likes to dance around stone circles at sunrise on the longest day of the year in order to believe that we humans should be good stewards of the environment.  If we just go forth and multiply in order to subdue the Earth and have dominion over it, the fairy tale will not have a happy ending. It is time for us to put away such childish thinking; accept that we do not have an inalienable right to have our needs met; that we are exceeding Nature’s ability to meet those needs; and that – unless we change our ways – this selfishness is going to have severe adverse consequences.

I think it really is time for Plan B.  However, if you remain to be convinced, please come back tomorrow and see what a ludicrous position Bishop Foster’s Plan A really is…

Sampson and the Temple of Economic Dinosaurs

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To mark the first anniversary of this blog, last Friday, I re-posted the first ever item on this blog, which summarised the inspiration for my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK; and the results of my research into one of the groups studied – namely economists. At the end of the re-posted piece, I said that this (economics and/or “sceptical” economists) was a subject to which I would return this week. This is primarily because the last two of the six pillars of climate change denial are proving the hardest to demolish. For ease of reference, these six pillars are as follows (with their most common sound bytes in brackets):

1. Global warming is not happening (a.k.a. “global warming stopped in 1998”).
2. Global warming is not man-made (a.k.a. “the climate has always changed”).
3. Global warming is not significant (a.k.a. “less than 1oC after 250 years is no big deal”).
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad (a.k.a. “CO2 is plant food”).
5. Global warming is not a problem (a.k.a. “we will adapt” / “technology will save us”).
6. Global warming is not worth fixing (a.k.a. “we cannot afford to fix it” / “we cannot stop it”).

Most of the economists I researched for my MA were associated with the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA); with the most notable exception being co-Founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Lord Lawson. For those that are interested (and/or not familiar with the early days of this blog), I posted quite a bit in the latter months of 2011 about both the IEA and GWPF and, therefore, do not propose to re-post it all now. However, as intimated at the end of last Friday’s post, I would like to draw attention to the list of names on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council:

Professor David Henderson (IEA economist)
Adrian Berry (Journalist – science)
Sir Samuel Brittan (Journalist – economics)
Sir Ian Byatt (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Robert Carter (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Vincent Courtillot (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Freeman Dyson (contrarian Physicist)
Christian Gerondeau (Economist)
Dr Indur Goklany (Economist)
Professor William Happer (contrarian Physicist)
Dr Terence Kealey (Biochemist)
Professor Anthony Kelly (Metallurgist)
Professor Deepak Lal (Economist)
Professor Richard Lindzen (contrarian Physicist)
Professor Ross McKitrick (Economist)
Professor Robert Mendelsohn (Economist)
Professor Sir Alan Peacock (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Ian Plimer (contrarian Geologist)

So, of these 18 advisors… 8 are economists, 3 are physicists, 3 are geologists, 2 are journalists, 1 is a biochemist and 1 is a metallurgist. Indeed, Lindzen is the only one who could claim to be anything close to a genuine climate scientist. Furthermore, in defence of my use of the term “contrarian”, I would defy anyone to prove that these individuals hold views that are anything other than those of an extreme minority within their respective professions.

Of course, this invites “sceptics” to claim that they are like Galileo but, fortunately, science has moved on from the Middle Ages; and it is no longer controlled by the Church of Rome. Furthermore, the only obscurantist and anti-intellectual entity today is the fossil fuel lobby – which now pays PR firms (such as Hill and Knowlton) to peddle misinformation and perpetuate doubt (just as it did for the tobacco industry).

As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, the GWPF was founded by economist Lord Lawson and social anthropologist Benny Peiser and – as is very clear from the above – it is focussed on economic arguments for inaction. However, along with the IEA, it is beginning to look increasingly anachronistic. Whist other similar think-tanks with an economic focus such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Taxpayers’ Alliance have conceded that climate change is happening, the IEA and GWPF continue to stick to the hardcore conspiracy theory that it is a politically-convenient false alarm.

Thankfully, I think the World is moving on and leaving dinosaurs like the IEA and GWPF behind. Most readers will probably be aware by now of the “we will adapt” position statement of Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil). Clearly, Tillerson has conceded defeat on the demolition of Pillars 1 to 4 and, therefore, stands between Pillars 5 and 6 – like the Old Testament anti-hero Sampson – trying desperately to prevent the Temple of Denial from collapsing around him.

This is indeed encouraging but, all the same, I wish that someone like Tillerson could bring himself to see and/or admit that fossil fuels are history; renewable energy is the future and, as such, investment in it should be seen as affirmative action. Of course, as Bill McKibben recently highlighted in Rolling Stone magazine, there is one very good reason why Tillerson cannot do this: Fossil fuel companies are already trading on their future profits from burning all of the Earth’s fossil fuels. If they announced tomorrow that they were going to cease all exploration for unconventional sources (deep sea oil, shale gas, and tar sands), their share price would plummet even faster than that of a “rogue institution” such as Standard Chartered Bank.

I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and offer the World a definitive solution; but I can’t. All I can say is that I am not comfortable with the idea of gambling the future habitability of planet Earth on our ability to find a way to safely and permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and artificially lock it away underground. This carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology may well prove essential but, it is simply not acceptable to use CCS as an excuse for not phasing out the use of fossil fuels in all forms of heating, cooling, power and transportation (with the reluctant exception of aviation where no obvious substitute exists).

The phase-out of fossil fuel use (wherever it can be substituted using existing technology) is something G20 Nations agreed to do 3 years ago (in Pittsburgh, PA) and, with every year that passes, the need to act becomes progressively more urgent. Despite the fanciful claims of the “sceptics”, it is no longer just supposed “alarmists” like James Hansen that say this: The International Energy Agency agrees; as do economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus.

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