Archive for the ‘populism’ Category
The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone!
I know this has been said many times. Most recently it has been said by one of my favourite environmental commentators/campaigners, Executive Director of CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), Nick Reeves OBE. If any new readers are not familiar with him, they may wish to start by typing his name into the Search this Blog box (in the right-hand column) and see what happens…
CIWEM publishes a monthly magazine, to which Reeves nearly always contributes an article. Last week, my copy of the May 2013 issue arrived early. It includes an article by Reeves entitled, ehem, “A bonkers energy solution”. However, the online version is indeed entitled “Fracking Mad“. Reeves begins with a seemingly bizarre discussion of the failings of the UK’s education system. However, it soon becomes clear that he considers this to be at least partly to blame for the fact that the general public are willing to accept a “bonkers energy solution” such as hydraulic fracturing. However, it is UK government policy that is “bonkers” (the general public just don’t seem to realise it):
Last December, the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, gave the go-ahead for fracking (the controversial technology for releasing underground shale gas) as part of a plan for maximising the use of (so called) low-cost fuel. In so doing the government has thumbed its nose at legally binding carbon emissions targets and cuffed the country to a fossil-fuel future. Worse still, its commitment to fracking will undermine investment of billions of pounds in renewables, geothermal and energy efficiency. We now know that the ‘greenest government ever’ tag was shameless and that ministers are back-sliding on their commitment to a low-carbon and green economy.
Reeves goes on to recount the recent history of fracking in the UK and mentions all the (probably spurious) safety concerns. Like me, he focusses on the fact that we probably cannot afford to pursue fracking because of the long-term consequences doing so will have; and that we simply must find a way to do without it. However, he is more blunt than I have been, and criticises the reviews the Government commissioned for not making this point:
The scientists appear to have ignored the fact that no amount of control and regulation can stop shale gas from being a fossil fuel or from releasing carbon dioxide.
This is an important point well made. However, in defence of the scientists (and engineers) asked to determine whether fracking is ‘safe’, I would have to point out that the questions of the long-term environmental sustainability, sensibility and/or survivability of fracking were carefully excluded from the remit of the reviews that the Government asked them to undertake. Reeves therefore concludes that fracking is “a reckless move driven by ideology” that “will commit the UK to being a fossil fuel economy and not a low carbon one” for decades to come… And so, you can almost hear the frustration in Reeves’ voice as he asks:
What will it take to get people to understand the seriousness of the climate change catastrophe that awaits us?
Reeves then goes on to talk about carbon budgets and our rapidly-declining chances of limiting global average temperature rise to 2 Celsius (compared to pre-1850) and makes the point many others have made that global reserves of fossil fuels are five times greater than that which we would have to burn in order to guarantee at least 2 Celsius temperature rise. As Reeves puts it:
In other words, we can only avoid devastating climate change if we keep most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground. But, is that possible? Can we deliberately forgo what many regard as our most precious energy resource – the fuels that have powered 200 years of industrialisation – for the sake of future generations? It is absolutely possible, and we must. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone. (my emphasis)
The remainder of Reeves’ article (which I would encourage all to read) is a typically incisive summary of how this problem is entirely solvable. We do not lack the technology or the resources to produce the electricity to provide for the needs of even 10 billion humans. What we (or at least our politicians) lack is the intellectual honesty to admit that the game is up. Fossil fuels are not the solution; they are the problem. Furthermore, the longer we (or they) fail to acknowledge this, the greater the problem will become.
Reeves looks at the situation from a range of perspectives, UK, EU and global. However, in the end, this is a problem that will only ever be solved by people demanding that their politicians solve it:
The dash for oil in the Arctic and the dash for shale gas elsewhere, shows that we are as addicted to fossil fuels as we ever were. But a low-carbon future is the one we must all fight for – our gift to the unborn.
…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,
No answer as yet.
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, was interviewed by offbeat TV presenter Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday on BBC1.
Salmond’s comments about energy policy highlight the intellectual incoherence and dishonesty to which our politicians are driven by growthmania.
Although Salmond should be commended for standing up to Donald Trump’s opposition to offshore wind farms, he still appears to be basing his aspiration for a future independent Scotland on future revenue from extracting crude oil and gas from beneath what would be its territorial waters.
Scotland may well already be near the top of the international list of countries with the greatest percentages of installed renewable energy generation, it may well be the home of European research and development into Tidal power, but, its would-be independent government still appears to be assuming it will be OK to generate revenue from oil production over the next 50 years equivalent to those of the last 50 years.
This does not sound like a good idea to me. It is one very good reason not to vote for Scottish independence.
Scottish independence does not look like it will be compatible with preventing anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Furthermore, ACD is probably making its presence felt right now across the UK in the form of unusually cold weather. Sure, it is not possible to attribute any single event to ACD but, all the same, ACD was predicted (from a basic understanding of atmospheric physics) to give rise to wider range of more extreme weather events of increased frequency and intensity. This is exactly what we are now observing. In fact, we have been observing it for about 50 years but, until quite recently, it had not been that obvious. This is what James Hansen and his colleagues showed us last August: The climate dice are now loaded – which means we get double-six a lot more often (and a few more double ones than we used to as well).
This is a transcript of an email I sent to Paul Clark, the owner of the website Woodfortrees.org – from which graphs have appeared in presentations by numerous people who dispute the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.
RE: Your Comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 datasets
I have found my way to your website via a comment by Dan Olner on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week.
I note that on your Home Page you say:
I have no particular axe to grind in the “Global Warming Debate” one way or the other. Indeed, as a life-long Green I think a shift to an efficient and sustainable way of life is a Good Thing whether or notCO2 is a significant problem in and of itself.
Whilst I am not questioning your sincerity in making this statement, I am afraid I am bound to ask you two things:
1. What do you think the data tells us? and
2. Is it really appropriate to encourage non-experts to play around with it?
With regard to (1), my attention was drawn to your comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 and, yes, my first reaction was, “Why are they so different?” If I were David Rose, Christopher Monckton, or even Richard Lindzen, I would no doubt be very suspicious of the fact that HADCRUT4 anomalies are generally higher than those calculated for HADCRUT3. Therefore, I ask you, what purpose does it serve to present this comparison without a legitimate explanation as to why the two data sets are different? If you are in need of one, try this by Dana Nuccitelli on the Skeptical Science website.
With regard to (2), I am concerned about the frequency with which your website is used by climate change “skeptics” (such as those mentioned above) and therefore feel that, however good your motives are, you are merely encouraging unqualified people to bolster their unwarranted confidence in their unreasonable conclusions.
Returning to the comparison of HADCRUT3 and 4, I note that you have inserted a trendline for both over the last 1980-2010 (in addition to trendlines for the complete data sets). Have you considered inserting trendlines for both for the periods 1850-1910 and for 1910-1980? In fact, I suspect you don’t really need to do this: Just looking at these graphs, it is clear that there are three distinct changes:
– 1850-1910 – a downward trend of about 0.06/decade;
– 1910-1980 – an upward trend of about 0.08/decade;
– 1980-2010 – an upward trend of about 0.18/decade.
This is, therefore, yet another confirmation that the MBH98 ‘Hockey Stick’ cannot legitimately be dismissed as an artefact of statistical manipulation of data. In other words, it is signal not noise.
You call your website WoodForTrees but, with the greatest of respect, I think you are facilitating the denial of plain facts by people who don’t want to accept the nature of reality (mainly because of an underlying libertarian agenda). On your Home Page you may well pose all the right questions but, sadly, the vast majority of people who use or refer to your website appear to be coming to invalid conclusions.
Whereas a variety of natural factors contribute to global cooling – the Sun, ocean currents, and volcanic eruptions; only anthropogenic CO2 can explain the accelerating warming trend of the last 100 years.
I suspect you feel you are doing the right thing in encouraging everyone to play around with the data and satisfy themselves that they know what is happening. However, all the evidence suggests that your website is encouraging the unconsciously incompetent to play around with things they don’t really understand and reinforce the prejudicial insistence that we do not have a problem.
Irrespective of whether you respond to this email (I hope that you will), I am going to publish it on my blog at midnight tonight (British Summer Time [UTC+1]).
After my last exchange of emails with Christopher Monckton (back in May this year), I did promise myself I would not waste any more time on him. However, following the recent flurry of publicity surrounding the pronouncements of first Richard Muller, then John Christy, and then James Hansen (all of which have been covered on this blog recently – here, here, and here), I decided to try once more to see if there is any scope for having a rational discussion of facts with this aristocratic Classics graduate and former newspaper proprietor turned climate expert.
Sadly, it has thus become quite apparent that this is not possible. Therefore – and I mean it this time – I do not intend to ever email him again. However, first of all some context: Of the three incidents above, it was Christy’s highly misleading testimony to the US Senate – and the disgraceful attempts by his supporters to defend it by inverting reality and accusing mainstream scientists of abusing their positions of influence – that prompted me to email Monckton again. However, this time, I decided address my email to three people not just one; the other two being Rev Phillip Foster (Repeal the Act) and Dr Benny Peiser (GWPF). For now, I will focus on the exchange of email I had with Monckton after I sent this email (under the title ‘An appeal to you to be reasonable’)…
Dear Lord Monckton, Rev. Foster, and Dr Peiser,
We have had a few exchanges of emails in recent months and, unfortunately, they have not been very constructive. Being an eternal optimist, I am hoping that this time may be different. However, before reading any further, I should like to ask you, as I did in a recent email to the Bishop of Chester (currently on holiday), to bear in mind that I am a Conservative voter and hold very conservative views on a range of social issues; but have been concerned about the environment for as long as I have been a Christian… In other words, I am a very long way from being a“Watermelon”…
I recently tried to watch the video of the 1 August 2012 hearings of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works but, for me, the volume was too low. Fortunately, the same web page has links to the prepared text of both the opening statements of Senator Boxer and Senator Inhoffe; as well as to PDFs of the written testimony from all six Witnesses.
Reading these has left me feeling very uneasy because, just as they did in the hot summer of 1988 in which James Hansen testified to a similar Committee, truth and integrity seem to have become lost in political farce:
– Before listening to any witnesses, Boxer and Inhoffe make two completely mutually-contradictory statements (of their views on climate change) containing numerous conflicting truth-claims.
– Both Democrats and Republicans call Witnesses that (one could argue) simply tell them what they want to hear.
– Witnesses are cross-examined by Senators from both parties but no-one changes their opinion (based on the balance of the evidence).
– No prejudices are challenged or dislodged; and truth remains in the eye of the beholder.
However, given the completely opposite views stated -they cannot all be right -some of the Witnesses must be wrong. Furthermore, truth is not whatever you want it to be; the truth is what it is and… If we cannot be sure what the truth is, then we should act according to the balance of probability; not according to our prejudice.
Therefore, with regard to the evidence presented in Panel 1 of these Hearings (PhDs Christopher Field, John Christy, and James McCarthy), the choice is as follows:
– John Christy is probably right and almost everything the majority of climate scientists tell us is wrong; or
– The majority of climate scientists are probably right and almost everything Christy says is wrong.
Forgetting arguments about science for a moment – and putting all our prejudices aside (because we all have them) – which of these scenarios is more likely?
In my humble opinion, the answer to this question is simply far too important for humans to continue to argue about it based on pre-existing ideological prejudice; or concerns regarding the motives of those making unpalatable statements. We all need to stop dodging the issue: The predictions made by James Hansen in 1988 have not only been proven accurate – the situation is now worse than that – as he said in his op-ed in the Washington Post last weekend, this “is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened”.
With the greatest of respect, therefore, is it not time that we all acknowledged that we are all equally likely to be prejudiced – and/or suspended our disbelief – long enough to take a cold hard look at the facts of history and science; and ask ourselves what would be the wisest thing to do? Indeed, this is a question I posed on my blog some months ago – in typically light-hearted fashion – and find myself asking it still.
Assuming you will make one, and do so in a similar reasonable-minded fashion, I await your response(s) with interest.
Yours very sincerely,
I have reproduced this email in full here because, despite being what I thought was entirely polite, reasonable, and conciliatory, the response I got from Monckton was none of the above. Instead, he chose to take offence at the title of the email; suggesting that this was insulting (because it implied that he or his current position is unreasonable). Here, the phrase “me thinks he dost protest too much” comes to mind. However, I cannot quote from his exact words because, as he has done in the past, Monckton has invoked his right to privacy.
One of the many ironies in dealing with Monckton is his ability to invert reality (and apparent blindness regarding his own failings when criticising others). He is on record as having criticised me for waffling and not being concise but, on its own, his initial response to me on this occasion was 1984 words; and was followed by 550 words; 1634 words; 875 words; 111 words; and 612 words (a total of 5766 words with an average of 961 words per email). This compares with my original 650 words (above), 219 words; 298 words; 253 words; 97 words; and 74 words (a total of 1591 words with an average of 265 words per email).
To be fair to Monckton, he did spend most of his time lecturing me on his superior grasp of Latin and/or trying to bait me into discussing his version of climate science. However, I stuck to my principles; and kept insisting that I did not want to “debate” science – I wanted to discuss what actions are now most likely to be in the best long-term interests of humanity. Monckton, however, was not willing to engage in such a discussion; which is a great shame for all concerned.
Despite Monckton’s claim to a right of privacy in his initial response; supposedly extending to a prohibition against my even acknowledging the existence of his email (which sounds like Super Injunction territory to me), he did not assert any such right over subsequent emails. I am therefore tempted to publish them but, when set in chronological order with my emails, the whole thing runs to over 8000 words, which I doubt anyone would read; even though it reveals a lot about Monckton’s modus operandi. For all Plebians out there, that is Latin for ‘method of operation’.
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.
To mark this blog’s first anniversary today – and highlight the above – I am re-posting the item I posted exactly one year ago (and will return to the subject next week). Apart from the opening reference to my MA dissertation as being a work in progress, this could have been written yesterday:
Sceptical economists are intellectually bankrupt (10 August 2011)
As made clear in About, I am in the process of completing an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University in Staffordshire (i.e. in the UK). As part of the requirements for my MA, I chose to undertake, as my dissertation topic, “A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the UK”, looking at organisations, economists, scientists, journalists, politicians, and others, which was prompted by my reading the following:
– Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway;
– Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton; and
– Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life, by Peter Jacques.
This, then, provides the relevant background to the following summary of my findings regarding economists:
I looked at 9 such economists (Roger Bate, Ian Byatt, David Henderson, Lord Lawson, Russell Lewis, Alister McFarquhar, Julian Morris, Alan Peacock, and Colin Robinson); and found that, 5 out of the 9 of them equate concern over AGW with a new religion; whereas 4 out of 9 suggest that pressure to take action to mitigate AGW is a politically-motivated conspiracy; and/or that AGW is a problem that is not worth fixing.
Lord Lawson is probably the most famous of these people, who, despite acknowledging his own scientific illiteracy, cites the “three greatest lies” of AGW as being (1) that the science is certain and settled; (2) that global warming is actually happening; and (3) that carbon dioxide is a pollutant (see Lawson 2009: p.107).
Therefore, although many sceptical economists (and scientists) 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), 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: p.223).
Notwithstanding all of the above, Greg Craven’s argument still holds, i.e. we need to decide how much risk we want to take hoping unpleasant things won’t happen.
The reason I want to return to this subject (i.e. the prejudice that drives economists to deny scientific facts) is that it has just come to my attention that the very aptly-named Global Warming Policy Foundation (i.e. promoting policies that will maximise global warming) has – in addition to a serving Bishop in the Church of England on its Board of Trustees – a list people (mostly economists) on its Academic Advisory Council that reads like a global who’s who of climate change denial…
It would therefore seem that, when it comes to the ideologically-prejudicial and economically-driven disputation of the basic laws of physics, the World is very small (and may well be flat)!
I recently applied for a job that would have enabled me to get paid for blogging about climate science. Although I was unsuccessful, it seems a shame to waste the effort I put into submitting an example blog-post on a topical subject (as required as part of the application process). Therefore, bearing in mind that this was drafted and submitted about three weeks ago, here it is…
Do 43% of Brits still think the Earth is flat?
A recent opinion poll, comparing the views of people in Canada, UK and USA, indicated that only 43% of British adults agreed with the following statement: “Global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities”.
It may be that this question was carefully phrased to deter positive responses (i.e. they might agree that warming is occurring and/or that humans are the primary cause; but might not agree that vehicles and factories are the primary source of emissions). Nevertheless, what percentage of the population would agree with this statement: “The sunrise is a fact and is mostly caused by the Earth not being flat and spinning once a day whilst orbiting the Sun”…?
Who or what is driving government policy?
The opinion poll results are fascinating for a number of reasons; not least because the results for the UK and USA are similar despite very different political realities: In the UK, we have a Coalition Government committed to pursuing policies to mitigate anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) based on legislation enacted by the previous Labour government.
In the USA, a Democratic President is in favour of action to mitigate ACD but has been unable to make progress due to Republican dominance on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, despite making climate change and election issue, it is still by no means certain that Obama will be re-elected later this year; despite the Republican Party being dominated by those that espouse the belief that ACD is not happening.
In Canada, possibly controlled by the most right-wing government of any developed country – selling all of its mineral resources (including Tar Sands) to the highest bidder and seeking to repeal a wide range of environmental legislation to advantage business interests – there is a clear majority of the population that accept the nature of reality.
There are at least two important questions that arise from this, which are as follows:
– If public opinion is not determined by government policy, how else might it be explained? and
– If government policy is not influenced by public opinion, how will we ever solve the ACD problem?
What determines public opinion?
With almost every day that now passes the news media reports yet more evidence that, just as climate models predicted, extreme weather events of all kinds (i.e. hot, cold, wet and dry) are increasing in both their frequency and severity.
Despite this, public opinion in the UK has barely recovered from the damage done by the illegal publication of data-mined and cherry picked emails from the University of East Anglia in November 2009. Indeed, despite being cleared of any scientific malpractice by numerous international investigations, the majority of the British population would still appear to be suspicious of climate scientists and thus the science itself.
However, is it not reasonable to ask, as did John Parnell on the Responding to Climate Change website recently, whether they are equally suspicious of the far more improbable and intangible pronouncements of particle physicists? This would appear to suggest that, when it comes to issues relating to subjects as complex as atmospheric physics, public opinion is primarily shaped by non-scientific commentators in the media; rather than by scientists or scientific commentators seeking to improve the public understanding of science.
What other explanation can there be for the fact that public opinion has clearly been affected by events such as Climategate?
Who cares about public opinion?
In short, politicians do. Even if they are not being influenced by lobbyists and/or vested interests, they rarely act entirely altruistically. Turkeys would not vote for Christmas; and so politicians rarely look beyond the next election. Unfortunately, ACD is a long-term problem that will only be solved by significant changes in behaviour and determined action on the part of both governments and individuals. Moreover, there are very few votes to be gained by politicians espousing the changes that are required.
Therefore, if effective change is going to be made within a representative democracy such as ours, this will only happen if representatives are given a clear mandate to act: The electorate must demand that changes to policies are made. But how is that ever going to happen if a majority of the public remain sceptical about the reality of the problem?
Is climate change scepticism history?
Huge sums of money have been spent denying the reality of environmental problems caused over several decades – by business leaders in the fields of tobacco, organic chemicals, coal-fired power, and now oil shale gas exploration.
Therefore, we must now hope that people everywhere will soon realise the truth of what George Santayana said – “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – and seek to change history.
1. It should be noted that, although the police in Norfolk have given up trying to trace the perpetrators, they have acknowledged that it was the “result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet”.
To mark the slightly-weird occasion of the Eurovision Song Contest coming from Baku (4 hours ahead of the UK and almost as far east of London as as Titanic wreck off Newfoundland is west), I am going to take a break from environmental politics and return to my first love – geography.
Things were much simpler for me as a child: Warsaw Pact countries weren’t really in Europe; they were part of the very un-European USSR. As for the other point of potential ambiguity in Turkey; it was simple enough to draw the line at the Bosphorus. By the time I reached the age of 25, the Berlin Wall was being pulled down and suddenly we had Western Europe and Eastern Europe again: With the dismantling of the USSR it became very clear to me that Russia had just temporarily suppressed the European-ness of a large number of countries; but I would still have thought of Russia and the Ukraine as Asian countries – and I was still adamant that, although Turkey straddled the border, it was almost entirely part of Asia. However, the key to answering the question, “Is Azerbaijan in Europe?”, is to decide whether you are talking about physical or human geography.
Taking physical geography first, it is important to understand that – although there is an awful lot of science in Geography – it is not like maths or physics. So, there is not always a right and a wrong answer; and the boundary between Europe and Asia is a case in point: The notion that the city founded by the emperor Constantine – and later re-named Istanbul – lay at the boundary of two continents was a convenient historical illusion re-inforced by a physical barrier that was only tamed by a bridge in the late 20th Century. In the current century, a tunnel has been constructed that has incorporated some very clever technology to overcome the other reason that I personally have always drawn the line at the Bosphorus; that being earthquakes. However, although a common misconception, the plate boundary causing the earthquakes does not pass from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus.
I should imagine that most people born after about 1950 have at least a basic understanding of plate tectonics and, given a map of the Earth, could probably draw plate boundaries along the mid-ocean ridges that split both the North and South Atlantic in half; and around the great Southern Ocean to encircle Antarctica. Furthermore, thanks to Michael Palin, quite a lot of people are familiar with the term “Ring of Fire” but, as a plate boundary, I doubt that many could position it correctly on a blank map of the Pacific Ocean. However, like I said, geography is not like maths; everything is not straight-forward: We call Africa a continent; but it includes the East African Rift Valley and is very slowly tearing itself apart. Similarly, we refer to North America as a continent but it has an even more famous plate boundary messing-up our attempt to impose order on chaos – the San Andreas Fault. This is where plate tectonics starts to get complicated: There are actually three types of plate boundaries; constructive (where new crust is being formed), destructive (where it is being destroyed), and conservative (where lateral movement is preserving the crust on both sides of the boundary).
Now things get really messy: The plates that form the Earth’s surface are not all similar sizes; some are huge and some are tiny. Rather than being thought of hexagons on the surface of a (soccer) football; it is better to think of them as pieces of floating sea ice – a random mixture of all shapes and sizes. Hence we have huge plates like the in the Pacific (with destructive boundaries on almost all sides) and small plates like the Caribbean. Thus, if you asked people to draw lines on a map to show where the African plate from its neighbours, some might include the East African Rift Valley, most would probably draw a line up the middle of the Red Sea and hopefully link up with the Jordan Valley… but where then? Similarly, most would draw a line west to east through the Strait of Gibraltar through the Mediterranean (but where exactly – and where does it go after Istanbul?).
So then, continents are not defined by plate boundaries; they are a social construct – an invention of the human mind. Having grasped this, we are now ready to try to answer the question in physical terms. Or rather, we would be but for one slight problem: Europe and Asia are not two separate continents; they are a single Eurasian plate. Thus there is now no obvious boundary between Europe and Asia – in terms of continents or plate tectonics at least. This is why, if they have to, most geographers will draw the line along previous collision boundaries – delineated today by the crumple zones of the Caucasus and Ural mountains. However, if that is the case, part of Kazakhstan may be in Europe – but Azerbaijan is not.
This is clearly a bit of a mess; and I therefore yearn for the simplicity of my youth: I think we should all have stuck with the simplicity of human geography and history that would exclude from Europe – Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. That would leave Ukraine in Europe (because it is north and west of the Caucasus Mountains) and Russia… Oh goodness, I dont’ know! Personally, I don’t consider it to be part of Europe in any normal sense but, if Ukraine is in; how can Russia be out?
So, in terms of human geography, Europe is a social construct and, given that most contestants sing in english but vote for their neighbours, the Eurovision Song Contest is a complete load of bullsh…
The third Viscount of Brenchley, Christopher Monckton, is a bit of a slippery customer: A member of the British aristocracy with no scientific training or qualifications, but nevertheless idolised as an expert by climate change “sceptics”, he is prone to rambling statements (even more pompous-sounding than much of what I write!) that are full of potentially misleading information and/or misrepresented research that is invariably poorly (if ever) referenced. You could be forgiven for concluding that he is “intoxicated with the exuberance of his own verbosity” (i.e. Disraeli on Gladstone)…!
In recent years, you could also be forgiven for assuming that he was going to slowly fade from view as a result of the forensic examination of one of his presentations expertly carried out by Professor John Abraham; and Monckton’s spectacular failure to respond appropriately and/or effectively to such a devastating critique. Much more recently, he has been taken to task by Potholer54 (a.k.a Peter Hatfield) and – having been quite content at first to debate online – has gone remarkably quiet since being challenged to debate the science face-to-face (see Footnote).
My personal dealings with Monckton began when I attempted to redress the misleading presentation of one Richard S Lindzen at a meeting in London on 22 February this year that Monckton chaired. Having departed from my own script, I was prevented from asking even the simplest of questions (because I was clearly off-message too). You can even see me attempting this feat here.
Monckton then harassed me over my supposed defamation of his character within my subsequent complaint to MIT regarding Lindzen. I clarified the intent of my remarks to MIT and issued an apology; something I am pretty sure Monckton has never done. As Hatfield has demonstrated, Monckton just changes what he says (i.e. so-called “Monckton Manoeuvres”)
In April this year, I invited Monckton to review my own assessment of him as a non-expert in climate science (September 2011) and tell me where I have gone wrong. However, in his long-winded and disparaging response – full of reality inversions and obfuscations – he did not address any of my factual criticism of either him; his absence of any relevant qualifications; his repeatedly having been shown to be peddling misinformation; and to have misinterpreted – if not misrepresented – genuine climate science. He also declined my request for permission to publish his response.
Most recently, in response to a piece by Scott Denning PhD (a rare non-sceptical speaker at Heartland Institute conferences), Monckton submitted a 5000-word dissertation to the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, which was also subject to forensic examination and found to be pre-debunked “sceptical” propaganda. Unfortunately, the post summarising this nonsense was bombarded by silly comments that prompted the site editor, Bud Ward, to close-off the post to new comments just after Monckton had attempted to rebut my own criticisms… Unable to get Mr Ward to allow my response to appear, I decided to email Monckton myself. Therefore, what follows is a transcript of the exchanges that has since followed; or at least it would be if Monckton had not again claimed his right(?) to confidentiality in responding to me. However, I think you can guess what he said – and how he said it – from my responses:
You have made great play of the fact that you followed chairing the Lindzen sideshow on 22 February by briefing an anonymous and sceptical Cabinet Minister. Because I was concerned that this might constitute an attempt to subvert sensible government policy, I asked my MP to find out who you met. However, short of trawling through every department’s records (when published), this is not going to be possible and, in any case, I suspect your meeting (if there was one) will not have been “on the record”.
With regard to your recent (surely pre-existing?) essay submitted to the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, I think it was entirely ludicrous of Scott Denning to respond by repeating the unfair suggestion that you might be a creation of the comic Sacha Baren Cohen. However, the reason this annoyed me is that it appears to have (understandably) prompted a deluge of comments from those who consider your unscientific views on climate change worthy of attention. This, in turn, prompted Bud Ward to stop accepting comments on that particular post. Despite my protestation, Mr Ward has refused to publish my response to your last comment so, for the record, here it is:
“With respect, Viscount Monckton, it is the so-called climate ‘sceptics’ that are failing to learn the lessons of history (or palaeoclimatology for that matter). I was brought up not to live beyond my means; and humanity would have done well to do the same. Instead, our environmental bank account is now seriously overdrawn; and the interest payments will just get bigger and bigger if we make no attempt to pay off our debts.”
Also for the record: I think history may have done King Canute a dis-service as he probably sought to demonstrate that man cannot hold back the tide. However, this is more in your field of expertise than mine. Perhaps you can enlighten me? Furthermore, if you already know this, are you not also guilty of mis-representing King Canute as well (by telling readers they should “Remember Canute”); and perpetuating yet another myth (such as that which seeks to suggest human activity is not the primary driver of ongoing climate disruption)?
Finally, I should like to re-iterate the frustration of many people who have pointed out that, although you are always very quick to ridicule people and/or demand retractions for supposed defamatory comments or misleading or incorrect statements, you do not seem to practice what you preach: That is to say, when things you say or write are shown to have been likely to mislead, inaccurate, or demonstrable false (e.g. in your dealings with John Abraham, Peter Hatfield, and here and elsewhere in the ‘Monckton Myths’ section of the SkepticalScience website) you do not seem to ever admit it. I would however be delighted to be proven wrong but, please do not waste your time writing me a long response, links to published statements on the Internet will suffice.
Yours very sincerely,
Dear Mr. Lack,
[Sorry - Confidentiality has been invoked by the author]
Monckton of Brenchley.
Footnote: Monckton claims to have rebutted Peter Hatfield’s criticism on the website of SPPI – an organisation for which he is Chief Policy Advisor, which gives him a platform from which to spout non-peer-reviewed misinformation; and gain the attention of ignorant and/or credulous politicians on Capitol Hill in the USA. Unfortunately, the SPPI website does not have a search function – and this response (if it exists) is not in any obvious place such as the ‘Monckton Collection’.
The exchanges continued, from which you can infer what Monckton said, but I will conclude this sorry tale tomorrow.