Archive for the ‘Tim Worstall’ Category
So said Tim Worstall (author of Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts ) on this bIog last October, after I dared to criticise his Prometheanism (i.e. the belief that human ingenuity – rather than nature’s bounty [Cornucopianism] – will enable us to solve all our Environmental/Limits to Growth problems). Since last October, population growth is a subject I have touched upon several times – particularly in relation to reviewing Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s 1996 book Betrayal of Science and Reason in a series of posts last December… However, on this occasion, I am very grateful to JPGreeenword for reminding me that I wanted to blog about this issue in response to a couple of recent items on the BBC News. These related to a meeting convened in London last week by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government’s Department for International Development. At this meeting, the co-convenors pledged to help get contraception to an extra 120 million women in areas like northern Nigeria by the end of the decade.
People who warned of the problem of population growth decades – if not centuries – ago are routinely dismissed as doomsayers whose prophecies failed to materialise. However, some critics are willing to admit that concerns were warranted in the past but insist, as Tim Worstall did, that the problem will solve itself through the education, emancipation, and empowerment of women to exercise choice in controlling their own fertility and reproduction.
I agree wholeheartedly that what you might call the Three E’s are indeed the key to solving the problem of population growth; but I would warn against any sense of complacency regarding the prospects for our actually solving the problem. For starters, if we are to get population control under control without the use of unsavoury or autocratic solutions (such as China’s infamous one child policy), we must address the reasons why poor people in rural communities have large numbers of children: Two of the most obvious being the need for help on the farm; and the need for support in old age. Over and above that, things may start to get a little “uncomfortable” if we question whether there are in fact more people living in an area than it can physically support… Given that relocating the people does not solve the problem of their being insufficient fertile land on which to raise livestock and/or grow crops, either the numbers of people must reduce or we will have to accept that charity is likely to be a perpetual necessity… As evidence of this, I present the following:
“One out of every 10 couples in Nigeria uses contraception – but in Jigawa, a rural state in the north I visited, the rate is 1%.” Jane Dreaper, BBC Health Correspondent, BBC News.
‘I want to stop giving birth’ after nine pregnancies (10 July 2012)
“This is about access to services, and the empowerment and role of women – not just in society, but also in their households.” Dr Muhammad Pate, Nigerian health minister.
Contraception: Rural Nigeria’s family-planning challenge (11 July 2012)
The United Nations has estimated that the Global Population could stabilise at just over 10 billion before the end of this century; but then again it may not: Even the UN admits that it all depends upon the Three E’s… The global population could peak and start declining; it could stabilise; or it could just keep growing to 15 billion or more.
The population of Nigeria alone could grow from 160 to 400 million by 2050. Or could it? Somewhat remarkably, the UN projections (published over a year ago) do not seem to acknowledge the finite capacity of either the Earth’s natural resources or the human ingenuity that can be deployed to mitigate those limits; and fail to acknowledge that more-and-more people being fed off less-and-less land is not sustainable indefinitely. In addition, these UN projections do not take any account of the likelihood that ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption will – as we have seen this year – have a significant adverse impact upon our collective capacity to grow food.
I am sorry to have to say it once again but, we were warned this would happen; and we were warned that the longer we put off dealing with limits to growth issues, the more likely we were to be confronted with more than one of them simultaneously (i.e. Meadows et al, 1972, 1992, 2005). And so it has come to pass: Banks have lent imaginary money to fund quantitative economic growth that has now stalled because the global debt burden has grown so large that it almost bigger than the value of all the Earth’s natural resources (even if we could or should exploit them). The fanciful bubble of perpetual growth has well and truly burst; and has been replaced with a global debt crisis – a workable solution to which seems to be very hard to find… Just take a look at this scary series of graphics illustrating our predicament.
Despite having no money left to spend on it, we now face the most costly environmental protection programme in human history; and the longer we delay making a start on it the greater the final cost will be. And yet the arguing goes on about who is more to blame; and who should be first to spend the money… In the history of irresponsible ancestors, this current generation is set to become the most irresponsible; we have known for decades that what we have been doing is unsustainable and yet we have refused to change course. Apart from being insanely selfish, there are two words that define this perfectly: Intergenerational Injustice.
In the Middle Ages they exhumed bodies and chopped off their heads for much lesser crimes. Therefore, if they wish to ensure their mortal remains are not disturbed in the future, I would recommend that all our current political leaders choose to be cremated and have their ashes sent into space… As if we had not found enough ways to burn fossil fuels, Richard Branson should soon be able to oblige with his new venture – Virgin Ejaculactic
I must admit that I am rather fond of quoting Sir Arthur Eddington as having once said, “…if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” Without quibbling over the detail, the Law of Conservation of Mass is pretty darn close; but what, you may ask, has this got to do with climate change denial?
Conservation of mass of water
Well, consider for a moment that scientists seem to agree that there has been a 4% increase in the average moisture content of the Earth’s atmosphere since 1970. That being the case, I am bound to say that this extra 4% is making its presence felt in the UK at the moment! This year we have had the wettest 3 months (April – June) in over 100 years; the wettest June on record; the rain is still falling (sometimes as much as 80mm in a day); and – we are now being told – there is no change anticipated in coming weeks. So, if you’re coming over for the Olympics, expect to get wet!
However, whilst the UK suffers from near Biblical levels of flooding, if the Law of Conservation of Mass is to be upheld and – all other things like terrestrial ice volume remaining equal(!) – the volume of water in the oceans is to remain constant, then it must be failing to rain somewhere else. If so, is there any evidence to support this
theory Law? Well, funnily enough, there is: Whilst the UK continues to receive more rain than it wants or needs (all hose pipe bans and drought restrictions have now been lifted), many parts of the World continue to suffer from persistent drought (in sub-Saharan West Africa) and/or record-breaking temperatures (in most of North America).
Sadly, none of this seems to stop self-confessed scientifically-illiterate English graduates such as James Delingpole from ridiculing the entire notion of global warming simply because it is raining a lot here at the moment. It may seem that he has just got a nasty case of tunnel vision and/or short-term memory loss but this is what the fake sceptics always do; they never look at the big picture: Rather than look at daily, monthly, or even annual average temperatures over multi-decadal periods to determine significant long-term trends; they just cherry pick data to reach fallacious conclusions such as “global warming stopped in 1998″.
I am therefore left hoping that the 57% of the British adult population that seem to fall for this kind of nonsense will soon decide that it is time to stop running down the up escalator and, by embracing the reality of what is happening, decide to become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. If not, climate change denial may well lead to a failure to conserve mass; with the mass in question being the sustainable number of humans this planet can support in the long-term.
Conservation of mass of carbon
If the Law of Conservation of Mass explains why anthropogenic
global warming climate disruption is not invalidated by any amount of cold weather or torrential rainfall in one place; can it be used to validate concern regarding a 40% increase CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Funnily enough, it can: Since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th Century, a vast amount of fossilised carbon has been burnt; with the carbon it contained combining with oxygen in the air to form CO2. Note here that the oxygen was in the air anyway; whereas the carbon had been out of circulation for hundreds of millions of years. All this new carbon has to go somewhere and, given that it will be many more millions of years before any of it gets taken back out of circulation by nature, it is either making the atmosphere warm-up or it is reducing the pH of seawater (just enough to make life very difficult for corals and shellfish).
So then, what is the human response to all this? Shall we stop burning the fossil fuels now we know we’re causing a problem? It doesn’t look like it! It seems far more likely that we shall gamble the future habitability of all the planets diverse ecosystems on finding a way to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass by artificially removing this carbon from the biosphere: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). And do you know what I find most astonishing about CCS? It is the fact that our governments are spending huge sums of money on long-term tests to simulate the effects of CO2 leaking from a submarine CCS repository – to see if it has any noticeable effects on marine life?
Errr, hello-oh? If any CO2 ever escapes from any CCS repository, the entire exercise will have been a complete waste of time and money! The CO2 will be back in circulation and the Law of Conservation of Mass will have won (again). If the genie will not stay in the bottle we will all be in big trouble: Rather than being likely to “collapse in deepest humiliation”; such a failure to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass will probably result in the collapse of the entire planetary ecosystem; because of our other big problem – the Law of Conservation of Energy: The reason the atmosphere is warming up in the first place; more energy is coming in from the Sun than is getting out into Space!
So, this year’s weather should be a wake-up call to all of us: Irrespective of the actual kind of extreme weather being experienced in any one place, the impacts on agriculture seem to be equally destructive and spiralling food costs the inevitable end result: All just as was predicted by people dismissed for decades as doomsayers: People like Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Meadows, E.F. Schumacher, William Ophuls, Mathis Wackernagel, Ernest Callenbach, and Lester Brown… It looks like that darn ‘wolf’ finally showed up!
Funnily enough, it turns out that a doubling in the size of the global human economy every 50 years is not sustainable after all; and worshipping at the Temple of the God of Growth has got us in some serious trouble; otherwise known as a global debt crisis (see the short video embedded below). We thought we could just lend imaginary money to each other indefinitely but someone blinked and the spell was broken. Sadly, it turns out the Emperor was naked after all; it’s just a shame that by the time we realised this we were all completely sold on the latest fashion ourselves: The New Clothes are everywhere; and we have all been left looking for fig leaves to cover our genitals.
Just as The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al) predicted all those years ago, the Earth is running out of the ability to cope with the effects of our chronically dysfunctional mis-management of it. This was why, as I pointed out six months ago, the failure of food harvests in 2010 led to the Arab Spring of 2011… Are you, like me, wondering what is going to happen this time around? My prediction is that some economist such as Tim Worstall will get himself on TV and tell everyone that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a load of old rubbish; and that technology will save us from the consequences of our selfish pursuit of profit at any cost; and from our failure to recognise that we humans are not superior to nature – we are part of it – and we cannot survive without it. Or, to put it another way, as a Native American tribal leader once did:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
On the day after it was announced that unemployment has reached a 17-year high in the UK, I hesitate to complain about the fact that Morrisons has promised to open 25 new supermarkets in the UK next year and create 7000 new jobs. However, when, if ever, is someone going to decide that we have got enough? Or is this yet another example of Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (cunningly disguised – in this instance – as aggressive competition for increased market share)? Will it only be accepted that there are enough when everybody works in a shop; and we all spend all our time buying and selling each other stuff we don’t need?
It is not quite a year ago that the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme entitled ‘What Price Cheap Food‘ containing the startling revelation that, in the two years between 1 November 2008 and 1 November 2010, town planners approved applications for at least 577 new supermarkets across the UK. Can it really be necessary, or sustainable, for 5 new supermarkets to open every week?
According to government statistics, there are approximately 90 thousand grocery stores in the UK. Given a current UK population of say 63 million people living in approximately 27 million households, this equates to 1 store for every 700 people and/or 1 store for every 300 households. So I ask again, when will we have enough?
May be too much choice is one of the reasons more and more people are becoming obese? Seriously though, if we are all eating and or consuming roughly the same amount of stuff, what is driving the demand for all these new stores? Is it justified by the rate of population growth? Well, let’s see: Net migration to the UK in 2010 was 252 thousand. Based on the above statistics, this would have justified the opening of 360 stores but only if all existing stores were operating at full capacity. I know no-one likes to wait in line to pay for their shopping but, be reasonable, this does not justify the perpetual opening of new stores does it?
No, I’m sorry to say it but, I think this is just one example of what Herman Daly called growthmania; and the success of Capitalism appears to depend upon it. Capitalism demands perpetual growth to pay dividends to shareholders; and guarantee that we all get a reasonable pension when we retire. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we are all slaves to the machine and the machine (although not working very well at present) is economic growth. Where and when will it all end? Will shareholders and pensioners still be happy when, as people like Tim Worstall would have us believe, quantitative growth has been replaced by qualitative development?
As Daly once said, “The Earth may be developing, but it is not growing!“. Remember that next time you go into a new shop looking for a bargain, won’t you…?
As promised last week, this is the first of five posts reviewing the central part of Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s book, Betrayal of Science and Reason. Despite having been published 15 years ago, its message seems very apt for today – because so little has changed: In Chapter 5, then, the Ehrlichs set about demolishing the most commonly-stated contrarian arguments (i.e. “fables“) for dismissing concern regarding population growth and/or food supply. They call the people that do this “the brownlash“…
This chapter therefore provides a useful analysis to balance out the views of economists like Tim Worstall. Regular readers of this blog may recall that, after he discovered (by Google search or whatever) that I had suggested he was climate change denier, he launched a very detailed rebuttal (in the form of a lengthy exchange of comments with me). Furthermore, when challenged by me regarding Limits to Growth issues instead, he persisted in asserting that “resource scarcity is not a binding constraint upon economic growth” and that “[p]opulation as a problem is over…“
This is exactly the kind of thinking that the Ehrlichs deconstruct in their 1996 book: To do this, they present a series of arguments made (most commonly it seems) by economists that they characterise as “technological optimists”. If I may adopt the terminology I have used in my MA dissertation and on this site, this may be understood as either Promethean or Cornucopian belief (depending on whether reliance is placed upon human ingenuity or nature’s abundance). So then, let us look at some of these “fables”…
To tackle the first of these (i.e. Worstall’s position) the Ehrlichs’ cite Julian Simon 1994 assertion that “humanity now has the ability (or knowledge) to make it possible to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.” To which they responded by pointing out that if growth did not decline from 1994 levels, it would take only 1900 years for the mass of the human population to equal the mass of the Earth! (p. 66). Worstall’s response to this was to dismiss this as an absurd abstraction because, even in 1996, it was expected that the global human population would eventually stop growing as a result of improvements in education, healthcare and overall living standards. May be so. However, that will only happen if poverty and malnutrition can be eliminated; a battle that – just as the Ehrlichs first predicted in 1968 – we are still losing.
The other main fables about population and food are therefore those that suggest that starvation is just a problem of food distribution (not production) and that the planet is not overpopulated. In order to deconstruct these fables, however, it is necessary to understand what is meant by ecological carrying capacity and thereby to understand that the planet can have vast areas of wilderness that are completely uninhabited and still be overpopulated. As I pointed out in the second part of my posts on the theory of Ecological Modernisation, the concept of optimum population has quite a heritage – having first been recognised by Aristotle.
The Ehrlichs start by pointing out that the ecological carrying capacity (of an ecosystem to support a population of any given species) is not a pre-determined and unchangeable number. As with all other limits to growth, confronting it can be delayed by virtue of technological advances. However, if it may be defined as the population the Earth can support in the long term without degrading the environment then, arguably, we have already exceeded this limit. Even in 1996, no individual nation was supporting its population on a self-contained sustainable basis. As the Ehrlichs’ remarked, “Homo sapiens is collectively acting like a person who happily writes ever larger checks without considering what’s happening to the balance of the account” (p.68). Therefore, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, groundwater mining, and the extinction of other species are all evidence of human overpopulation. So is climate change. However, if humanity would collectively modify its behaviour, the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity could be increased. Unfortunately, if that is going to involve a more equitable distribution of food and living standards, we will not all be able to like we do in the West. We just cannot have it both ways: Either we have a problem with population or we have a problem with food supply – we cannot deny both problems simultaneously.
So is poverty and starvation a problem of distribution or production? In 1995, it was Dennis Avery (i.e. co-author with of Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming in 2006) who claimed that “[f]amine is a thing of the past for most of the world’s population“. Whilst the Ehrlich’s point out that things would be much better if humans were not carnivores, they also acknowledge that we are never all going to voluntarily stop eating meat. We must deal with the world as it is, and as it is, we do not have enough good quality farmland to grow enough crops to feed enough cattle to provide 6 or 7 billion people with a good balanced diet. This is the reality of overpopulation.
The brownlash’s response to this is to appeal to the ability of technology to solve the problem, but crop yields per hectare are falling – not rising – and I for one do not want to eat artificial meat grown in a laboratory. So what is the solution? Well, we cannot turn the clock back but we can, and should, modify our collective behaviour to limit the continuing degradation of the environment that is exacerbating the overpopulation problem. However, we can’t do that until people stop denying that we are not causing the problems.
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that it is “the UK’s original free-market think-tank…” but, is it the best, or the most sensible? This would appear to be debatable because, as Tim Worstall has kindly pointed out, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) [which claims to be “the UK's leading libertarian think-tank...”] accepts that climate change “is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it”. Furthermore, this is the position adopted by the Policy Exchange [see Moselle and Moore (2011) p.6] and the Taxpayers’ Alliance [see Sinclair (2009) pp.3-5].
Needless to say, they all disagree with many of the methods of mitigation currently being pursued, but so do I. That is not the point. The point is that the IEA seems doggedly committed to promoting the view that anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is either a fantasy, a scam, or a problem that is not worth the economic cost of fixing. I mean, they are seriously behind the curve on this one…
The remainder of what I have to say here is based on my reading of the IEA’s 2008 publication, Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists, (still for sale on their website), compiled and contributed to by Colin Robinson.
– Ian Byatt’s contribution is simply a (Nordhausian) critique of the very low discount rate used in the Stern Review, which Byatt claims results in gross underestimation of the real costs of proposed actions to mitigate AGW (page 92-113).
– David Henderson appears to concede that the climate is changing (as it has done before); but that the magnitude of the problem has been overstated (i.e. conspiracy theory); and that no radical action is therefore required (page 72-5).
– Russell Lewis is clearly a fan of the argument that AGW is a false alarm; considers that current concern is as flawed as that in the 1970s over an approaching ice age (page 5-7); and believes that prominent theologians, politicians, and philosophical scientists have all been duped by what he cites author Michael Crichton has having termed “a kind of fundamentalist religion” (page 40).
– Julian Morris uses classic denialist arguments that CO2 is not a pollutant and that climate change is natural to dispute the reality of a legitimate scientific consensus view that AGW is actually happening; and to support the view that environmentalism is a new religion (page 132).
– Alan Peacock, however, uses religious-sounding rhetoric to reach the conclusion that AGW is an anti-libertarian conspiracy (pages 114 and 130 respectively).
– Colin Robinson agrees that “environmental alarmism” has some of the characteristics of a new religion in his Introduction, which he considers to be dangerous precisely because it challenges the status quo and the sensibility of business as usual. In his second contribution to the collection of essays, he also criticises modelling/forecasting as inherently unreliable; and says any predictions must be treated with scepticism in the light of previous false alarms (pages 42 and 66 respectively).
These guys are unquestionably all extremely well-respected economists and/or businessmen, but they seem to have allowed this to cloud their judgement: Because of their absence of any scientific expertise, rather than engage in rational debate over the highly-probable scientific reality of AGW or the equally-likely political necessity of taking mitigating action to avoid unprecedented environmental changes, they prefer to invoke the supposed irrationality of concern over AGW.
This would appear to lend weight to the argument of those that have suggested that it is Capitalist economics and/or consumerism that is/are the problem; what Daly calls “growthmania” and Hamilton “growth fetishism”. Whatever you want to call it, some economists (at the IEA at least) appear to have decided that they cannot afford the IPCC to be right; and are therefore willing to grasp hold of any evidence they can find (or that other conservative think tanks feed to them) that may confirm this view. In other words, this is cognitive dissonance leading to confirmation bias; being dressed-up as economic rationalism.
Moselle, B. & Moore, S. (2011), ‘Climate Change Policy – Time for Plan B’, Policy Exchange.
Sinclair, M. (2009), ‘Ending the Green Rip-off: Reforming climate change policy to reduce the burden on families’, Taxpayers’ Alliance.
* Author of Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts (2010)
On 30 September, Tim Worstall responded to my highlighting his (albeit potentially unwitting) involvement in the production of Andrew Montford’s Hockey Stick Illusion book. In so doing, Tim has made clear that he accepts that climate change “is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it”. This very clear statement was very welcome; and stands in stark contrast with my attempt to summarise his position without actually having read his Chasing Rainbows book from cover-to-cover! This may well have been unwise, but I do think I got it mainly right: My ambiguous and misleading remark that Tim is “ideologically opposed to market intervention” does not sit well alongside that in my next sentence that he believes “we need more globalisation and freer markets”. However, the latter would appear to be correct.
Leaving aside some initial confusion over my references to Greek mythology, the main thing we seemed to disagree on was interpreting the writings of former World Bank economist Herman Daly who, as I have highlighted elsewhere, is famous for saying things like “the Earth may be developing but it is not growing!” and has therefore spent much of his life advancing the idea of a steady-state economy (also known as ecological economics). However, Tim’s response to this was that many people misinterpret Daly and that “we can have GDP growth… just not greater resource use” and that “…growth will be constrained by the advance of technology“. Furthermore, in response to my suggestion that the interplay between unit efficiency and the scale of production is such that resource consumption will always accelerate (I was thinking of our use of motor cars), Tim suggested that, in developed economies at least, recycling will prevent perpetual growth in resource depletion (he was thinking of our re-use of metals). This difference of opinion is, I think, a neat summary of the potential for Ecological Modernisation to fail to dematerialise our economies and decouple environmental degradation from economic growth. However, aren’t we all missing the point that the ‘elephant in the room’ is in fact growth itself?
I believe Daly was very clear on this point. For example, he said “[w]ith continued growth in production, the economic subsystem must eventually overwhelm the capacity of the global ecosystem to sustain it“. Therefore, whereas Tim says that this does not exclude growth in the total value of goods and services (TFP or GDP growth?), as recently as 2004, Daly quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as having said, “Society must cease to look upon ‘progress’ as something desirable. Eternal ‘progress’ is a nonsensical myth. What must be implemented is a not a steadily expanding economy but a zero growth economy; a stable economy”. So, Tim, can we resolve this apparent contradiction?
Since you mention energy and the Sun, Daly is also fond of quoting Sir Arthur Eddington, who once said, “But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”. Since energy can neither be created or destroyed (merely turned from useful forms such as fossil fuel to less useful forms such as heat), is it not significant that, as of 27 September, humanity has demanded a level of services from nature equivalent to what the planet can provide for all of 2012?
Whilst we may be currently pursuing red-herrings such as wind farms (instead of tidal power), as a species, our current energy usage is quite literally unsustainable (and our numbers are still growing). Entropy is slowly converting useful energy into less-useful energy. Humanity is therefore overdrawn at its Ecosystem bank account. End of story. Surely?
Following on from my previous post – and elaborating upon the research described on my About page – what follows is a summary of why non-scientific journalists are now a threat to the long-term survival of human beings (in anything like current numbers)…
Strictly speaking, Andrew Montford is not a journalist, although he is a published author and is the creator of the sceptical Bishop Hill blog. With regard to his Hockey Stick Illusion book, however, it should be noted that:
– He wrote this after being directed (via Tim Worstall’s blog) to Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog; and
– Whereas neither Montford nor Worstall is a scientist, Canadian mining consultant McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick are two of the key players in the denialist campaign.
Therefore, although sceptical journalists rarely identify them, this is indicative of the likely sources of their misinformation.
In a wide-ranging assessment of both conventional and new media, political science academics Neil Gavin and Tom Marshall report research findings that, leaving aside the output of individual sceptics, suggest editors have come under pressure since “Climategate” to give sceptics more exposure. However, referring to that scandal, they concluded that the leaked emails “…did not suggest the scientific consensus was fatally flawed, peer-review undermined, or IPCC reports worthy of dismissal. Consequently, if the broadcasters continue to give climate sceptics significant coverage, they will be doing the public a serious disservice, especially in the run-up to the next IPCC report around 2012–2013” (2011: 8 – Abstract viewable here).
Unfortunately, there is as yet no sign that many journalists are either willing or able put a stop to the nonsense of giving discredited minority views equal exposure. On the contrary, as I highlighted yesterday, the Conservative Think Tanks (CTTs) are trying harder than ever to get their voice heard; and non-scientific journalists are just blindly repeating the propaganda. This is why the empirical research first published by Peter Jacques et al in 2008 is so important; it provides detailed evidence to back up the claims made by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt implicating US- and UK-based CTTs in a deliberate misinformation campaign.
In prefacing their research, Jacques et al. observed that:
“Since environmentalism is unique among social movements in its heavy reliance on scientific evidence to support its claims… it is not surprising that CTTs would launch a direct assault on environmental science by promoting environmental scepticism… (2008: 353).
Furthermore, based on their findings, they concluded that:
“Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement co-ordinated by CTTs…” (ibid: 364).
Jacques has also highlighted the central aim of CTTs as being to cause confusion and doubt amongst the general public, in order to prevent the creation of a popular mandate for change (i.e. achieved by using a tactic developed by the tobacco industry of countering supposedly “junk” science with their “sound” science), which he refers to as the “science trap” (2009: 148).
Based on the findings of the research published in 2008, Jacques therefore also concluded that environmental scepticism is a social counter-movement that uses CTTs to provide “political insulation for industry and ideology from public scrutiny”; and that this deliberate obfuscation stems from a realisation that “anti-environmentalism is an attitude that most citizens would consider a violation of the public interest” (2009: 169). However, Jacques does not blame the CTTs for the ecological crisis he feels we face, as they have merely exploited a dominant social paradigm; “because neoliberal globalism and its logic are protected from critique” (ibid: 119).
Protected from critique or not, I believe the current financial crisis is just the latest in a series of wake-up calls (of which AGW is the loudest) that would, apart from human pride and irrationality, make us change our ways…
Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011), ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change 21(3), pp.1035-44.
Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385.
Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.
I recently got into a discussion over on the Amazon website with another ex-Telegraph blogger, regarding Peter Taylor’s Chill, A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory: Does Climate Change Mean the World is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It? (2009).
In point of fact, it is this “discussion” that actually prompted my recent “marketplace of ideas” post (because the person in question admits to being “climate-illiterate” but is happy to ridicule the consensus view of AGW as being “warmist”). However, I digress…
I was asked to justify my claim that AGW is advancing faster than IPCC AR4 (2007) claimed, which I did. Unfortunately, the responses I got were either evasive, or indicative of an absolute refusal to look at the data provided to back up my claim; which is otherwise known as “blind prejudice”. Furthermore, when, frustrated by such evasion of the issues and a refusal to debate facts, I became progressively more “blunt”; I was accused of being abusive and claiming moral superiority.
However, everything I said during this “discussion” was very carefully worded to avoid such an accusation, because I want people to discuss the facts; rather than debating conflicting conspiracy theories: Therefore, I suggested that, “…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…”
Needless to say, the response(s) I got were not rational. Or were they? Take a look at the whole exchange for yourself and, please, tell me what you think:
“Welcome Return to Reality” – Discussion
P.S. (18 August): I turns out I got confused becasue, although it was “gadgetbadger” that asked the original question, it was “Badger O Stripey One” who then engaged in a fruitless debate (which he has now decided to end).
P.P.S. (21 August): See also my “discussion” with a certain Peter Freeman appended to the ‘About’ page (which is the reason for my here tagging Christopher Booker, James Delingpole, Martin Durkin, Andrew Montford, Brendan O’Neill, Melanie Philips, and Tim Worstall).