Lack of Environment

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

Welcome…


Welcome to Lack of Environment (established 10 August 2011).
Closing Down Sale - Everything Must Go Although scientifically trained (with degrees in Geology and Hydrogeology – see my About page), this blog arises from my having also got an MA in Environmental Politics and, as such, as the tagline indicates, is a blog on “the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems”… I hope you will take this on board; and enjoy the discussion.

“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” – Herman E. Daly (former World Bank economist). For more information on this, please see my It doesn’t have to be like this (21 May 2012).

N.B. As of February 2014, I am pursuing my MA research in the form of a PhD at the University of Liverpool.

Written by Martin Lack

10 August 2011 at 12:00

Posted in Environment

Seeing Jesus as a revolutionary heretic

The Royal Chapel of King Henry II at Dover Castle in Kent

The Royal Chapel of King Henry II at Dover Castle in Kent

Although it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Environment, I would like to mark the Jewish festival of the Passover – and the Christian celebration of Easter – by inviting all readers to pause for a moment of reflection: To take a moment to consider the story of the Last Supper (i.e. Jesus sharing the Passover meal with his followers the night before he was arrested) from the perspective of those who were actually there.

To do this, it is necessary to understand the religious beliefs and practices of Jewish people 2000 years ago. Therefore, if you will bear with me for a few moments, that is exactly what I will now do – with reference to one particular chapter of one book within the Old Testament (OT).

The Pentateuch is the Latin word used to describe the first five books of the OT (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy). However, scholars like to make things complicated and – therefore – divide these 5 books into 6 parts, as follows:
(1) Pre-history [Genesis Ch.1-11],
(2) The Patriarchs [Genesis Ch.12-50],
(3) The Exodus [Exodus Ch.1-18],
(4) The Law and the Tabernacle [Exodus Ch.19 – Numbers Ch.9],
(5) The Wilderness [Numbers Ch.10-36],
(6) The Speeches of Moses [Deuteronomy].

Leviticus lies wholly within part (4). It is, however, a great deal more than just a book full of Laws: It also forms the basis of much Jewish and Islamic teaching; provides a context to understand the rest of the Bible; and highlights the radical way in which Jesus fulfilled a great deal of OT prophecy. Chapter 17 of Leviticus is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of the latter because, in it, God is reported to have said:

I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar… (Leviticus 17: 10-11)

This command, not to eat blood (deliberately or otherwise), must be seen in the context of contemporaneous pagan practices – and those discovered since (e.g. cannibalism) – all of which were based on the belief that drinking the blood of sacrifices empowered those who did it.

Non-Christian theologians often say that Jesus hijacked the Passover. But, in fact, he seems to have done a great deal more than that: There are four accounts of the Last Supper in the New Testament, and all four of them describe Jesus identifying his blood with that of a sacrifice; and/or commanding his followers to drink the wine as if it were his blood (which they clearly did). Jesus therefore identified himself with the Lamb of the Passover, but he also identified himself with another important date in the Jewish calendar – The Day of Atonement – as described in Leviticus chapter 16.

This involved the selection of two goats: the first of which was sacrificed as an atonement for sin; whilst the second was sent away into the desert having had the sins of all the people ceremoniously transferred onto it (i.e. ‘the scapegoat’) by the High Priest.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” However, in fulfilling it, Jesus appears to have rendered its continued observance unnecessary. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews perhaps puts this best: “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10: 3-4).

As it happens, both Jews and Muslims seem to have realised this some time ago – as neither routinely make ritual sacrifices anymore! However, both still observe the practice of not drinking the blood of animals. Leviticus 17 is also the basis of the opposition of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) to having blood transfusions.

From its very earliest days, therefore, the practice of those that came to be known as ‘Christians’ to meet to re-enact the Last Supper was the main reason for Jewish opposition. It is also one of the reasons why, even today, Christianity is seen as heresy by Jews, Muslims, JWs, and many others.

If I have not already upset you enough by this very politically-incorrect post, there is one other way in which I think the existence of Leviticus 17 should inform our attitude to the central message of Christianity: I have a scientific background and, as such, I know – and have known – many people who invoke the ‘Christianity is a myth’ reason for not considering the message more carefully. According to such people, Christianity was invented by the followers of Jesus after his death or – even more outrageously – by St Paul (who was an expert in Jewish Law).

One of the main reasons this argument has become so popular today is that it is now widely understood that St Paul was the first to actually write down the story of the Last Supper. However, there is absolutely no reason why any self-respecting Jew – let alone St Paul – would make up a story like that of the Last Supper because it directly contradicts chapter 17 of Leviticus. Similarly, they would not have made up the story of the Crucifixion because they believed the long-awaited Messiah would lead them to a great victory over their Roman oppressors. In short, if you were a Jew, ‘You could not make this stuff up!’

I shall leave the final word (almost) to one of the greatest Christian philosophers of the last century, C. S. Lewis:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity)

Happy Easter to one and all. (Normal service will be resumed shortly)

Written by Martin Lack

17 April 2014 at 00:02

Climate change denial IS conspiracy theory

with 41 comments

I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change.  People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.

However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet.  This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts.  Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:

Scientific conspiracy theories:  ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).

Political conspiracy theories:  ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).

Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it.  This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.

Stephan Lewandowsky

In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things:  NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.

In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research.  Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.

Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether.  Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) - who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.

As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:

On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.

Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website –  the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).

If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.

It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.

————

UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction

Climate change is here and now

with 4 comments

Please don’t be a Climate Ostrich.

The UN is not being ‘alarmist’ in order to achieve global Zionist and/or Communist domination.

Working Group 2 of AR5 warns that the effects of human caused climate change are most likely to be severe, pervasive and irreversible.

The pH of seawater is increasing due to rising CO2 content of our oceans. Because the pH scale is logarithmic, pH 7 is ten times more acidic that pH 8.

The threat to marine life from continuing pH reduction in seawater is a scientific fact, not a political conspiracy.

As the BBC’s Roger Harrabin reported last week, dying coral off the coast of Papua New Guinea does not care that the CO2 bubbling out of the sea floor is volcanic in origin – it is just dying.

For Marine Biochemistry 101 – please see Wikipedia.

Written by Martin Lack

31 March 2014 at 17:07

If I cannot blog I will Tweet

with 12 comments

I am struggling to make time to blog so may have to investigate getting Tweets to appear here automatically.  In the meantime, there is this…

David Cameron at PMQs last Wednesday (Guardian/Press Association)

History repeats itself because people do not listen

with 28 comments


Thanks to Greenpeace for the inspiration…

Industry has been manufacturing doubt regarding inconvenient science for decades. They have confused the public and paralysed our politicians. All we must do now is deal with the consequences.

Over to Greenpeace for the call to action:

Is this what it would take to get action from the government on climate change? http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM

With a climate change denying environment minister like Owen Paterson in charge, it may well be. But we don’t have to wait to see. Join the call to sack Paterson – and replace him with someone serious about climate change. http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM

What more can I say? 

Written by Martin Lack

13 February 2014 at 18:34

On the Origin of the Specious by Means of Climate ‘Scepticism’…

with 26 comments

…or the Preservation of Favoured Rhetoric in the Service of Liars.

With apologies to Charles Darwin for the parody of the title of his most famous work (Darwin, 1859), I have decided to mark the start of work on my PhD by posting here the Abstract and Conclusions of my MA dissertation, ‘A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the United Kingdom’.  Existing readers will, no doubt, be aware that the Abstract has been on the About page of this blog since its inception, and other bits and pieces have appeared over time (links embedded below). However, the Conclusions have never been published here before (although I have often alluded to them).  The whole thing, of course, was the basis for my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, which can be purchased in hardcopy or eBook form from any decent online bookstore (click on book cover, right, for details).

Before reading further, however, please note the following:
1. Since writing this, three years ago, I have stopped using the more familiar – but imprecise – term ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’ (AGW), in favour of the less familiar – but more precise – term ‘Anthropogenic Climate Disruption’ (ACD).
2. It is not possible to explain the totality of late 20th Century warming unless humans are the primary cause.
3. Disputing this necessitates believing that the majority of climate scientists are either: (a) being stupid; (b) reaching unjustifiable conclusions; or (c) wilfully stating things they know to be false.
4. Whereas 3(a) is highly improbable and 3(b) is entirely irrational, if 3(c) were true, unlike industry-sponsored misinformation campaigns, it would be unprecedented.   However, fortunately for all those interested in avoiding ideologically-driven denial of science in the service of vested business interests, evidence continues to pour in to show that the scientific consensus is entirely reasonable, rational and reliable.

——-

Abstract
Discourse analysis is understood in the sense proposed by John Dryzek (2005) that it involves the textual assessment of (a) basic entities recognised or constructed; (b) assumptions about natural relationships; (c) agents and their motives; and (d) key metaphors and rhetorical devices used.  As a piece of social science research, no attempt is made to prove or disprove the validity of the scientific consensus view that climate change is happening and that human activity is its primary cause.  However, this reality has been assumed solely in order to analyse the views of climate change sceptics that dispute it.  To this end, the philosophical roots of scepticism; its possible misappropriation for ideological reasons; and the psychological causes of denial are reviewed.  In this context, based on the finding of numerous researchers that conservative think-tanks (CTTs) often act as the primary driving force of campaigns to deny environmental problems, the output of such UK-based CTTs is analysed, along with that of scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others.  Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction.  However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate.  If so, Peter Jacques (2009) would appear to be right to conclude that anti-environmentalism (i.e. environmental scepticism) needs to be exposed as being “in violation of the public interest”.

Conclusions
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus – and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories of various kinds – the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion.  In contrast to all of the above, the politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic rationalist arguments.

Climate change sceptics often object to being called ‘denialists’ on the grounds that they accept the climate is changing but do not accept that we are causing it.  However, this appeal to reason is wholly reliant on the complexity of climate science; and the consequential limited understanding of it amongst the vast majority of the population.

Therefore, although many sceptical scientists and economists may wish to draw analogies between concern for the environment and religious belief; and be very dismissive of “an uncritical acceptance of this new conventional wisdom” (Peacock 2008: 114), this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that, in addition to being the “greatest market failure in history” (Stern) and “a failure of modern politics” (Hamilton), AGW is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity (cf. Meadows et al. 2005: 223).  As James Lovelock has put it:

Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy.  It is true that many scientists, especially climatologists, now see that our planet has the capacity to regulate its climate and chemistry, but this is still a long way from being conventional wisdom (Lovelock 2006: 21-2).

Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ (i.e. the FFL and/or CTTs) by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of AGW; and/or the unsustainable nature of exponential growth in economic development, resource depletion, and environmental pollution (Hamilton, Jacques, MacKay, Oreskes & Conway, etc.).

If the consensus view of AGW is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt to the realities of AGW in a timely fashion has already been delayed by several decades.  This would make it imperative that this delay should end; and that action should be taken.  However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate.  If so, it is also imperative that those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ – waging this disinformation campaign – should be exposed as the real enemies of humanity and the planet.

It is hoped that this research will be of benefit to those seeking to achieve this end.

References

Darwin, C. (1859), On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Murray.

Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd ed).  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hamilton, C. (2010), Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change.  London: Earthscan.

Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life.  Farnham: Ashgate.

Lack, M. (2013), The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse.

Lovelock, J. (2006), Revenge of Gaia.  London: Allen Lane.

MacKay, D. (2009), Sustainable Energy: without the Hot Air.  Cambridge: UIT.  Available online at http://withouthotair.com.

Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt.  New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

Peacock, A. (2008), ‘Climate change, religion and human freedom’, in Robinson C. (ed), Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists.  London: IEA, pp.114-31.

Stern, N., et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change.  London: HM Treasury.

——-

And finally
If you have a genuine interest in understanding who it is that has been lying about climate change for decades, based on the research I have since done (in order to draft my PhD proposal), I would recommend that you read any or all of the following:

Capstick, S. & Pidgeon, N. (forthcoming). ‘What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public’. Global Environmental Change. Corrected proof available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Carvalho, A. & Burgess, J. (2005). ‘Cultural Circuits of Climate Change in U.K. Broadsheet Newspapers, 1985–2003’. Risk Analysis, 25 (6), pp.1457-69.  PDF available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011). ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change, 21(3) pp.1035-44.  Abstract available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385.  Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

O’Neill, S.J., & Boykoff, M. (2010).  Climate denier, skeptic, or contrarian? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107:E151.  Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Sceptics (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism).  PDF of Executive Summary available here [accessed 01/02/2014].

This is participatory democracy in action

with 5 comments

Fantastic news!  Despite all their attempts to obfuscate, the Conservative Party’s attempt to curtail democracy in the UK has been defeated.  This is how 38 Degrees reported the news to me by email.

——

Dear Martin,

Great news. Last night the government was defeated in a crucial House of Lords vote on the gagging law. [1] A key change which took out one of the worst parts of the bill was voted through.  There’s more to do, but this is a huge step forward.Over 160,000 people signed the last-minute petition to ask Lords to back these important changes. [2] It helped tip the balance and people power worked.  The petition was integral in winning the vote and persuading Lords to protect freedom of speech.

Just before the big vote, Lord Harries – who proposed the changes – was handed the massive petition, and he referred to it several times during the debate.

The proposed changes were backed by Lords from across the political spectrum.  Lord Tyler, an influential Lib Dem peer, joined with Baroness Mallalieu (Labour) and Lord Cormack (Conservative), to support the amendment. [3] The government were defeated by 237 votes to 194.

Lord Harries receiving the petition
Lord Harries receiving the petition in the House of Lords just before the debate.

Lord Harries said:
“Thank you to everyone who added their name to the petition. It was amazingly powerful that I was able to tell fellow Lords during the debate, that I had with me a petition with the names of over 130 NGOs who had signed up to the petition and a staggering 160,000+ signatures of people who have spoken out about this dangerous law.

This was an impressive achievement which will not have been lost on their lordships.  As a result, I am pleased to say that we defeated the Government on some of the worst parts of their proposals.“

The campaign is working and together we’ve got the government on the back foot.But we’re not out of the woods yet.  Next week, on the 21st January, the Lords will hold their final vote on changes to the law.

And if we manage to push through further changes, there’s a chance that the government may try to undo our hard work by calling a fresh vote in the House of Commons.  So we’ll each need to keep an eye on our MPs.

“Thanks so much to everyone who’s taken action against the gagging law so far. It’s been amazing to see people power in action. We’ve made great strides in protecting democracy, but the fight’s not over yet”
Liz Hutchins – Friends of the Earth

It’s been an amazing campaign so far, with 38 Degrees members up and down the country throwing the kitchen sink at the gagging law. [4] This isn’t the first time that 38 Degrees members have caused a stir on a big vote in Parliament.  Together we’ve won votes on protecting our forests, stopping Rupert Murdoch and the privatisation of the NHS.

But this is about more than just political point scoring.  Some of our core values are around protecting democracy and fairness.  38 Degrees members have shown again that we will stand up together for what we believe in – and that when we do, it makes a real difference.

Thanks for everything you do,

Robin, David, Belinda and the 38 Degrees team

P.S. Here’s a little more detail on what happened in the Lords last night:

Lord Harries’ amendment (amendment 45) centred on staff costs for charities and campaign groups. [5]

The government wanted the gagging law to place heavy restrictions on how much campaigning work staff at charities or campaigning groups could do.  That could have meant, for example, limits on how many public meetings about the NHS 38 Degrees staff could help organise.

Amendment 45 removed most of these restrictions on staff.

You can see the wording of the amendment, and a full list of who voted for it, here: http://www.parliament.uk/Templates/LordsDivisions/Pages/LordsDivisions.aspx?id=51023&epslanguage=en&date=2014-Jan-15&itemId=1&session=2013-May-08

There are still other big problems with the gagging law – such as restrictions on campaigning in individual constituencies, and restrictions which hinder charities and campaign groups working together in coalitions.  Votes on these issues were postponed until next week – so there’ll be more to do to make sure they go the right way.

NOTES:
[1] The Guardian: Peers vote to exclude some staff costs from charity spending limits: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/15/peers-vote-exclude-staff-charity-spending
[2] The petition: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/fix-the-gagging-law#petition
[3] Hansard transcript of the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/ml50-R-II-rev.htm
[4] Gagging law public meetings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlGKzTuDp60
[5] Lord Harries’ amendments in full: http://civilsocietycommission.info/lord-harries-of-pentregarths-amendments/


38 Degrees is funded entirely by donations from thousands of members across the UK. Making a regular donation will mean 38 Degrees can stay independent and plan for future campaigns. Please will you chip in a few pounds a week? https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/start-a-direct-debit

38 DEGREES Registered Company No. 6642193

———

As I have now said to my (evangelical Christian) Conservative MP (who was not persuaded by prior argument):

” I am glad that sanity has prevailed… and that it was a retired Anglican bishop who helped it do so.”

Written by Martin Lack

16 January 2014 at 19:26

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