Welcome to Lack of Environment (established 10 August 2011).
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.
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…
— Martin Lack (@LackMartin) March 3, 2014
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?
…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.
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”.
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.
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.
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].
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.
Great news. Last night the government was defeated in a crucial House of Lords vote on the gagging law.  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.  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.  The government were defeated by 237 votes to 194.
Lord Harries said:
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”
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.  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. 
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.
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.”
“The red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, are pop culture symbols representing the choice between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue).”
In September 2010, I resigned from my last full-time job (i.e. something for which an employer paid me for services rendered) in order to do a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Environmental Politics. This followed months (if not years) during which I had become increasingly concerned about ‘the painful truth of reality’ (that the Earth is no longer able to cope with size of the human population on it) and ‘the blissful ignorance of illusion’ (that perpetual growth in resource consumption and/or degradation are possible and/or sensible).
The last two-and-a-half years have, in many ways, been an absolute nightmare for me: I did not do my MA with the intention of returning to hydrogeology afterwards. Indeed, by the time I finished my MA, I had concluded that the most sensible thing would be for me to pursue my research in the form of a PhD. Despite all this, having investigated an array of alternative ways forward, I have spent a great deal of this time applying for hydrogeology jobs. However, having got my MA research published in the form of a book – and having had a number of academics subsequently tell me I should pursue my research further – I am now delighted to announce that:
I have been offered & accepted a place as a full-time PhD student at the University of Liverpool.
For me, doing my MA was the equivalent of Neo’s meeting with Morpheus in The Matrix. Just like the character of Neo in the movie, I have spent most of my life feeling there is something very wrong with reality – I just could not say why. In the course of doing my MA, however, I read a number of things that began to help me understand what the problem is. Chief amongst these were the following:
‘Betrayal of Science and Reason’ (1996) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.
‘Environmental Skepticism’ (2009) by Peter Jacques.
‘Requiem for a Species’ (2010) by Clive Hamilton.
‘Merchants of Doubt’ (2010) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
One third of my MA involved researching and writing a dissertation. As a result of my reading these books, I chose to research the subject of climate change scepticism – as summarised on the About page of this blog. Having completed my research, this is how summarised my work in the closing chapter of my dissertation (i.e. as submitted in August 2010):
Whereas the majority of [conservative think tanks] 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… 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… this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that… [anthropogenic climate disruption] is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity… 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. [‘Revenge of Gaia (2006) p.21-2].
…If the consensus view of [climate change] is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt… 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.
However, for this objective to be fully realised, it may be necessary to demonstrate the extent to which this disinformation is being orchestrated; rather than just being the consequence of a few misguided but influential people. For this to be achieved, would require significant research, based on Jacques et al. (2008), on a scale similar to that undertaken by Oreskes and Conway; and for this to be widely publicised in similar fashion to their Merchants of Doubt book. The starting point for all of this would therefore probably have to be a PhD.
And so, two years later than originally scheduled, that is what I am now going to do.
I should wish to hereby acknowledge the assistance of Elaine McKewon – who found my book on the Internet and contacted me – without whose encouragement I would not have produced a sensible research proposal; identified a shortlist of UK-based academics with relevant research interests; and sent it to them. Of this dozen (or so) academics, three or four expressed some interest, two suggested it needed refining and one offered to supervise it (and helped me refine it). All of this may explain why my activity level in the blogosphere reduced in the second half of 2013. Therefore, although I intend to continue blogging (albeit – as now – on an infrequent basis), my main focus for the next few years will be pursuing my research in the form of a PhD.
As such, my desire to “derail climate change denial” may still be a distant dream but, at least I can now say with confidence that it is a work in progress; one to which I am personally making an active contribution.
Most recent Email received from Greenpeace:
2013 was undisputably the year of the Arctic, and if you skip to the end of this email, you’ll find a link to a film that relives some of the highlights.
But don’t go just yet, because I want to pass on an amazing victory that you have been instrumental in achieving, even if you didn’t realise it. It involves the world’s largest palm oil trader and an incredible new commitment that could mean the difference between saving or wiping out the last Sumatran tigers.
Making palm oil shouldn’t mean destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. But dangerous and greedy companies are trashing them to grow oil palms. It’s pushing orangutans and tigers ever closer to extinction.
My colleagues have spent months investigating the palm oil industry. Everywhere they went – whether investigating oil palm grown illegally inside a national park, speaking to families trying to protect their livelihood, or working with charities that rescue animals from palm oil companies’ bulldozers – they came across the same name.
That name was Wilmar International.
You probably haven’t heard of Wilmar, but you’ve almost certainly bought something containing its palm oil. Wilmar is a commodities trader and 45% of the world’s palm oil passes through its hands – some coming from a number of very unsavoury companies.
Our evidence linked Wilmar and its customers to the destruction of tiger and orangutan habitat, human rights abuses and conflict with forest communities.
And throughout the autumn, we exposed how Wilmar was laundering this dirty palm oil and selling it to major brands, like Gillette, Ferrero, Cadbury, L’Oreal and Clearasil. Our campaigners in Indonesia protested at Wilmar’s offices and rolled out massive banners in freshly-cleared forest, showing Wilmar’s customers just what they were buying.
Then something interesting happened.
First Ferrero announced a detailed, ambitious plan to only buy forest-friendly palm oil. Then Mondelez (which makes Cadbury) and L’Oreal made an initial commitment to no deforestation (although they’re still working out the details).
And when its customers started moving, Wilmar had no choice but to follow suit.
On 5 December, Wilmar announced it would stop clearing forests and buying oil from companies that it knew were engaged in forest destruction. “We know from our customers and other stakeholders that there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil,” said Wilmar’s CEO, Kuok Khoon Hong as he launched their new ‘no deforestation’ policy, “and we intend to meet it.”
Even though you won’t have sent an email to Cadbury or L’Oreal about their palm use, being part of Greenpeace meant that you didn’t need to. Just the possibility that you and millions of others around the world might take action was enough to persuade these companies to act now. That’s the kind of power you hold.
So thank you for helping to make such outstanding progress, and for everything else we’ve achieved together this year.
And now here’s that video!
|Happy new year,
[Greenpeace (and me)]
Dear Readers (new and old),
In the hope that I may hereby cater for all possible tastes, 3 electronic Christmas cards are appended below: theological; geopolitical; and personalised. I trust that at least one of the attached will be appreciated.
Thanks for your interest in this blog; and/or your passionate advocacy for the issues it raises. Early in the New Year, I look forward to sharing with you some good news (which will also explain why my blogging activity has reduced in recent months).