The Tough Guide to Climate Denial
I have previously referred to Robert Henson’s Rough Guide to Climate Change, in which is included his summary of the positions adopted by those that claim to be “sceptical”. In the past, I have merely paraphrased what he said but, in view of the recent pronouncement of Dr Richard A Muller’s Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study (see my update to yesterday’s post), I will now simplify it to what I would like to call the 6 Pillars of Climate Denial:
1. Global warming is not happening.
2. Global warming is not man-made.
3. Global warming is not significant.
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad.
5. Global warming is not a problem.
6. Global warming is not worth fixing.
(See Henson, 2007, p.257).
If these are the 6 Pillars of Climate Denial, then Muller has just knocked over the first one. However, his road back to reality is a long one; and he has much catching-up to do. For example: In 1988 James Hansen attributed climate change to human activity; by 1998 the UN had rejected all of the above as being invalid; and by 2008 even the Communist Party of China had conceded that climate change “arises out of development, and should thus be solved along with development” (Climate Change White Paper, p.13).
However, let us examine these pillars more closely (for the purposes perhaps of potential “controlled demolition“)…
— Pillars 1 to 3 are straightforward denial (whose days are clearly numbered).
— Pillar 4 is what I have referred to as Cornucopian (the belief that nature will find a way to mitigate the problem), which includes claiming that CO2 is not a pollutant and that the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages. There is a precedent for this kind of denial, in that acid rain was originally perceived as a potentially-beneficial way of fertilising the soil with nitrates, phosphates and sulphates.
— Pillar 5 is what I have referred to as Promethean (the belief that humans will find a way to mitigate the problem), which includes carbon capture and storage, geoengineering the atmosphere, and terraforming the planet Mars so that we can go and live there instead. These are dealing with the symptoms but not tackling the cause of the problem; and they are an abdication of our moral responsibility to all the other species with whom we share the Earth.
— Pillar 6 is what I have referred to as Economic Rationalism; and may well be the hardest Pillar to knock down, although Sir Nicholas Stern made a very good effort at doing so in 2006. He was of course, somewhat predictably, vehemently attacked by fellow economists such as William Nordhaus for doing so. However, as he himself has since said, normal marginal cost-benefit analysis rules do not apply (Stern 2009, p.13): Deciding whether or not to tackle climate change is not like deciding whether to build a bypass or just put up with traffic congestion.
On the contrary, deciding whether or not to tackle climate change is like deciding whether or not you want the Earth to be capable of supporting life as it is, in anything like current or expected numbers, human and non-human alike. As James Delingpole and his foolish kind might say, “Preservation of a habitable planet – what’s not to like?”