Lack of Environment

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

I have decided to take the red pill

with 34 comments


“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).”

Wikipedia – ‘Red pill and blue pill’. (See also – ‘The Matrix’.)

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.


34 Responses

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  1. Oh wow! This is great news, Martin. Congratulations! When do you start?


    4 January 2014 at 07:31

    • Thanks Rachel. I applied to start this month but, given the lateness of the offer made (about a week before Christmas), Liverpool agreed I could start in February.

      Martin Lack

      4 January 2014 at 09:49

  2. Congratulations!

    Try to structure your PhD in a way that if the house of ostrich cards collapses during it, you can benefit from it (by analysis it) and not be left with an outdated topic.

    In Germany the FF utilities are in big trouble and the renewable energy is growing fast. That also changes the balance of power. With prices of renewable energy going down fast and their market share growing fast, it will be a matter of time before the same happens in other countries and makes the ostrich movement as irrelevant as the people who deny the moon landing or that HIV causes AIDS.

    Victor Venema

    4 January 2014 at 12:14

    • Many thanks, Victor – for both the best wishes and the advice. I think both my supervisor and I are aware of the need to do as you suggest. We have agreed that its primary purpose will be to illuminate, document and explain the denial of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), which has nothing to do with residual uncertainty in climate science (i.e. as it is mainly a feature of right-leaning media in English-speaking countries). As if it were not so already, within five years, it will be almost impossible for anyone to deny the reality of ACD.

      Martin Lack

      4 January 2014 at 12:44

  3. Good for you, Martin. Let’s hope that 2014 is The Year That Things Turned Around.


    4 January 2014 at 14:09

    • Thank you, [first name redacted by GCHQ]. Best wishes to you too.

      Martin Lack

      4 January 2014 at 14:13

      • Oops?


        4 January 2014 at 15:08

        • I was just not sure if I should use your first name in the public domain.

          Martin Lack

          4 January 2014 at 15:12

        • My ‘oops’ was in reference to my use of your first name — though I see, now I actually look, that you don’t hide it here. My own head is only slightly below the parapet: anyone who cares to dig could probably discover my given name without too much trouble, so your subterfuge wasn’t necessary — you would not have caused me offense. I have been less careful than perhaps I should have been over the years about retaining my anonymity. Why anyone should bother about small fry like me is, of course, another question. But even if one isn’t paranoid, They can still be out to get you. All of which is totally irrelevant to your red pill post, so… oops again :)


          4 January 2014 at 15:35

        • As of today, I think my head is well and truly over the parapet. On Twitter, anyone (trolls included) can follow you and re-tweet your output. As a result: (1) Marc Morano (not follower or following) re-tweeted one of my Tweets; and (2) I got a Tweet from WUWT as well. All-in-all, simply because most people do it, I think I probably should have tried to hide behind a cloak of anonymity too.

          Martin Lack

          4 January 2014 at 19:26

        • It’s an interesting conundrum. Personally, I tend to give more credence to comments made by folks whose monikers appear to be real names and less to those who masquerade as blatant pseudonyms (such as mine). Although an accreditation system of some sort might help to reduce the nastiness one can encounter on the innerwebz, it would also reduce the amount of honest opinions one meets, too. (There’s also the whole can of worms about who would be — who could be — entrusted with the accreditation system…


          16 January 2014 at 10:11

        • Thanks for your honesty (despite your ‘anonymity’). :-)

          Martin Lack

          16 January 2014 at 14:00

  4. Once again, you do yourself no favours with your insistence on calling AGW sceptics “climate change deniers”. You may believe you have valid reasons for this shorthand but, the majority of the population will fail to recognise them and assume you are accusing them of not only being stupid enough to acknowledge that the climate changes but also that you are conflating them with a particularly pernicious conspiracy theory. [Is it just me or does this sentence appear to be a random collection of words? – ML]

    For some reason you seem to believe that AGW scepticism causes all its adherents to utterly ignore all other aspects of environmentalism, such as recycling (the family fortune, such as it is, is mostly based on over a century of recycling, amounting to some millions of tons of reclaimed material), so your constant slur on vast numbers of otherwise environmentally sound individuals will not gain you the support that in the main your concerns merit.

    So go ahead and moderate this post, as is your custom, but try to understand that everyone who is sceptical of AGW is not at war with the rest of the environmental movement – many of make more significant contributions to it than you do yourself.

    Dump the “denial”, you will be doing both yourself and your movement a favour.

    Meanwhile, good luck with your doctorate.


    4 January 2014 at 14:13

    • True sceptics do not recycle arguments debunked by multiple strands of scientific investigation.

      Thus, if like e.g. Dick Lindzen, Pat Michaels and Lomborg, some continue to try to bamboozle the lay public by pushing articles in e.g. the WSJ or Forbes, rather than engage honestly in further scientific investigation then what else can we call them but deniers.

      Lionel A

      4 January 2014 at 15:01

    • If denial of anthropogenic climate disruption were based on science it would not be predominantly a feature of right-wing, English-language, media. This demonstrates that the disputation of policy implications is based on ideological prejudice rather than scientific uncertainty. Therefore, the only movement I am part of is that promoting the importance of not allowing ideological prejudices to determine which science people accept and which they reject.

      Dump the debunked arguments (e.g. AGW = new religion), you will be doing yourself a favour.

      Martin Lack

      4 January 2014 at 15:07

  5. Martin, just delighted for you. Well done. What a great start to the year.

    Paul Handover

    4 January 2014 at 14:20

  6. I wish you well and there are sure to be tough times. Keep at it.

    Lionel A

    4 January 2014 at 14:56

  7. What happens when the myriad of Cuadrilla like companies have done fracking and filed for bankruptcy or hidden behind company ‘restructuring’? How will any promises about after care be filled?

    This is a question being asked across the pond Fracking Wells Abandoned in Boom/Bust Cycle. Who Will Pay to Cap Them?.

    Talking of ponds, how resilient to flooding will fracking operations in the UK be especially now that the Environment Agency is going to have to shed thousands of jobs? Call me cynic but is this a ploy to get rid of any potential messengers?

    Sorry this is OT but the ‘fracking’ threads around here seem to be backwaters now, so move this post, or not, as you see fit.

    Lionel A

    4 January 2014 at 15:07

  8. It’s sad that you feel the need to label and demonise a portion of the population, because they interpret the science differently to how you’ve interpreted it. I used to feel like you, Martin, and fervently thought right wing types had a desire for money on their side, but I could never understand really how anyone can doom their own offspring. I now know its just a different interpretation of the data. Science has argued many topics for centuries, and this is one of them.

    Its become an emotive and therefore bitter argument though because politics has become involved. I look at CET data from the UK Met office and see temps have come down sharply over the last 10 years. I can interpret that as the period from about 1980-1999 being hot, and we are now cooling again, or I can interpret it as a brief reprieve before we are all toast. Which is it? I haven’t found any definitive proof of AGW, and I’ve been researching it now for about 5 years. Have you found definitive proof? [You have not been looking very hard and/or you have dismissed the IPCC as part of a global conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism on a credulous World. – ML]

    I like that you included a clause “if the consensus view of climate change is correct…” in your conclusion. It’s sad though that you then only considered what to do if it is correct. What if its wrong? What if it turns out to be solar cycles, clouds, ocean oscillations or any of the other myriad climate cycles we know so little about? How much money and time have we spent on what could well be a wrong hypothesis, instead of vaccinating children, providing clean water, or conserving the Amazon rainforest?


    5 January 2014 at 03:34

    • I am not labelling or demonising anyone other than the industry executives behind the organised campaign to dispute the nature of reality. All I am asking people to do is consider the facts of recent history; and recognise who it is that is lying to them.

      N.B. Further repetition of contrarian arguments such as ‘climate change mitigation is perpetuating poverty starvation and premature death’ will not be tolerated (so please don’t waste your anonymous time).

      All readers should note the continuing absence of a response to this comment by CheckedTheData.

      Martin Lack

      5 January 2014 at 15:02

  9. I haven’t found any definitive proof of AGW, and I’ve been researching it now for about 5 years.

    Well considering the century and more (Fourier, Tyndall, Arrhenius, Callendar, Plass etc., etc.) of available evidence that CO2 interacts with wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum effectively causing an increase in the amount of heat energy in Earth’s system year on year and that carbon budgeting informs on the amounts of increased GHGs going into the atmosphere (e.g. Keeling) from anthropogenic resources then your 5 years is less than a ‘dog-watch’. You clearly have not been studying where the science has been done and recorded.

    You could do worse than to check out The Warming Papers: The Scientific Foundation for the Climate Change Forecast which will provide the background to the above cited names, and more. David Archer has a site at the University of Chicago where you can access information, lectures and tools online.

    Given that solar output has been falling over the recent decade, and Svensmark’s line of enquiry, like Lindzen’s, has been shown as unfounded – repeatedly, then it is unlikely to be the sun.

    Remember that temperature is not heat. A system can build up heat without changing temperature. How much energy is required to melt a given mass of ice compared to raising that same mass through one degree Celsius? How much heat energy is involved in changing the state of that same given mass of H2O between water and vapour?

    What is the heat capacity of water and of ice?

    Why is the cryosphere reducing in volume year on year?

    Why does this matter? Because a slow down in the increase of atmospheric temperatures, note not a halt, does not mean that the system has stopped building up heat energy. The mass of the oceans, never mind adding in the limnic systems, compared to the mass of the atmosphere is…?

    You may like to consider why water is used in RICE (reciprocating internal combustion engine) cooling systems and central heating.

    Whatever, if one side of this debate is wrong which side would be responsible for the worst consequences? Think about this as an exercise in risk management.

    Climate change is already having dire consequences for many of the world’s disadvantaged and as extreme weather events, linked to climate change in turn linked to global warming, occur more frequently then the numbers of disadvantaged can only grow including here at home in the UK as more are forced homeless, uninsurable properties which decay faster, because they happened to live where floods and gales are at their worst.

    I cannot understand how some such as you can still argue in this vein.

    Lionel A

    5 January 2014 at 16:08

    • OK I bit! AGW = Anthropogenic Global warming, is what I haven’t found proof for. So yes looking hard! I started out thinking like you, both, Martin and Lionel. The research you point to is not for the A part of AGW. IPCC, political body that it is, will work it out soon, they’re revising their estimates down over time. 17 years of pause in one temp dataset meets the criteria for Santer to say that the A isn’t there.

      Climate change happens, whether we’re causing it, is the question. But you’ve made up your minds, that’s fine. [Incorrect. IPCC confidence in primary human cause has increased from 67% to 95% over 20 years. – ML]

      Lionel, Risk Management is my business, its what they pay me for, hence my desire to not break things now to possibly prevent a potential future problem.


      5 January 2014 at 19:41

      • I note your tacit admission that you are a conspiracy theorist (i.e. belief that the IPCC is a political organisation despite fact that its reports [expert summaries of science not demands for policy change] have been repeatedly neutered by governments).

        Given your line of business, do you consider companies like Munich Re to be part of the conspiracy too?

        Martin Lack

        6 January 2014 at 11:24

  10. I look at CET data from the UK Met office and see temps have come down sharply over the last 10 years.

    I did note that statement in your first response and passed on to more general issues. But if that is all you are basing your judgement on then you are way off.

    GHGs are building up in the atmosphere because of the extra put there by human activities as I said. Please inform us, with back up, why this is not the case.

    Now the physics, that I indicated, inform on how and why this is causing the planet to warm up.

    Clearly you have not checked out the data else you would know the planet is warming (ref. NASA, NOAA for starters) and sea levels are rising, big risks with that last one alone. Why is the incidence of Thames Barrier raising increasing?

    If you are going to argue against all that then tell us where your information is coming from for it is clear you have no idea of what is behind the risks we face.

    Its late and I am not going to chase up sources for you, if you are as bright as you make out then you can track down these yourself. Get informed, you have not found all the data to check.

    Lionel A

    5 January 2014 at 22:22

  11. ChekedTheData. Now there is a misnomer if ever there was one.

    Ben Santer for one, as long ago as 1996 in a paper “A search for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere” attributed the human factor in the GHG warming. This paper was used by Pat Michaels in an attempt to sway a US House Science Committee Hearing in November 2010 but Michaels ended up being ‘Black Knighted’ by Santer.

    If that is not enough then you may like to take on board a round up occasioned in discussion of a new paper in March 2013 and there is much other information around there, and many other places, that attribute the rise in GHGs to human activity.

    Maybe you haven’t found proof (in the loose sense as proof is for alcohol and the law) because you have not really looked that hard. Granted five years is not very long as a track record of study in this multidisciplinary field of study, see William James Burroughs ‘Climate Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach’ which provides insight although now a bit long in the tooth (2007) it has valid criticisms of Svensmark’s hypothesis.

    If that is not enough you may care to check out the work of William Ruddiman who has studied how human activities began altering the atmospheric composition and climate from as long ago as 12 K years. See his ‘Ploughs, Plagues and Petroleum’ for more as well as this “THE ANTHROPOGENIC GREENHOUSE ERA BEGAN THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO”, Sorry about the all cap’s, that is how it is.

    I could supply a more extensive reading list if you push hard.

    Lionel A

    6 January 2014 at 12:38

  12. […] 2014/01/04: LoE: I have decided to take the red pill […]

  13. Congratulations Martin. People like you, who have access to the facts, are necessary to dispute the rubbish vomited out by the climate change deniers.


    7 January 2014 at 23:09

    • Thanks Brian. I just wish it did not mean committing to another 4 years of subsistence living. However, such is the lot of many billions already and (if not killed-off entirely by our collective failure to prevent ACD) probably millions more by the time I finish my PhD.

      Martin Lack

      8 January 2014 at 18:34

  14. Martin, if you’ve the time or inclination, I’d like to invite you to become a member of the Facebook page, “Global Warming Fact Of The Day,” in which the group focuses on factual dialogue, rationally presented, and dismissives (Yale’s suggestion of a better term, also put forth by John Mashey) are not allowed to derail these discussions. there is also a high number of Skeptical Science contributors in the group, who are familiar with your work.

    Congrats on the Ph.D. efforts and we all–the non-dismissives–look forward to more of your input@!


    6 May 2014 at 01:37

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