Lack of Environment

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

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A brief history of climate change ‘scepticism’

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Here is my attempt to make sense of the academic literature categorising the rhetorical positions adopted by climate change ‘sceptics’.  However, please note that the term ‘sceptic’ is used solely for convenience: Given that the totality of post-industrial climate change can only be explained as primarily human-caused, these forms of ‘scepticism’ represent varying degrees of ideological blindness.
Categorising Climate Change ScepticsGiven the recent speech by Pope Francis on Capitol Hill, it will be interesting to see how resilient this ideological blindness is – and/or how strong the cognitive dissonance is – amongst the Catholic members of the Republican Party.

Disgraceful Volkswagen caught putting profit before planet

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Non VWI can barely believe it.  One of Germany’s best-value exports (i.e. in the non-luxury end of the car market) has been caught faking the CO2 emission test data on its diesel cars in the USA (and, it has subsequently emerged, elsewhere).

Has it been doing the same in Europe?  Is this the beginning of an international  scandal similar to the rigging of financial markets in the City of London?

One thing is for sure, in putting profit before doing their bit to reduce the carbon footprint of their cars, I think the manufacturer should be re-branded:

Nicht VolksWagen

Written by Martin Lack

21 September 2015 at 18:02

Jeremy and Piers Corbyn – ‘Brothers at Odds’

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Jeremy Corbyn (Photo: Islington Gazette)

Here in the UK, the Labour Party has, almost by accident, just voted in the most overtly and unashamedly socialist leader since Michael Foot over 30 years ago. As such, 66-year old Jeremy Corbyn, has already managed to upset many people by not singing the National Anthem at a service in St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Britain.

So, Jeremy Corbyn may have a lot to learn (very quickly) about being Leader of a political party; and it will be interesting to see whether he can hold such office and stay true to the anti-establishment character that defines him. As such, Jeremy Corbyn is the latest in a long line of people within the Labour Party who often managed to make controversial ideas sound entirely reasonable. In recent decades, those that come to mind include Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Tam Dalyell, George Galloway, and Dennis Skinner. Furthermore, as became clear during the leadership contest, Jeremy Corbyn accepts the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD); and the need to take action to mitigate it and/or adapt to it. As do Paul and Anne Ehrlich:

Many complexities plague the estimation of the precise threats of anthropogenic climate disruption, ranging from heat deaths and spread of tropical diseases to sea-level rise, crop failures and violent storms. One key to avoiding a global collapse, and thus an area requiring great effort and caution is avoiding climate-related mass famines. (Proc. Royal Soc. B, 280: 1754)

Piers Corbyn (Image: Public Domain)

I must admit I had not really paid any attention to Jeremy Corbyn before. However, I cannot say the same of his brother, Piers Corbyn – who came to my attention while doing my MA in Environmental Politics: According to Wikipedia, Piers Corbyn is an astrophysicist with a life-long interest in meteorology. He is also the founder of WeatherAction and was the main organiser of Climate Fools Day in the Houses of Parliament on 27 October 2010 (to mark the 2nd anniversary of the passage into law of the Climate Change Act 2008).

As such, it is very clear that the views of Jeremy and Piers Corbyn – as to the primary cause of climate change – could not be more different.

The purpose of this blog is not – nor has it ever been – to defend the validity of the scientific consensus (that ACD is an imminent threat to a large proportion of life on Earth). I will leave that to the IPCC (WG2) and websites such as SkepticalScience. However, I would like to highlight the absurdity of the position adopted by Piers Corbyn…

In 2008, the flyer for the Climate Fools Day event highlighted a supposed necessity for “evidence-based science and policy” rather than the “Carbon Con”. It went on to suggest:

If the UK had been relying on wind farms there would have been blackouts all over, freeze-ups, more burst-pipes & cold-weather deaths. This is the madness CO2-Global Warmist religion is leading Britain towards.

As such, anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is presented as a myth; not based on evidence, and pursued by politicians who have been duped by the proponents of a new religion.  On his website, Piers Corbyn also describes AGW as a “failing theory” and “scientific fraud” (because it supposedly stopped in 1998); maintains it was warmer 1000 years ago; and has made it clear he believes our Sun is the most likely cause of the climatic changes we see (2008).  However, more recently, he has gone much further than this; to claim that:
• solar activity (total radiance, sun-spots, coronal mass ejections, and/or solar flares) are causing more earthquakes and volcanic eruptions;
• people who believe in AGW are as deluded as Colonel Gaddafi; CO2 has no effect on weather or climate (emphasis added); and that we are heading for a mini ice age by 2035; and
• there is no evidence in thousands or millions of years of data that CO2 changes drive any changes in climate.

If anyone is inclined to ask why this position is absurd, just think about the implications:

Anyone who equates the scientific consensus regarding ACD/AGW with religious belief, collective hypnosis, hoax, fraud, myth, or whatever… is asserting that the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active research scientists are simply wrong. As such, they are asserting that the majority are either stupid, sloppy, or suspicious.

Such people often point to the example of Galileo overturning a consensus. However, Galileo overturned theological orthodoxy by weight of scientific evidence.  Therefore, climate change ‘sceptics’ are not like Galileo; they are like the medieval Roman Catholic church. As such, they are not sceptics at all; they are blinded to the truth of science by libertarian ideology.

Written by Martin Lack

16 September 2015 at 18:00

From Noah to Nordhaus via Inhofe

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US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is a climate change sceptic primarily because he believes God has promised not to flood the Earth again; and the rainbow in the sky tells him it must be true.

Such ideologically-driven wilful blindness is very dangerous. Indeed, most climate scientists agree that it threatens the future of most life on Earth.

Sadly, such ideological blindness is not unique to those foolish enough to believe the Earth was created in 6 days only 6,000 years ago. As Stephan Lewandowsky et al have pointed out, adherence to libertarian ideology and free market economics are strongly correlated with a rejection of the scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of post-Industrial climate change. Pseudo-skeptics may have attempted to discredit this research but, they cannot refute the empirical evidence for the above correlation.

Indeed, in his book Poles Apart: The international reporting of climate scepticism, James Painter provides ample evidence that climate change ‘scepticism’ is predominantly a feature of right-wing newspapers in English-speaking countries.

However, I digress from the story I want to tell…

It is no secret that stories of a global flood, like that of Noah and his Ark, are found in the earliest writings of numerous ancient civilisations around the World.  Until yesterday, however, I had no idea what this might have to do with an abrupt but temporary global cooling event, known as the Younger Dryas, which occurred between 11,500 and 12,900 years ago.

This came to my attention yesterday morning while watching television, when the presenters of BBC Breakfast began interviewing a journalist I had never heard of before.

For at least 20 years, Graham Hancock has, apparently, being telling anyone that would listen that a comet impact in Antarctica about 12,000 years ago – and the sudden sea level rise it caused – wiped out most evidence of an advanced human civilisation that predates any of the others by about 5,000 years. In doing some research on this yesterday, I discovered that this was something that the Huffington Post had picked up on in May this year.  However, digging a little deeper, I found that it is over 5 years since Hancock’s ‘smoking gun’ evidence was reported in the Scientific American magazine.  It would therefore appear that Hancock is very good at self publicity and recycling old news.

Even so, I nearly choked on my breakfast when Hancock suggested that the Giant Sphinx at Gaza was not built by the Egyptians. He pointed out that the Sphinx appears much more weathered (by rainfall) than the in-situ stone on the pyramids around it. However, the real clincher for his argument was the fact that organic material – which can be carbon dated – found at the Gobekli Tepe site in Turkey is about 12,000 years old. This is significant because all other early civilisations – that left behind monumental architecture – are thought to date from no more than 7,000 ago.

This has long been a mystery that archaeologists could not explain, but which is explained by the comet impact.

However, again as a result of research I did yesterday, I was amazed to find out that suggesting a comet impact might explain the origins of the story of Noah’s Ark was not just Hancock’s idea. It is one that can be traced all the way back to Edmund Halley in 1694, as blogger Jason Colavito pointed out in his summary of Graham Hancock at the end of last year.

So, Graham Hancock has used his skills as an investigative journalist to pull together evidence from different spheres of science to solve the archaeological mystery of Gobekli Tepe.  Therefore, given the amount of criticism he received 20 years ago for putting forward an idea with no supporting evidence, it is perhaps understandable that he is now making so much of the fact that the evidence has since been found.

However, even if the idea was not really his in the first place, I think this explanation for the Younger Dryas event is important because it highlights the fact that the vast majority of modern human civilisation is in danger of being wiped off the face of the Earth if large amounts of land-based ice slide into the sea.

Sadly, those who continue to dispute that this might happen – and/or assert that Antarctica is actually cooling – have picked a fight with science and history that they are bound to lose.

On what basis do I say this, you may well wonder. Well, for the record, here are two good reasons:

1. It is impossible to explain the totality of post-Industrial warming without acknowledging that the dominant factor is the 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 caused by the burning of fossil fuels (see also Fig 5 in Hansen et al 2007 below).

2. Although the interior of Antarctica may be cooling – and the sea ice around it may not be shrinking because of the huge expanse of the surrounding Southern Ocean – the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Antarctic peninsula are amongst the fastest-warming places on the planet.

Fig 5. in Hansen et al (2007), 'Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE'. Clim. Dyn., 29, 661-696

Fig 5. in Hansen et al (2007), ‘Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE’. Clim. Dyn., 29, 661-696

To conclude, I can do no better than to refer, once again, to the six reasons put forward by the formerly-sceptical economist William D. Nordhaus as to ‘Why the global Warming Skeptics are Wrong‘.


10 Sept 2015 (15:00 BST): With apologies for any confusion caused, this blog post has now been edited to remove repetition and ambiguity resulting from my hasty/poor proof-reading of the original.

It’s the carbon intensity, stupid!

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Forget the ‘War on Terror’, Obama’s rightly declares ‘War on Climate’ (i.e. + ).

Explanatory note: Obama may highlight coal but, given that climate change and ocean acidification are consequences of pumping geospheric carbon* into the biosphere, the priority must be to eliminate the most carbon intensive sources first.  That means phasing out tar sands and coal as soon as possible.  Hence the title to this post.

*i.e. carbon that has been out of circulation within the biosphere for millions of years, which has given rise to atmospheric CO2 levels unprecedented in millions of years.  It really is that simple.

In the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 21 scheduled for December 2015, 24 of the UK’s foremost academic institutions, including the Geological Society have published a joint Climate Communiqué calling on national governments to take immediate action if they want to avert the serious risks posed by climate change. The document states that to tackle climate change, governments, including that of the UK, must seize the opportunity at climate talks in Paris in December to negotiate an agreement based on the latest scientific evidence. Pointing to that scientific evidence, the organisations say that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world by early in the second half of the century.

Written by Martin Lack

3 August 2015 at 17:04

Wealth is a state of mind

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I recommend that all watch the video just broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 News this evening.

The video is one of a report, by Jamal Osmond, from Somaliland.

Never heard of it?  Me too.

Somaliland is not recognised by the international community but, as the northern part of Somalia, it has existed in relative peace for many years.  Whilst Somalia’s civil war has raged on, Somaliland has been very stable.

In recent times, Somaliland has even been receiving refugees fleeing the chaos in Yemen (on the other side of the Gulf of Aden).

However, as the title of this post indicates, I was particularly struck by the comments made by one of many natives of Somaliland that have returned home after years living in London.

Written by Martin Lack

27 July 2015 at 20:00

From the Treaty of Rome to the Tragedy of the Commons

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This post has been prompted by recent comments on an old post on another blog. That blog is Learning from Dogs, and the old post – dating from December 2011 – was about the financial crisis in Greece… Yes, it really has been going on that long!

For reasons I cannot now recall, I was not impressed by the humorous nature of the original post – entitled ‘Financial bailouts explained!’ – preferring instead to focus on the seriousness of the crisis.

However, a recent response to my original comment – no doubt prompted by the events of the last week or so – led me to try and clarify my opposition to the idea of a European superstate.

What we now refer to as the European Union (EU) was formerly the European Communities (EC) and, originally, the European Economic Community (EEC). This was formed by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. Originally envisaged as a way to prevent the resurgence of extreme nationalism, it is interesting to note that concerns about the erosion of national sovereignty appeared very early in the EEC’s history:

“Through the 1960s, tensions began to show, with France seeking to limit supranational power.” — Wikipedia

Anyway, in attempting to justify my opposition to the idea, I suggested that a European superstate was not necessary to prevent another war in Europe; offering the Battle of Waterloo as evidence (because it was followed by 99 years of peace in Europe). However, upon further reflection, I realised that this does not validate my argument… and so began a train of thought that led me back to Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is an essay written by Hardin, which was published in an academic journal in 1968 (a link to which is provided below). In this essay, Hardin used a medieval analogy – of the over-grazing of land held in common ownership – to warn of the dire consequences of unbridled self-interest on an over-populated planet with finite resources.

What now follows, therefore, is that train of thought, which all started with The Treaty of Rome:

To be honest, my reference to Waterloo is probably a logical fallacy… and peace in Europe since WW2 is probably due, in large part, to the Treaty of Rome that created the EEC. However, it is not the only reason; others would include the dominance of the US and USSR during the Cold War era.

Like many others, I am in favour of European co-operation and free-trade (etc) but not in favour of political and fiscal union of widely divergent economies. Despite this, I think Europe-wide legislation is a good thing when it comes to tackling environmental issues such as the over-fishing of our seas, global warming and ocean acidification – all of which are consequences of treating the Earth like ‘a business in liquidation’ (Herman E. Daly).

Given that the EU has an admirable record in promoting climate change mitigation, some may find it odd that I would oppose the construction of a European superstate. However, I think it is entirely reasonable to make a special case for global environmental issues that do not respect national boundaries. As Isaac Asimov once said, “It is important that the World get together to face the problems which attack us as a unit.”

The problem is that, because our survival as a species is endangered by global warming (etc), humanity is now self-harming. Furthermore, until libertarians stop denying the nature of reality, we will continue down the road to what Garrett Hardin called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). As with the problem of global over-population, so it is with global warming: Libertarians everywhere need to acknowledge the reality of the problem and, therefore, recognise that it is in the best interests of every individual that we all exercise self-restraint.

Clearly, it would be good if the Treaty of Rome can be used to help prevent the Tragedy of the Commons. However, what concerns me is that free trade is used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to enrich those who already have far more than their fair share of the Earth’s finite resources:

“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA. As officials from both sides acknowledge, the main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.” — War on Want

If you are a European citizen, I hope you will register (or have registered) your opposition to TTIP by signing one (but only one) of the many petitions on the Internet. One of these can be reached via the above link to the War on Want website.


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