Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Anthony Watts’ Category

The importance of being earnestly wrong

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I began my previous post by asking the question: “Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations?”  I followed this by observing that:  “This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.”

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is, of course, a very funny and very famous book by Oscar Wilde.  Sadly, this post is neither funny nor famous (not yet, anyway).  In fact, this post is prompted mainly by a TED video (embedded below) of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz – the author of ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’.

As the TED website makes clear, in its biography of her, Kathryn is a journalist who has written articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines and is also a former editor of the Grist blog.  She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East.

Anyone who automatically assumes that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false…  needs to watch this video.  Although this may sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it probably is not.

Earlier this year, the movie ’Greedy Lying Bastards’ went on general release – and so will soon be available on DVD.  Accordingly, reviews are now appearing in the media again.  This one by Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian website is typical.  For many people, therefore, the truth that the fossil fuel companies have financed a longstanding campaign to perpetuate doubt regarding climate science is a well-established fact – as incontestable as the fact that the tobacco industry did exactly the same for decades in order to sell as many cigarettes as possible.  However, there remains a sizeable minority of people on this planet for whom, it seems, the very repetition of this fact is proof of its falsity.  For these people, who generally decided what they wanted the truth to be a very long time ago, any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right (or that the person presenting the evidence has been duped by – or is part of – the conspiracy to perpetuate a lie).

Of course, if you try and point this out to such people, you are accused of peddling your own conspiracy theory.  However, tobacco companies have been taken to court and found guilty of trying to hide the link between cancer and smoking.  Climate scientists have only ever been taken to court for saying things fossil fuel companies do not want us to hear.  This too will be dismissed by the factually-challenged as evidence of a wider conspiracy; now including the judiciary.  However, for these people, is there no point at which the simplest explanation (which is supported by observable and documentary evidence) becomes more reasonable than an ever-expanding conspiracy (which is not supported by the vast majority of available evidence)?

This brings me back to something else I said on my previous post:

Unfortunately, for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant:  Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments.  Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists.  However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious:  The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.

So, again, the question remains:  What about all those people who are not being paid to misinform (i.e. the so-called ‘Merchants of Doubt)’?  How do we explain their existence – and how can we tell the difference between those who are being deliberately deceitful and those who are merely wilfully ignorant?  To be blunt, how can we spot the difference between someone who is just bigoted and someone who is being paid to be wrong?

I am afraid that I do not know for sure but, having spent an entire year carefully examining all the evidence, I am entirely satisfied by the scientific, historical, and observational evidence – and the logical arguments – that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the Earth’s climate.  Therefore, although I can never be certain, despite everything Kathryn Schulz says in the above video, I think it is legitimate to question either the sanity or motives of anyone who repeatedly ignores the fact that their arguments have been shown to flawed; and/or repeatedly re-states things that can easily be determined to be false.

No-one should be in any doubt about this: such people are not being sceptical; they are in denial.

Sadly, I recently had to delete an entire comment on my most recent post by someone identified only as ‘Oakwood’. He or she claims a professional need to remain anonymous but spends an awful lot of time posting comments on blogs by non-experts such as Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat), Steven McIntyre (ClimateAudit) and Andrew Montford (BishopHill).  It is, therefore, not that surprising that much of the content of what Oakwood’s comments elsewhere can be traced back to things by these non-experts (whose arguments have all been repeatedly falsified and discredited).

I therefore decided to send Oakwood an email in which I started by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts…”  In response, Oakwood started by saying he agreed with that assertion but, sadly, followed it with yet another re-statement of his own “facts” that are not actually facts at all… Then, as if to add insult to injury, Oakwood followed that litany of previously debunked arguments and climate myths (which I will look at in detail tomorrow), with this masterpiece of unfalsifiability:

…you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’.

This is a self-sealing argument that is entirely predicated on conspiracy theory:  If the consensus is real, reliable and reasonable, there is no legitimate reason to doubt the science.  Therefore, doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Tomorrow, probably not for the last time, I will rebut all of Oakwood’s “facts” in part two of this series, entitled: ‘The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood’.

Esteemed Prof may regret citing College drop-out

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In his written submission to the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this week, John Christy (PhD) describes himself as the “Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Alabama’s State Climatologist and Director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.”

However, if he is so distinguished, why does he feel it necessary to rely upon Watts et al (2012), which the esteemed Professor apparently co-authored? Whatever the extent of Christy’s actual involvement, this unpublished paper is now receiving significant constructive (but very damaging) criticism; and being disavowed by one of the other high-profile co-authors – Steve McIntyre.

In the meantime, Watts et al (2012) has somewhat-predictably been applauded as yet another “final nail in the coffin of the ‘warmist’ myth of CAGW” (i.e. catastrophic anthropogenic global warming). To the authors, it seems, this whole climate change thing is a false alarm… It is a nice idea – and I truly wish I could believe it but – it is just a shame that, in order to come anywhere remotely close to validating their wishful thinking, Watts et al (2012) had to mangle the facts so comprehensively (see criticism linked-to above)…

A similar thing appears to be happening with Christy’s testimony to the US Senate Committee: WUWT have already uploaded video footage of it; and Dr Judith Curry (editor of the infamous Climate etc. blog) has even had her views aired on the website of the Global Wonky Policy Foundation. If Curry is to be believed, Christy has supposedly told the World the truth that very few other scientists (i.e. apart from her, Pat Michaels, Roy Spencer, and Richard Lindzen) are willing to tell.

So then, what exactly did Christy say? Well, for those of you without the time or inclination to read through the 22-page document – or maybe even the 1-page summary – he makes five very familiar points: All of them being part of the creed of those who have an ideologically-prejudiced need to dispute that human activity is the primary cause of the climate disruption we are now seeing (and so far we have not even raised global average temperatures by as much as 1 Celsius).

If you are familiar with my six pillars of climate denial by now, you may not be surprised by them as by the willingness of someone like Christy to keep repeating the same old myths (listed here with mainly pre-existing rebuttals on the Skeptical Science website in brackets):
(1) Global warming is not happening (The recent ‘extremes’ were exceeded in previous decades).
(2) Computer models are unreliable (Not as much warming as models predict).
(3) Global warming is an artefact of the measurement locations (Temperature record is unreliable).
(4) Sceptics are like Galileo (Consensus reports misrepresentative of climate science).
(5) Global warming is not bad (CO2 is plant food, and CO2 limits will hurt the poor).

Steven McIntyre may have disavowed his co-authorship of Watts et al (2012) but, clearly, Christy has done the complete opposite – This is what happens when a scientist is blinded by ideology.

I was so concerned by the way in which the online release of Watts et al (2012) appeared to be a deliberate attempt to distract attention from Richard Muller’s op-ed in the New York Times that I sent an email to a few of my key contacts in the blogosphere encouraging them to debunk it. Without claiming any responsibility for it, I am therefore very glad to see that this has now happened.

I was also very concerned to read Christy’s testimony and – despite seeing that it was completely (and correctly) ignored by Suzanne Goldenberg on the website of the Guardian newspaper – am left wondering how much damage was done? Given all the other evidence the Committee heard, will Christy now be dismissed as a charlatan (or will some Republicans continue to idolise him)?

It has been suggested to me in the past that people like Lindzen and Christy should not be given “the oxygen of publicity”; but publicity is not the problem. The problem is the ease with which they are able to play mind games with our politicians… As I said to a fellow-blogger recently:
“Many of those who profess to be sceptical are, in fact, ideologically opposed to anything or anyone who seems to be telling them what they ought to do or think. This is why humanity is now in such a bind. We lack the will to change (in fact we actively resist it). This means that the most effective solution is that which is least likely ever to materialise => prescriptive legislation. McKibbin’s analogy of gay-rights needing to be promoted by evangelical preachers is therefore spot-on: We will not change voluntarily and, without a demand for change, our politicians will not impose it upon us (until the stability of our democracy is itself imperilled by the social costs of failing to prevent significant environmental deterioration).”

However, must we really wait that long? I suspect we do not have the luxury of time to wait for everyone to agree that our climate is changing. But does that mean we must adopt a laissez-faire attitude to those who peddle misinformation? Can we afford to let them make a mockery of the concept of representative democracy like this?

Bill McKibbin certainly doesn’t think so (but you need to watch to the end of this short video to find out why):

Muller knows BEST that Watts is wrong

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Last year, Dr Richard A Muller caused quite a stir by publishing the conclusions of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study, which, despite receiving significant funding from the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel lobby, bravely admitted that late 20th Century warming is unprecedented and real (i.e. not an artefact of the location of measurement locations).

BEST data overlayed on MBH98 Hockey Stick

BEST data overlayed on MBH98 Hockey Stick


Last Saturday, Muller went one step further and, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times newspaper, admitted that he now accepts that ongoing warming is “almost entirely” the result of human activity (i.e. the burning of fossil fuels).

It seems that Anthony Watts was so surprised by this that, presumably on being alerted to its imminent publication, Watts immediately cancelled his planned vacation and released into the blogosphere an un-peer reviewed, pre-publication paper; which seeks to cast doubt on the validity of the BEST study’s original conclusion.

Unsurprisingly, Watts et al claim that they are merely doing what Muller et al did last year (i.e. publishing online first).  However, I think there is a significant difference here, which is that the BEST team headed by Muller is comprised of scientists well-respected in their field, whereas Watts et al are not.

So what is all the fuss about?  Well for those who do not want to accept that recent warming (and/or climate disruption) is unprecedented or primarily caused by human activity, it will always make sense to start by denying that it is happening and/or that we are causing it to happen (i.e. the first two of the six pillars of climate change denial [with my thanks to Robert Henson]).

Muller had nothing to gain from publishing what he did last year and, in doing so, he annoyed an awful lot of his hitherto friends and financiers; who have thus been reduced to disowning him and/or claiming that he was never a true sceptic.  However, this is patently ridiculous because, even in his new op-ed piece, Muller continues to demonstrate that he does not understand how climate models work  (describing them as being “notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters”) and, by implication, that he does not understand that concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is derived from undergraduate-level study of thermodynamics and palaeoclimatology. But this should not be allowed to detract from the main point of his piece, which is to assert that humans need to accept that we are all responsible for what is now happening; and that we therefore need to take responsibility for what happens next.

Nevertheless, I must confess to being amused by Michael Mann’s tweet regarding Muller’s long road towards embracing reality: “At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of just a few years!” (as reported by Desmogblog recently).  Given some of the things Muller has said in the past, I think Mann’s cynicism is understandable; and I would therefore still like to see Muller admit that he should not have previously cast doubt on the integrity of climate science and scientists by appearing to either misunderstand or misrepresent the meaning of the infamous “hide the decline” UEA/CRU email.

Unfortunately, rather than concede that Muller has now done a demolition job on both of these first two pillars of climate change denial, Watts et al are therefore still trying to cast doubt on the validity of what BEST did; by asserting that 50% of the warming recorded across the contiguous USA is not real.  However, even if there is some validity to their criticisms, does this change anything?  Not really, I suspect.  Unless of course you are a conspiracy theorist; and believe that someone is trying to get you worried about ACD as a pretext to tax you more heavily, etc., etc..

It would therefore appear that Watts et al are trying to use this uncertainty to cast doubt on the validity of the warming measured over the remaining 98% of the Earth’s surface; despite this being accepted as fact by professional and academic institutions all around the world. Again, such a fact only appears suspicious to those who presuppose that someone is trying to fool them.

However, who is it that has a long track-record of trying to misrepresent science to the public?  Is it scientists, or is it big business?  This is not a difficult question to answer and, in the absence of personal expertise – it is the main reason why Occam’s Razor should be accepted as a valid basis on which to proceed – the most likely explanation (requiring the least number of contingencies and/or assumptions about hidden motives and/or conspiratorial behaviour for which there is no solid evidence) is probably the correct one.

Instead of which, thanks to a post-modernist penchant for (1) distrusting all external authority and (2) invoking the fallacious marketplace of ideas (i.e. the Dunning-Kruger effect), large numbers of people continue to prefer to believe that the majority of relevantly-qualified, active researchers into climate science are either stupid, incompetent, or simply “in it for the money”.

I will leave the final word to Public Relations expert (turned climate activist) James Hoggan:

Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy…  There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.

———–

Further reading:

Although now a bit dated, this piece by Hoggan – promoting his (then new) book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (2009) – is still well worth reading:  
Slamming the climate skeptic scam (15 June 2009)

Pythagoras and plate-spinning for fake sceptics

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I could have called this post ‘Algebra and Art in the service of Anti-Science’ but, let’s be honest, you would not have had a clue what I was on about; and would have been much less likley to read on.  However, if you have read this far, I hope you will continue…

First of all, what do I mean by using the term “fake sceptics”?  I like this term because it conveys all the key points made in the introduction to my MA dissertation:  That, far from remaining resolutely open-minded in the face of uncertainty, those who sometimes call themselves “climate realists” are, in fact, dismissing all the evidence that supports an unwelcome conclusion. This is not scepticism; it is ideological prejudice and/or willful blindness.

Despite the protestations of people on contrarian websites such as Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit, the jury is not out on our understanding of climate science any more than it is on our living on a near-spherical Earth.  In the face of all the evidence to validate both of the above, which pours in on an almost daily basis, it is simply irrational to continue to dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding the nature, scale and urgency of the problem that is anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).  Furthermore, such an irrational position can only be sustained by invoking conspiracy theory; and/or the marketplace of ideas (i.e. “I am right and everyone else is wrong”)…  But what, you may ask, has this got to do with Algebra and Art (or Pythagoras and Plate-Spinning in particular); and why combine the two subjects under one heading and in one post?  Well, if you have not already guessed, I hope that all is about to become clear…

The Algebra of Pythagoras
Thanks to Pythagoras’ Theorem, we are mostly taught from a fairly young age that, for any right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.  Like many other things the early Greek mathematicians worked out, this has proved very useful – not least because it provides us with the equation for a circle (the shape traced out by rotating a right-angle triangle about one of its other two corners).  With my thanks to the Worsley School website, here is a useful illustration:

Fake sceptics are of course familiar with this particular equation, because they spend their entire lives going around in circles and take great delight in wasting the time of those who try to stop them…

The Art of Plate-Spinning
Back in October last year, I attempted to engage college drop-out and ex-TV Weatherman, Anthony Watts (of WattsUpWithThat? [WUWT] infamy) in rational debate.  Sadly, I failed. This was because, even after realising that one cannot use the words ‘denial’ or ‘denier’ on WUWT (i.e. the “D-words”), Anthony got very embarrassed and blacklisted me after failing to appreciate that I am not a published author and that I was not trying to promote a book full of “such ugliness” as D-words; and having a massive sense of humour failure in the process.  For those new to this blog and/or unfamiliar with this sorry tale, this all goes back to my reading of Robert Henson’s excellent book Rough Guide to Climate Change; and my re-formulation of his summation of the arguments climate change sceptics make into what I called ‘The Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’. Thus it was that Anthony Watts got very upset by the way in which I presented these on my blog alongside a spoof cover of a book I have not actually written – Tough Guide to Climate Denial.

So what has all this got to do with plate-spinning?  Well, as Henson acknowledged, no one sceptic believes and/or argues all of these things simultaneously but, as I have argued before, trying to tackle these fake sceptics on any one argument is a bit like trying to kill the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology:  Defeat is never admitted; another argument is merely substituted; and pretty-soon you find yourself back where you started.

Demolition Progress Report
Now you may understand why I combined the two subjects. However, I think that some progress is now finally being made. Here is an update on progress towards the demolition of each of these ‘Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’…

1. Global warming is not happening:   Dr Richard A Muller has admitted that 20th Century Warming is real and unprecedented in thousands if not millions of years; and therefore it is not an artefact of the Urban Heat Island Effect; the distribution of Land and Sea monitoring points of the substitution of Surface measurements with those from Satellites.
2. Global warming is not man-made:  If it is unprecedented in millions of years, how can it be explained by well-understood natural climate forcings (factors tending to bring about change) that have not changed significantly? (i.e.  A 1% increase in total solar irradiance and 4% increase in atmospheric moisture; compared to a 40% increase in CO2).
3. Global warming is not significant:  If it is unprecedented and man-made, how can it be insignificant and why would we choose not to stop it?  Can you feel a circular argument coming on…?
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad:  Ongoing research into the effects of increased CO2 on plant growth clearly show short-term benefits are quickly overtaken by longer-term adverse consequences – especially if increased CO2 is combined with increased temperature.  Furthermore, as predicted by climate models, the problem is not global warming it is ACD and, whatever the nature of ACD in any one place at any one time, the impact on agriculture is generally negative – which means food prices are likely to rise.  This cannot be good.
5. Global warming is not a problem:  May be so but, ACD most definitely is a problem; and the longer we delay tackling it the number of people impacted and incapacitated by it will increase; and the number of people willing and able to solve it will decrease.
6. Global warming is not worth fixing:  A variety of entities such as the US Department of Defense (Quadrennial Defense Review in 2010); the Communist Party of China (Climate Change White Paper in 2011), and the International Energy Agency (World Energy Outlook in 2011) all agree with the Stern Review that any delay will be a false economy  – as now does the formerly-sceptical American economist William Nordhaus.

So what is to be done?
There is most certainly much that could be done but, encouraged by the leaders of our big energy companies, our politicians keep spurning every opportunity they are given to make the required changes.  Phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies, levelling the playing field for renewable energy and treating the Green Economy as a business opportunity would all be a good start.  Instead of which, our leaders are fixated on short-term problems such as a global debt crisis; but are ignoring the approaching asteroid of ACD; which becomes harder to blow off-course the longer we wait to attempt doing so.  In the end, as David Roberts has suggested, our response to ACD is simple:  Either we do something or we’re screwed.

Denial… is not a river in Egypt!

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People like Anthony Watts and Barry Woods will be incensed by the title of this post; and I will no doubt be accused once more of failing to comply with the need for civilised debate on the subject of climate change “scepticism”. However, let us get this straight, once and for all:

“It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in the palm of your hand. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals.”
George Monbiot (10 May 2005)

Therefore:

If you dismiss all the evidence that we have a problem because you have already decided that we do not or cannot have one…

If you ignore the vast majority of data that tell us we have a problem, and cite instead the very few studies that appear to indicate we do not have one…

If you question the integrity of genuine climate scientists based on cherry-picked quotations from emails, and ignore the fact that such quotations were twice published on the eve of UNFCCC conferences in an attempt to prevent progress being made…

If you label all those that say we have a problem as anti-progress, anti-Western, anti-human, eco-Fascists, or Watermelons; rather than accept that such people are merely highlighting the fact that we live on a finite planet with a finite waste recycling capacity…

If you cannot see the link between the way in which the tobacco industry denied that smoking causes lung cancer and the way in which the fossil fuel industry has denied that burning their product is damaging the Earth’s climate…


That is not scepticism; it is either ideologically-driven prejudice or willful blindness.

(Sorry Barry!)

Still not convinced? Just look at this wonderful piece of reality inversion regarding politically-conservative (Mormon) Professor of Geological Sciences, Barry Bickmore, from a recent visitor to this blog – John Douglas Swallow:
“Martin, I did waste my time watching ‘How to avoid the truth about climate change’ and I discovered yet another individual who, if he knows what the truth is (and I do believe that he does), is as deceptive and as untruthful as most of the fools in the anthropogenic global warming crowd… A number that has declined, as I saw just yesterday while watching Al Jazeera TV, to only 35% that now believe that there is anthropogenic climate change (or whatever you call it).”

According to Swallow, Barry Bickmore (a long-standing “sceptic”) has now decided to promote the need to take climate change seriously even though he knows it is all a hoax… To all but the most hardcore ‘delusionistas’, this must surely be the most spectacular piece of conspiracy theory nonsense you have ever seen? Hopefully, too, it is therefore a salutary lesson for all to see what happens when you fail to apply Occam’s Razor appropriately.

Written by Martin Lack

20 June 2012 at 00:02

WUWT attempts to debunk William Nordhaus

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This post has been much delayed by other stuff but, just over a month ago (on 3 March 2012), on the Wattsupwiththat? website, a fellow Geologist(?) David Middleton attempted to debunk William Nordhaus’ critique of climate change scepticism (as per the New York Review of Books website the previous day).

My self-imposed word limit does not allow me to indulge in a lengthy rebuttal, but I would like to respond the remarks of the very first person to comment on Middleton’s post at the time, Kurt in Switzerland, who said “It would be helpful to read a counterpoint from another geoscientist who believes Middleton to be on the wrong track”

Within the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and Geological Society of London (GSL) and just about every reputable geoscience body on the planet, you sure have plenty to choose from. For example, the GSL statement on climate change reads as follows:

“The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall; increased acidity of the oceans; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater.

There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.”

To dismiss this as part of some spurious global conspiracy to foist environmental “alarmism” on a credulous world is, in my opinion, now both morally and intellectually bankrupt.

Furthermore, as politically-conservative Mormon Professor of Geosciences at the Brigham Young University in Utah, Barry Bickmore, says: “When you have to invoke the views of dog astrologers and people who believe in alien abductions… you are trying to hard to avoid the truth about climate change.” [See the last few minutes and/or last two slides of the presentation embedded in this post on Bickmore's blog]

Written by Martin Lack

4 April 2012 at 00:02

The dark arts of climate denial exposed

with 26 comments

Thanks to someone on the inside of the Heartland Institute (HI), we now have concrete evidence of the lengths to which big business is willing to go in order to promote the idea that anthropogenic climate disruption is not happening.

The day before yesterday, someone calling him/herself the Heartland Insider sent the DeSmog Blog website PDF copies of a variety of the confidential documents including the Minutes of recent Board Meetings, Annual Reports and Budgets.

The documents were sent to the DeSmog Blog website but have now been circulated quite widely, in the hope that climate change denial will now be seen for what it is – a business-led conspiracy to prevent action being taken to address a genuine environmental problem; purely because doing so will damage the vested interests of an extreme minority of very wealthy people…

The other main difference between this and Climategate (i.e. in addition to the fact that this conspiracy is real not just an illusion) is that what has been made available is comprised of entire documents; not just data-mined extracts from them. As such, the material does not require and over- or mis-interpretation in order to be deeply damaging to the denialist cause: These documents speak for themselves; the mendacious intent of Heartland Institute is laid bare for all to see.

Bob Carter, S Fred Singer, and Anthony Watts (of Wattsupwiththat? infamy) are all confirmed as being directly sponsored to spread misinformation (i.e. as in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt). One of the few things that remains veiled in secrecy is the identity of the HI’s biggest single donor; who has given them several millions of dollars over the course of the last decade (indeed 2011 was disappointing in that this mystery malefactor gave them less than a miserly 1 Million US Dollars)… Even so, amongst the declared donors are corporations like Microsoft. I hope this will not go unchallenged…

However, I think the most despicable thing exposed by the release of these documents is that the HI is (or maybe now “was”?) still considering a programme of re-education for High School teachers who have generally been taken in by “alarmist” thinking. Despite all the data indicating that they are losing their stupid argument with reality, the HI is (or was until very recently) considering funding a new campaign to provide a “…curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science”! It is all very reminiscent of attempts to get Creationism taught in school in preference to Evolution.

One of the HI’s most successful ventures has been the Non-govermental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) and the annual International Climate Change Conference (ICCC), which routinely gets well-known climate “experts” like James Delingpole (Oxford English graduate) to share their insights…

As I said at the outset, we have known this sort of thing was going on for about 4 years, but this is the first time we have had internal documentary evidence to show the extent of to which the HI is prepared to go to spread its misinformation.

For the background to this issue, you could do no better than download and read:
Jacques, P. et al (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’ in Environmental Politics, Volume 17 (3), pp.349-85.

Unstoppable Global Warming by Singer and Avery

with 8 comments

In 2007, Fred Singer and Dennis Avery published their book, Unstoppable Global Warming – Every 1500 years. Unfortunately, as with all the data in this book, the front cover photo must have been carefully chosen to not show any sign of change unprecedented in many thousands of years. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Furthermore, if your name is Anthony Watts, please note that James Hansen and I have not collaborated to write the book pictured here, which does not exist, because this is a joke! (Phew, I’m glad we’ve got that straight!)

Credit should be given to Singer and Avery for their very clear explanation of the causes of the 8 ice ages the Earth has been through in the last 750,000 years. However, this is almost the last time (in the revised, updated, and re-organised 2008 version of the book) that scientific facts are completely correctly and unambiguously stated. The remainder of the book is full of cherry-picked data and highly-prejudicial commentary and, although ice core data is repeatedly referred to, the whole data is never presented graphically in order that readers may contextualise the arguments being made.

Figure 1 from Hansen et al (2008)This is not surprising, however, because anyone who looks at all of the data (again reproduced from Hansen et al (2008) here for convenience) can see that the dominant and significant changes in temperature (between glacial and interglacial periods over at least the last 425,000 years) completely dwarf any changes operating on anything approaching a 1500-year cycle. Even if everything Singer and Avery say about the existence of such cycles is true (although they offer no convincing explanatory mechanism), that does not change the fact that they are ignoring the bigger picture; the explanation for which is fundamental to proper understanding and/or appreciation of the significance of what has happened since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. Therefore, Singer and Avery appear to be guilty of having gone on a “fishing trip“… Having decided that CO2 is not the cause of the problem (and/or that there is no problem), they have gone looking for an alternative message and, rather like those that find the face of Jesus on a piece of toast with marmite on it – they found one.

With regard to their suggestion that the Sun may be responsible for this supposed 1500-cycle of modest warming and cooling (although it could also just be random variation), the only widely-recognised cyclical changes in the Sun’s total irradiance are those due to sunspot activity (with a period of anything between 7 and 14 years – varying in brightness by 0.1%). Apart from this, the average energy output of the Sun has been remarkably constant over geological timescales (estimated to have increased by no more than 0.5% over the last 65 million years). Therefore, the one thing we can be certain of is that the Sun is not the primary driver of the unprecedented warming of the Earth since the Industrial Revolution.

It really is a no-brainer; the “elephant in the room” is carbon dioxide (CO2): The Sun does not explain any of the significant temperature changes in the Earth’s history; it cannot even explain the overall modest cooling trend during the last 7,000 years of the inter-glacial period during which modern civilisation has developed. Furthermore, whereas changes in the Earth’s orbit and/or inclination of its axis of rotation can explain the repeated glaciations of the last 750,000 years, they do not explain the changes in atmospheric CO2 that have accompanied them. Once you understand that, the imminent danger we face becomes obvious; and the accelerating melting of ice sheets, glaciers, permafrost and sea ice around the world just goes to show how delusional and dangerous the misinformation in this book is. Buyer beware!

Unstoppable Global Warming may well be taking place but, the Earth has not seen anything like it for 15,000 years and, given that we are already in an interglacial (warm) period, where we are now heading, it may well not have seen for over 50 million years. Reader beware!

World is warming. Pope is ex-Buddhist.

with 4 comments

Over on Wattsupwiththat, the noise of furious back-pedalling is reaching truly deafening levels (e.g. ‘World is warming. Pope is Catholic.’). However, Anthony Watts has been caught out spectacularly (see below) and is now refusing to explain himself pending the publication of some new book. Therefore, when he is not attacking me for having made him look silly (because he mistook my spoof of Robert Henson’s book as one of my own that I was trying to publicise – and chose to be insulted by its spoof title), he is very busy disputing that climate change sceptics have been, for a very long time, deliberately denying as many things as possible; not least that the planet is warming at all. For example:
– “…contrary to conventional wisdom – there does not exist today a general scientific consensus about the importance of greenhouse warming from rising levels of carbon dioxide. On the contrary, most scientists now accept the fact that actual observations from earth satellites show no climate warming whatsoever…” (The Leipzig Declaration [1995])
– “… there is no convincing evidence that CO2 emissions from modern industrial activity has in the past, is now, or will in the future cause catastrophic climate change… human-caused climate change is not a global crisis …” (The Manhattan Declaration [2008])
– “Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant ‘global warming’ in the 20th century…” (Daleo, J and Watts, A [2010])

The latter comment (in January 2010) does not sit well alongside what Watts posted on his Blog last Friday: The Earth is warmer than it was 100-150 years ago. But that was never in contention – it is a straw man argument. The magnitude and causes are what skeptics question!

But why did I get into this row in the first place? Well because Watts criticises Muller and the BEST team for not observing normal peer review process when most of what passes for science in contrarian quarters is never peer reviewed and never published in reputable, specialist, scientific journals. Then, when challenged regarding the post-1960 warming confirmed by Muller/BEST, he pointed to the less-consistent but nonetheless overall rising trend since 1800 (he seems to forget that the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700’s).

Clearly, those in denial about what we are doing to our planet are also in denial about being in denial (you are not even allowed to use the word – in any context whatsoever – on WUWT) but, surely, what nobody can deny is that the same 1% that caused the Financial Meltdown are – like swans floating serenely by – paddling furiously behind-the-scenes to keep the climate change denial bandwagon on the rails; by which they maintain the status quo and maintain “business as usual” consumption of fossil fuels.

What they don’t want anyone to admit, least of all people like Muller, is that anthropogenic climate change is happening; it is not a false alarm, scam, or hoax. Furthermore, it is not anti-Western, anti-Capitalist, anti-progress, or anti-human; and it is not a UN-WMO-IPCC conspiracy to install worldwide socialist government… It is just an inevitable consequence of unrestrained and ill-considered fossil fuel consumption and of unsustainable development. As such, delaying doing something about it is utterly short-sighted and counter-productive.

In the long-run, the later we try and tackle the problem the harder it will be to fix. It is perfectly analogous to getting into debt and not making any attempt to pay off your creditors. So, with that in mind, tomorrow, I will look at exactly what Muller/BEST have admitted is happening – by comparing their new graph with the MBH98 Hockey Stick.

The Tough Guide to Climate Denial

with 15 comments

N.B. I have not actually written this book!

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?

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