Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ Category

Why is the G7 still ignoring what scientists and economists say?

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Image credit: Yale Climate Connections

Image credit: Yale Climate Connections

Despite the scientific and economic consensus – that 80% of known fossil fuels must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid allowing climate change to become unstoppable and irreversible (IEA, IMF, IPCC, OECD, etc.) – the best the G7 can do is propose that we stop burning fossil fuels by the end of the century…

If the BBC report of the second day of this week’s G7 Summit in Germany is to be believed, this may be due to more tangible fears of a Greek exit from the Euro-zone and/or emerging threats like Islamic State.

However, I suspect that our global politicians are simply unwilling or unable to face the reality that such a proposal – that humanity can take 85 years to wean itself off its hydrocarbon addiction – is not a strategy that a significant proportion of species on Earth are likely to survive…

But please don’t take my word for it, just Google “80% of species face extinction by climate change” and take a look at the results you get, like this one: One in six species faces extinction as a result of climate change (i.e. even 17% would be significant).

The above article, on The Conservation website, cites research recently published by the author, Mark Urban, in the Science journal; the abstract of which reads as follows:

Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. I synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change–induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.
Urban, M.C. (2015), ‘Accelerating extinction risk from climate change’, Science 348 (6234) pp.571-573

17% may be a lot less than 80% but, as this most recent synthesis of available research states, previous estimates of the risk “vary widely” and – given the complexity of ecological systems upon which we rely for food production (etc) – I think most biologists would agree that 17% is still very significant.

The scientific and economic consensus is that global CO2 emissions must peak within a decade in order to avoid a runaway greenhouse effect taking hold.  Is failing to do this really a risk that humanity should be taking?

As the BBC has pointed out, the G7’s stance may well signal (to investors) that the end of fossil fuel era is approaching.  However, whereas the G7’s mid-century target is for emissions to be cut 40-70% globally compared with 2010, the scientific and economic consensus makes the G7 appear reckless and/or complacent in suggesting that we can afford to burn fossil fuels at all past 2050.

Ultimately, I think the reason for humanity’s collective failure to address the urgency of the need for action on climate change comes down to psychology.  After all, being in denial is cheaper than being in therapy.

See: http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/06/the-why-arent-we-acting-on-climate-change-bookshelf/

Addendum
Also worthy of note is this attempt by The Carbon Brief to be positive about the G7’s communique:
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/06/g7-leaders-target-zero-carbon-economy/

James Delingpole is full of sheet

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Banner to my old James Delingpile blog

Banner to my old ‘James Delingpile’ blog

Hi folks. Sorry for the distinct lack of blog posts over the last 12 months (it’s a long story I will not bore you with).

James Delingpole is the reason that I started blogging four years ago. (If this is news to you, please see Background.) I have therefore been drawn out of blogging hibernation by the fact that James’ name features on the winning exhibit of this year’s Anglia Ruskin Sustainability Art Prize.

The award-winning piece, by third year BA (Hons) Fine Art student Ian Wolter, is a supposed memorial inscribed with the names of a (hopefully) dying breed of individuals who – entirely illegitimately – claim to be climate change ‘sceptics’. That is to say, they claim to be ‘sceptical’ about the fact that humans are the primary cause of post-Industrial climate change.

Thus, I say “entirely illegitimately” because, as I have often said before, true ‘scepticism’ is the foundation of modern science: It is the reason modernity emerged from the mysticism of the Earth-centred Universe wherein the Roman Catholic Church attempted to hold back the progress of scientific enquiry.

True scepticism is the willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads you. This is in stark contrast with supposed climate change ‘sceptics’ who choose to believe in scientific and/or political conspiracy theories – and reject all the evidence that conflicts with their ideological prejudices.

The prize-winning artwork includes the names of many of those that featured in my MA dissertation and my book – and who have featured on this blog (see ‘Peddlers of Doubt – monkeys or organ grinders’ (20 Feb 2012) and the posts that followed it).

Whereas the third Viscount – and former Lord – Christopher Monckton of Brenchley has described the artwork as a “death threat” , it is simply an optimistic assertion that the days of pseudo scepticism are numbered… As, indeed, was a recent post on the Yale [Unversity] Climate Connections website – entitled ‘Climate Warnings: Heard, but not Listened to’ (subtitled “With all that climate scientists have cautioned us about over the past three decades, we’ve forfeited all rights to say ‘nobody saw this coming'”), which began as follows:

Twenty-seven years ago, when the world briefly awoke to the threats of global warming and tropical deforestation, scientists could only speculate on what changes might come in the future. Now, one need only look and observe.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

The trouble is, of course, that these supposed sceptics refuse to accept the validity of any evidence that conflicts with what they want to believe (i.e. that humans are not primarily responsible for ongoing climate disruption): They are like the ‘Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil’ monkeys.

The really crazy thing in all of this – and the primary reason for this blog post – is the length James Delingpole has gone to defend the self-confessed ideological basis of his rejection of the fact that climate change is an inevitable consequence of pumping 300 million years-worth off carbon into the atmosphere in about 300 years…

I say James Delingpole is “full of sheet” because of the two full pages that the Daily Mail newspaper allowed to cover with his Watermelon conspiracy theory – that dismisses all those who assert that human-caused climate change is a reality that must be faced as “climate zealots”.

Indeed, rather than accepting that the majority of relevantly-qualified scientists might actually be right, he prefers to dismiss them all as part of…


“…[a] powerful climate alarmist establishment — which includes everyone from the UN, Nasa and the Royal Society to the BBC and The Guardian [newspaper]…”

So, as I said, James is a self-confessed conspiracy theorist and – since he also admits to being completely incapable of – and uninterested in – assessing science for himself, I am not going to waste any more time refuting his cognitive dissonance.

Merchants of Doubt need to do the math

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A feature-length documentary, based on the content of the Merchants of Doubt book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, went on general release at movie theatres in the USA this weekend.

As Desmogbog.com points out, it has already attracted the attention of an odd mixture of ideologically-motivated deniers of the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.

I say “odd” because, as per the above link, those who prefer to see climate science as a conspiracy to raise taxes (and install worldwide Communist government via the united Nations, etc.) include both longstanding disputers of inconvenient science like Fred Singer (who questions whether the movie is defamatory) and self-confessed non-experts like James Delingpole.

Both of the above would have done well to watch a recent BBC Four (television) programme – Climate Change by Numbers. In contrast to just about every other programme about climate change that you might have seen, this one is presented by three mathematicians. A 30-second trailer is inserted below but, if you have not seen the full 74-minute programme (opens in a new window), I really would recommend it.

The programme focuses on three numbers:
— 0.85 Celsius – the rise in average global surface temperatures since the 1880s.
— 95% – the certainty of the scientific community that this is primarily human-caused.
— 1 trillion tonnes – humanity’s carbon budget to avoid 0.85 increasing to 2 Celsius.

Along the way, the programme highlights the early work of Svante Arrhenius – who determined that a halving of atmospheric CO2 could cause a 4 Celsius drop in temperature (and therefore that a doubling of CO2 will cause a 4 Celsius rise).

With regard to the accuracy of computer models, the programme highlights the way in which this has been proven by their ability to predict the cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions.

With regard to our carbon budget, the programme highlights the fact that humanity has already burnt 0.5 trillion tonnes and, unless radical changes are made to global trends, will burn the remaining 0.5 trillion tonnes within 30 years. It also points out that, as ongoing events might well suggest, even 2 Celsius could have severe and pervasive impacts (as the IPCC described them last year).

All very inconvenient for libertarians everywhere, I guess.

Addendum (17 March 2015):
The final third of the programme includes a discussion of ‘extreme value analysis’ (EVA), which Wikipedia helpfully describes as “a branch of statistics… [that] seeks to assess… the probability of events that are more extreme than any previously observed”. Flood defences like the Woolwich Barrier on the Thames estuary were designed using EVA. However, crucially, EVA assumes that average parameter values do not change over time. Therefore, given that climate change invalidates this assumption, it is now accepted that London will need greater protection from flooding in the future. This is why I included a link to (my blog post about) the ‘Climate Departure’ reseach of Mora et al. (i.e. below), which estimates the regional variation in the date by which future climates will have departed from what has hitherto been considered normal.

See also:
https://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/greedy-lying-bar-stewards-guilty-of-crimes-against-humanity/
https://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/a-summary-of-the-climate-departure-research-of-mora-et-al/

Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

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Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?

With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:

(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
or
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.

What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P

If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).

N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.

Why am I here?

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My Dad with my children in 2008.

My Dad with my children in 2008.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, Henry Chester Lack (1926-2009), who would have been 88 today.

The University of Liverpool run an online training module for all off-Campus and/or International students in the first year of their PhD studies. As part of this, I have been asked to explain (to a non-technical audience) why I am doing what I am doing. Here is what I said:

—–

Q1. What do I intend to research?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1988. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Q2. Why does it interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment. In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

Q3. What do you want your audience to learn as a result of reading this?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value). Whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

Q4. How can I make things more interesting?
Here is a quote from one of the heroes of modern climate science, Stephen H Schneider, who said: “If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier.” In other words, the rejection of a clear preponderance of evidence is ideologically-motivated denial (not skepticism). To see the context within which Schneider reached this conclusion, please see the following article by John Mashey on DeSmogBlog (i.e. ‘Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science’) recently:
http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/04/18/pseudoskeptics-are-not-skeptics

Written by Martin Lack

30 April 2014 at 16:00

Occam’s Razor works for me!

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‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback.  I decided to purchase a copy.  Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.

In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural.  That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.  

Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!

However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’.  This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.  With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me:  Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.

Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice:  Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?

Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?

If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1)  There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”…  Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.

If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains

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Rousseau in 1753, by Quentin de La Tour
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

This must surely be a contender for the most well-known opening line of a personal treatise on political theory.  Written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) in, possibly his most famous work, The Social Contract (first published in 1762).  Is it not more readily identifiable than the opening lines of works by Adolf Hitler or Karl Marx?  OK, let’s not argue about it.  That would be a distraction…

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they. (Rousseau)

I have been aware of Rousseau (and this quote) for some time – at least since coming to appreciate the importance of the seventeenth century Age of Enlightenment. For ease of reference, the relevant Wikipedia article begins thus:

“The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in the late 17th and 18th century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange…”

To long-established readers of this blog (and/or those that do not question my motives or integrity), it may seem odd that I acknowledge the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment.  This is because I am socially-conservative; and would argue that modern science is founded upon the rational belief in an existential Universe (rather than argue that it is undermined by irrational belief in a non-existent God).

In my defence, I would say that this is part of what makes me what Stewart Brand calls an eco-pragmatist (as opposed to either an idealist or a radical).  I believe that the way we do things needs reformation – not revolution.  This is the essence of the school of thought known as ‘Ecological Modernisation’ – which I summarised on this blog in a three part series of posts (i.e. starts here) in September 2011. However, let’s try and get back to Rousseau…

I was recently reminded of this Rousseau quote (and of the political, religious and societal turmoil caused by Enlightenment thinking) while watching yet another DVD.  If I am hard to pigeon-hole politically, this is probably why I have suddenly become such a fan of the Danish film director Susanne Bier – whose films are hard to categorise cinematically.  This all started with me watching Love Is All You Need (2012) – and being really impressed by Trine Dryolm who almost outshines her co-star Piers Brosnan.  Susanne Bier admits that she sets out to make her films hard to categorise and, unquestionably, she succeeds.  I enjoyed the film – and Trine Dryholm’s performance – so much that I decided to get out two more films featuring the latter.  This resulted in me watching Bier’s previous film, In A Better World (2010) and A Royal Affair (2012), by Nicolaj Arcel (another excellent Danish film director I had never heard of) and co-starring fellow-Dane Mads Mikkelsen – best known (by me at least) for playing the main Bond villain, ‘Le Chiffre’, at the roulette table opposite Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006).

If you have not seen any of the above three Danish films, I would heartily recommend them all.  However, it is A Royal Affair that brought me back to thinking about the Age of Enlightenment in general and Rousseau in particular. As I will now try to explain…

The Age of Enlightenment was generally a good thing but, as I have said now many times, it is also the basis for one of the most significant fallacies of modern times – the belief that humans are superior to Nature (rather than being part of it).  However, the reason for my focus on the quote from Rousseau is that, although I may be taking it out of context, I believe it may explain why so many humans are failing to appreciate the seriousness of our current predicament. On the Wikipedia page for Rousseau, the Political Theory section is quite helpful – if you want to understand the context within which The Social Contract was written.  However, I am, quite unashamedly, going to take it out of that context; and apply it to environmental politics today.

To me, at least, the opening quotation resonates with my understanding of how and why so many perfectly intelligent people can be so blinded by ideology that they choose to believe that:
“Climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research.”
Rather than accept that:
“Business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business.”

However, there is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.

Whereas, there is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

It is hard to understate how angry this makes me. However, as John Ashton, former climate change advisor to the British government said in a speech given at the Bedford School recently, we should be angry about this but getting angry is not enough.  We should put this anger to use and – rather than give up on the political process – engage in it in order to change it.  He also suggested that this requires us to stop being fatalistic and see the future as something we can change (rather than something that is just going to happen to us).  Here is that talk, which is well worth watching.

I will conclude this missive by reproducing below two comments I posted elsewhere recently:

(1) In support of an article, entitled ‘Rocks Hold The Truth About Climate Change’, written by Ted Nield (the editor of the Geological Society’s website and Geoscientist magazine), on the Telegraph website:

Well done, Ted, for setting the (palaeoclimatic) record straight.

Given the massive conflict of interest that any petroleum geologist automatically has – when facing the reality that it is impossible to explain the totality of post-Industrial climate change unless burning fossil fuels is its primary cause – it is hardly surprising that the occasional ‘contrarian’ view gets aired on the Geological Society’s website.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

The denial of inconvenient science did not end well for the Catholic Church 400 years ago. Today, however, the only obscurantist Establishment is the Fossil Fuel Lobby (FFL), which now stands isolated and alone – following the demise of the Tobacco industry’s campaign – trying to turn residual uncertainty in science into unreasonable doubt.

Given that the Tobacco industry set up the first ‘Astroturf’ groups 20 years ago to deliberately campaign against climate science and other things (i.e. not just to defend smokers’ interests) – and that this is now all in the public domain – it amazes me that so many perfectly intelligent people continue to be fooled by the same strategy as perpetuated by the FFL. Whatever happened to: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”…?

(2) In support of an article, entitled ‘Super Typhoon Haiyan: Realities of a Warmed World’, written by Michael Mann (Penn. State Uni. and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars), on the Huffington Post website:

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

More water evaporates from a warmer ocean; and a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. Evaporation is what drives our weather; and more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time provides more energy for more storms of greater intensity. Thus, so-called ‘global weirding’ was predictable (and therefore was predicted) from the basics of atmospheric physics. What is amazing is that so many are ideologically prejudiced against accepting this fact (and that it is now being validated by unfolding events).

The ideologically-driven denial of science did not end well for the Catholic Church over 400 years ago. The only obscurantist Establishment today is the Fossil Fuel industry. However, deniers of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) would have done well to heed the warning of George Santayana from over 100 years ago: “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it”.

All those who pick a fight with history and/or science are destined to lose eventually.  However, it is just a shame that we are all – along with those who dispute the nature of reality – tied to the railway track and unable to get out of the way of the approaching train that is ACD.

So here’s to those chains of ideological blindness being broken very soon.

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