Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category
This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…
If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider
Where did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
— Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
— Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.
My research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…
The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.
What’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. 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.
Why does this 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.
Where is the conspiracy?
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).
However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).
Therefore, 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).
“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.” – James Hoggan.
I 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;
(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.
Latest email from Greenpeace:
Five months ago, they tried to silence us. They arrested our activists, and threw them in jail for peacefully protesting oil drilling in the Russian Arctic. The oil giants thought they could scare us away with intimidation. But as long as the Arctic is in danger, we’ll take action to protect it. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to prevent an oil spill in the home of the polar bears. This morning, 80 activists confronted a tanker carrying the same oil the Arctic 30 protested against to a refinery in Rotterdam. Seven of the original Arctic 30 joined them.
Join the action, tell Shell and Gazprom that Arctic drilling is a losing battle.
As dawn broke, a dramatic chase unfolded with the Rainbow Warrior chasing the Russian tanker into Rotterdam harbor and the Esperanza speeding in to support the Warrior. As the tanker slowed down to turn, the more nimble Rainbow Warrior slipped in front and put itself between the tanker and the dock where it was to unload the oil. Dutch police then quickly stormed the Warrior taking control of the ship and arresting the crew. They are safe and are currently in contact with colleagues on the ground. This isn’t just any oil. It’s the first ever Arctic oil extracted from ice-covered waters by Shell’s partner, Gazprom. It comes from the Prirazlomnaya platform, where the Arctic 30 were violently arrested following a peaceful protest last year.
These aren’t just any activists. Despite spending two months in jail for their last protest, seven of the Arctic 30 are back, defiantly fighting for the Arctic. Their fellow brave activists witnessed their unjust detention, but refuse to be silenced.They know the Arctic is too valuable to lose. They aren’t alone. You, me, and over 5 million people are standing with them.
Plagued by our daring actions and relentless pressure, oil giants and investors are finally waking up to the risks of drilling in the frozen north. Just last month, Shell backed out of their Arctic drilling plans. If we keep up this momentum, we know we can win.
As a citizen and consumer, you have the power to resist the destruction of the Arctic. We engage in peaceful civil disobedience because public confrontation is often the only way to get results from billion dollar companies.
But only you, and our millions of dedicated supporters, can amplify our voice.
Wherever they go, we’ll follow. For every plundered drop of Arctic oil, we’ll make sure the other oil giants pay the price of humiliation and infamy. However they try to destroy the Arctic, we’ll be there to stop them. Thank you for standing with us.
On motorways, your car will use about 33% less fuel if driven at 60mph instead of 80mph.
In my car, this equates to approximately 10p/mile instead of 15p/mile.
As such, for me, it has been an easy behaviour modification to make.
However, as so many seem unable to do it, I have decided to put this sign in the back window of my car.
The BBC have very helpfully posted the recent Panorama programme ‘Energy Bills: Power Failure’ on YouTube (as embedded below). Presented by Tom Heap (who regularly does spots on CountryFile), it is very fair-minded and includes contributions from a wide range of people. Therefore, even if you do not live in the UK, I would recommend watching the programme because: it is very good at describing the problems that we all face; and makes it crystal clear that we must find a solution (but does so in a way that somehow avoids being dogmatic).
Some questions I would like help in answering are as follows:
1. What is the instrumental music used in the opening night-time sequence in Blackpool?
2. Why do so many poor people use the most expensive (pay-as-you-go) way to heat their homes?
3. Can we give Angel Gurria (Secretary-General of OECD) a Nobel Prize for plain-speaking?
4. How can anyone avoid concluding that Ed Milliband is an opportunist and a con-man?
5. Why did the CEO of RWE nPower not admit profit margin on generation (as opposed to sales)?
6. Is the need for decarbonisation actually incompatible with power generation being privatised?
7. Why has carbon capture and storage not been made a priority in order to continue burning coal?
8. Is it realistic to think that (in a post-carbon era) energy will ever be cheaper than it is now?
9. When will the UK government admit that fracking is not actually low-carbon and (thus) not the answer?
10. Has Michael Fallon not read the BGS report that says only 10% of shale gas is probably recoverable?
UPDATE (23/12/2013): I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn” by Ellie Goulding (see comments below).
I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood. This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…” In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.
There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).
Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz. This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.
Schulz warns against automatically assuming 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. However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right. This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong. I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly. However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:
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.
Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).
So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:
“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.” Yes, that applies to everyone. Here are a few facts:
IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause. If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event. The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications. This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy. Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped. See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).
Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP. This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited. For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info). As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.
While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’. Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic. See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.
The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk. Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.
IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter. Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor. See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.
The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming. This myth has been repeatedly debunked. This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.
There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise. CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems. Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog.
Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.
But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But 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’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.
It’s about proper open debate. The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.
While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat. For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant. Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science?
Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.