Archive for the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ Category
I know this is very late but, it is such significant moment, I feel I must comment on the recent decision of Lancashire County Council to refuse to allow fracking to proceed in their county.
Never mind that their decision was primarily the result of NIMBYism… spurious worries about earth tremors; slightly-less spurious worries about groundwater contamination; and probably-valid worries about methane escaping into overlying aquifers (rather than being sucked out of the ground)… this was a great result for anti-fracking campaigners all around the world.
This decision sets an important precedent that I hope will not be overturned by the inevitable appeal by Cuadrilla; and/or over-ruled by the same national government that has promoted the cause of NIMBYism when it comes to opposing onshore wind turbines and solar farms.
Our supposedly “greenest government ever” could and should therefore be decried as hypocritical if they try and go against the wishes of local people in Lancashire.
Long-standing readers of this blog, written as it is by someone with a geological and hydrogeological background, may recall some of my previous posts on the subject of fracking. However, in a nutshell (or perhaps I should say “in a drill casing”), my opposition to fracking has hardened over time. Initially, my opposition was based on the same logical grounds as that against drilling for oil in the Arctic: Having established that burning fossil fuels is changing our climate, humans should now be trying to stop burning them as soon as possible. Now, however, I am also against it because it has been proven to give rise to methane contamination of groundwater; and because as little as 3% of the gas will actually be recoverable.
Given that China has now announced that it intends to make its carbon emissions peak within 15 years, can the G7 now be shamed into doing the same? We can but hope.
However, I digress from fracking (and Lancashire): In May this year, I was delighted by the appointment of Amber Rudd, as the new Climate Change Minister. This was partly because she is a woman. However, I was mainly pleased because, unlike so many totally ill-qualified, ‘sceptical’ non-experts — with Degrees in subjects like economics (Lord Lawson), Sociology (Benny Peiser), English (James Delingpole) or Classics (Christopher Monckton) — Amber Rudd accepts that the IPCC is not part of a global conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous world.
Amber Rudd, in common with the vast majority of relevant experts with a history of producing peer-reviewed scientific research, has concluded that the growing disruption to the Earth’s climate is being predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 200 years.
The only people now disputing this (as-near-as-science-ever-gets-to) certain fact are those with a vested interest in the perpetuation of the oil industry… and a handful of credulous (or wilfully blind) economists and journalists who perpetuate the myth that the science is uncertain.
Sadly, whether deliberately or otherwise, these very same people have, just as they did for the tobacco industry, succeeded in delaying for decades the effective regulation of an environmentally-damaging product.
That being the case, investment in fossil fuel companies should not only be seen as financially unwise; it should be seen as corporately irresponsible and socially unacceptable. We can but hope.
However, in the UK at least, there is of course the problem of the Energy Gap: The UK is being forced to close down it’s ‘dirty’ (i.e. high carbon intensity) coal-fired power stations. Unfortunately, the mix of low-carbon and renewable sources (i.e. wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear) — which even the fossil fuel executives of 50 years ago thought would have become dominant in the power-generation sector by now — is nowhere near to being in a position to replace coal. This leaves the UK importing huge amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
As a quick aside, I would like to encourage all non-scientific types not to be intimidated by jargon. Take “carbon intensity” as an example. This is merely a reference to the number of carbon atoms in the product being burnt. As such, mining tar sands is ‘highest’ and burning methane is ‘lowest’.
Sadly, however, none of this changes the fact that burning any fossilised carbon increases the total amount of CO2 circulating within the biosphere, which is warming the planet as a result of the basic Laws of Physics. To make matters even worse extra atmospheric CO2 is slowly reducing the pH of seawater, which is making it harder for shellfish of all kinds to live and grow. This is a much more serious problem because they are the only means Nature has for removing excess carbon from the biosphere (by the processes that created the fossil fuels in the first place)…
Getting back to LNG: Clearly, it would be much better if the UK did not have to do this. However, if we accept the science, we do not have the luxury of taking decades to phase-out fossil fuel use.
China is right and the G7 should follow their lead.
As many economists have now pointed out, humanity needs to treat climate change as an existential threat — far more potent than any Earthbound terrorist group — that requires mobilisation of the military-industrial complex to minimise and/or adapt to it. Sadly, far too much of the military-industrial complex is still fighting a rear-guard action to perpetuate its own existence — rather than on trying to safeguard the habitability of planet Earth for future generations.
World-famous film director, James Cameron, might well have cited the ill-fated MS Titanic as an analogy for humanity today. However, I am sure we would all rather that money would be invested in minimising climate change; rather than on constructing Elysium.
We can but hope.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that Australian taxpayers are now going to finance attempts to disprove the need to decarbonise our global power generation systems as fast as possible (see yesterday’s article on the Guardian website). However, Lomborg’s position is very confused (and confusing):
Lomborg: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is manmade and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.”
Reality: Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is real and predominantly manmade. Just as undeniable is the economic assessment that any further delay in reducing carbon emissions will make it harder and more expensive to mitigate and/or adapt to increases in global temperatures.
My suggestion to both Lomborg and Abbott is that they should take time out to read the assessment of the formerly-skeptical Yale Professor of Economics, William D. Nordhaus:
‘Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong’ by William D. Nordhaus (2012).
Writing in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal signed by sixteen fossil fuel-funded ‘Merchants of doubt’ (including Richard Lindzen), Nordhaus began thus:
I have identified six key issues that are raised in the article, and I provide commentary about their substance and accuracy. They are:
— Is the planet in fact warming?
— Are human influences an important contributor to warming?
— Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?
— Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?
— Are the views of mainstream climate scientists driven primarily by the desire for financial gain?
— Is it true that more carbon dioxide and additional warming will be beneficial?
As I will indicate below, on each of these questions, the sixteen scientists provide incorrect or misleading answers. At a time when we need to clarify public confusions about the science and economics of climate change, they have muddied the waters. I will describe their mistakes and explain the findings of current climate science and economics…
Therefore, if anyone is inclined to think Bjorn Lomborg’s position on climate science has any credibility, I would suggest that they need to read (or if necessary re-read) what Nordhaus wrote over three years ago.
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.
…or the Preservation of Favoured Rhetoric in the Service of Liars.
With apologies to Charles Darwin for the parody of the title of his most famous work (Darwin, 1859), I have decided to mark the start of work on my PhD by posting here the Abstract and Conclusions of my MA dissertation, ‘A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the United Kingdom’. Existing readers will, no doubt, be aware that the Abstract has been on the About page of this blog since its inception, and other bits and pieces have appeared over time (links embedded below). However, the Conclusions have never been published here before (although I have often alluded to them). The whole thing, of course, was the basis for my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, which can be purchased in hardcopy or eBook form from any decent online bookstore (click on book cover, right, for details).
Before reading further, however, please note the following:
1. Since writing this, three years ago, I have stopped using the more familiar – but imprecise – term ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’ (AGW), in favour of the less familiar – but more precise – term ‘Anthropogenic Climate Disruption’ (ACD).
2. It is not possible to explain the totality of late 20th Century warming unless humans are the primary cause.
3. Disputing this necessitates believing that the majority of climate scientists are either: (a) being stupid; (b) reaching unjustifiable conclusions; or (c) wilfully stating things they know to be false.
4. Whereas 3(a) is highly improbable and 3(b) is entirely irrational, if 3(c) were true, unlike industry-sponsored misinformation campaigns, it would be unprecedented. However, fortunately for all those interested in avoiding ideologically-driven denial of science in the service of vested business interests, evidence continues to pour in to show that the scientific consensus is entirely reasonable, rational and reliable.
Discourse analysis is understood in the sense proposed by John Dryzek (2005) that it involves the textual assessment of (a) basic entities recognised or constructed; (b) assumptions about natural relationships; (c) agents and their motives; and (d) key metaphors and rhetorical devices used. As a piece of social science research, no attempt is made to prove or disprove the validity of the scientific consensus view that climate change is happening and that human activity is its primary cause. However, this reality has been assumed solely in order to analyse the views of climate change sceptics that dispute it. To this end, the philosophical roots of scepticism; its possible misappropriation for ideological reasons; and the psychological causes of denial are reviewed. In this context, based on the finding of numerous researchers that conservative think-tanks (CTTs) often act as the primary driving force of campaigns to deny environmental problems, the output of such UK-based CTTs is analysed, along with that of scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others. Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction. However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If so, Peter Jacques (2009) would appear to be right to conclude that anti-environmentalism (i.e. environmental scepticism) needs to be exposed as being “in violation of the public interest”.
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus – and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories of various kinds – the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion. In contrast to all of the above, the politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic rationalist arguments.
Climate change sceptics often object to being called ‘denialists’ on the grounds that they accept the climate is changing but do not accept that we are causing it. However, this appeal to reason is wholly reliant on the complexity of climate science; and the consequential limited understanding of it amongst the vast majority of the population.
Therefore, although many sceptical scientists and economists may wish to draw analogies between concern for the environment and religious belief; and be very dismissive of “an uncritical acceptance of this new conventional wisdom” (Peacock 2008: 114), this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that, in addition to being the “greatest market failure in history” (Stern) and “a failure of modern politics” (Hamilton), AGW is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity (cf. Meadows et al. 2005: 223). As James Lovelock has put it:
Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy. It is true that many scientists, especially climatologists, now see that our planet has the capacity to regulate its climate and chemistry, but this is still a long way from being conventional wisdom (Lovelock 2006: 21-2).
Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ (i.e. the FFL and/or CTTs) by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of AGW; and/or the unsustainable nature of exponential growth in economic development, resource depletion, and environmental pollution (Hamilton, Jacques, MacKay, Oreskes & Conway, etc.).
If the consensus view of AGW is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt to the realities of AGW in a timely fashion has already been delayed by several decades. This would make it imperative that this delay should end; and that action should be taken. However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If so, it is also imperative that those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ – waging this disinformation campaign – should be exposed as the real enemies of humanity and the planet.
It is hoped that this research will be of benefit to those seeking to achieve this end.
Darwin, C. (1859), On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Murray.
Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hamilton, C. (2010), Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change. London: Earthscan.
Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.
Lack, M. (2013), The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse.
Lovelock, J. (2006), Revenge of Gaia. London: Allen Lane.
MacKay, D. (2009), Sustainable Energy: without the Hot Air. Cambridge: UIT. Available online at http://withouthotair.com.
Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.
Peacock, A. (2008), ‘Climate change, religion and human freedom’, in Robinson C. (ed), Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists. London: IEA, pp.114-31.
Stern, N., et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change. London: HM Treasury.
If you have a genuine interest in understanding who it is that has been lying about climate change for decades, based on the research I have since done (in order to draft my PhD proposal), I would recommend that you read any or all of the following:
Capstick, S. & Pidgeon, N. (forthcoming). ‘What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public’. Global Environmental Change. Corrected proof available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Carvalho, A. & Burgess, J. (2005). ‘Cultural Circuits of Climate Change in U.K. Broadsheet Newspapers, 1985–2003’. Risk Analysis, 25 (6), pp.1457-69. PDF available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011). ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change, 21(3) pp.1035-44. Abstract available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385. Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
O’Neill, S.J., & Boykoff, M. (2010). Climate denier, skeptic, or contrarian? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107:E151. Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Sceptics (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). PDF of Executive Summary available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
“The red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, are pop culture symbols representing the choice between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue).”
In September 2010, I resigned from my last full-time job (i.e. something for which an employer paid me for services rendered) in order to do a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Environmental Politics. This followed months (if not years) during which I had become increasingly concerned about ‘the painful truth of reality’ (that the Earth is no longer able to cope with size of the human population on it) and ‘the blissful ignorance of illusion’ (that perpetual growth in resource consumption and/or degradation are possible and/or sensible).
The last two-and-a-half years have, in many ways, been an absolute nightmare for me: I did not do my MA with the intention of returning to hydrogeology afterwards. Indeed, by the time I finished my MA, I had concluded that the most sensible thing would be for me to pursue my research in the form of a PhD. Despite all this, having investigated an array of alternative ways forward, I have spent a great deal of this time applying for hydrogeology jobs. However, having got my MA research published in the form of a book – and having had a number of academics subsequently tell me I should pursue my research further – I am now delighted to announce that:
I have been offered & accepted a place as a full-time PhD student at the University of Liverpool.
For me, doing my MA was the equivalent of Neo’s meeting with Morpheus in The Matrix. Just like the character of Neo in the movie, I have spent most of my life feeling there is something very wrong with reality – I just could not say why. In the course of doing my MA, however, I read a number of things that began to help me understand what the problem is. Chief amongst these were the following:
‘Betrayal of Science and Reason’ (1996) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.
‘Environmental Skepticism’ (2009) by Peter Jacques.
‘Requiem for a Species’ (2010) by Clive Hamilton.
‘Merchants of Doubt’ (2010) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
One third of my MA involved researching and writing a dissertation. As a result of my reading these books, I chose to research the subject of climate change scepticism – as summarised on the About page of this blog. Having completed my research, this is how summarised my work in the closing chapter of my dissertation (i.e. as submitted in August 2010):
Whereas the majority of [conservative think tanks] analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus – and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories of various kinds – the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion… Climate change sceptics often object to being called ‘denialists’ on the grounds that they accept the climate is changing but do not accept that we are causing it. However, this appeal to reason is wholly reliant on the complexity of climate science; and the consequential limited understanding of it amongst the vast majority of the population.
Therefore, although many sceptical scientists and economists may wish to draw analogies between concern for the environment and religious belief… this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that… [anthropogenic climate disruption] is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity… As James Lovelock has put it:
Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy. It is true that many scientists, especially climatologists, now see that our planet has the capacity to regulate its climate and chemistry, but this is still a long way from being conventional wisdom. [‘Revenge of Gaia (2006) p.21-2].
…If the consensus view of [climate change] is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt… in a timely fashion has already been delayed by several decades. This would make it imperative that this delay should end; and that action should be taken. However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If so, it is also imperative that those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ – waging this disinformation campaign – should be exposed as the real enemies of humanity and the planet.
It is hoped that this research will be of benefit to those seeking to achieve this end.
However, for this objective to be fully realised, it may be necessary to demonstrate the extent to which this disinformation is being orchestrated; rather than just being the consequence of a few misguided but influential people. For this to be achieved, would require significant research, based on Jacques et al. (2008), on a scale similar to that undertaken by Oreskes and Conway; and for this to be widely publicised in similar fashion to their Merchants of Doubt book. The starting point for all of this would therefore probably have to be a PhD.
And so, two years later than originally scheduled, that is what I am now going to do.
I should wish to hereby acknowledge the assistance of Elaine McKewon – who found my book on the Internet and contacted me – without whose encouragement I would not have produced a sensible research proposal; identified a shortlist of UK-based academics with relevant research interests; and sent it to them. Of this dozen (or so) academics, three or four expressed some interest, two suggested it needed refining and one offered to supervise it (and helped me refine it). All of this may explain why my activity level in the blogosphere reduced in the second half of 2013. Therefore, although I intend to continue blogging (albeit – as now – on an infrequent basis), my main focus for the next few years will be pursuing my research in the form of a PhD.
As such, my desire to “derail climate change denial” may still be a distant dream but, at least I can now say with confidence that it is a work in progress; one to which I am personally making an active contribution.
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’.