Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘William Nordhaus’ Category

Is the UK government on a flight from reality?

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This week, I was very pleased to discover that some of my recent output has been listed on a Weekly round-up of blogosphere posts related to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) on the Science blogs website.  However, I was even more grateful when I saw mention, within that round-up, of a very significant event in British politics last week.

Over recent months, I have posted quite a lot of stuff about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and carbon capture and storage (CCS); culminating in the items I posted last week (discussed below).  It is therefore ironic that I did not notice the row that erupted last week as a result of a public letter to the Secretary of State for the Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) from the Chairman of the government’s relevant independent advisory body (the Committee on Climate Change [CCC]) – former Conservative Environment Minister John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben) – as publicised in The Guardian last Thursday.

The UK government published a draft Energy Bill in May this year, on which I commented at the time – in ‘A very unsustainable Energy Bill’.  At that time, I was concerned about the stated aim of the UK government to become less reliant upon imported gas. More specifically, I was (and am) concerned that it is planning to replace this with oil shale gas (from fracking); rather than encouraging people to get off the grid altogether by investing in micro-generation (such as solar panels).

It seems, therefore, that anticipation had been growing that an announcement would soon be made that the UK is likely to remain reliant upon new gas-fired power generation (without CCS) well beyond 2030.  If the UK pursues this strategy it will do so despite the following:
– 1. The widespread international agreement – of organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); numerous scientists such as James Hansen; and even influential (and formerly sceptical) economists such as William Nordhaus – that humanity can no longer afford to delay decarbonising its energy generation systems.
– 2. The agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 that – in energy generation a least – fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel use both need to be phased out.
– 3. The fact that the Earth has five times more conventional fossil fuel than is now considered safe to burn; and therefore now is not the time to be finding a whole load more unconventional fossil fuels to burn as well.

This all makes me wonder if George Osborne has been paying too much attention to what libertarian ideologues like Richard Lindzen are probably telling him.  Wherever this transparently intellectually incoherent policy is coming from, it was clearly this refusal to phase out fossil fuel use (now that we know it is causing ACD) that drove Lord Deben to publish the CCC’s letter last Thursday.  In it, he began by stating:

Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without [CCS] in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets. These are, of course, designed to balance the costs and risks of meeting long-term objectives and they require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades…

What is even more surprising is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to respond so promptly – quite possibly due to the CCC’s suggestion that pursuing gas (from fracking) instead of equivalent investment in renewable energy could be illegal because (as the CCC letter continues):

Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 [emissions reduction] target.

As I made clear on my blog last week, having benefited from an exchange of emails with Professor Robert Mair (on fracking) and with Dr Bryan Lovell (on CCS), I remain convinced that pursuing fracking as a panacea to all our energy problems is insane; but have reluctantly come to accept that we may have to rely upon CCS if we are to avoid significant ACD.  However, this is no excuse for doing as George Osborne has done – effectively telling his own independent advisors that, once again, the non-scientist knows what the best course of action is.

Indeed, apart from putting your hands over your ears and shouting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, there can only one possible reasons for doing as George Osborne has done – he must believe we can continue to burn fossil fuels with impunity and/or doubt the reality of catastrophic ACD if we do not use CCS to prevent it.

I therefore think it is crunch time for the UK’s Coalition government.  Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I support on many issues, famously said he wanted to make it “the greenest government ever”.  Sadly, it seems to be failing significantly in many ways:  In addition to crippling the green revolution at birth – by removing most of the incentives to get individual households to invest in Solar PV panels on their roofs (etc) – it now seems set to pursue energy independence in the form of fracking.  As The Guardian concludes:

The argument over the [decarbonisation] target is now likely to reach the top of the government with pressure mounting on Cameron to face down critics of the government’s green policies and adopt the CCC recommendations in full.

Denial discredited by indigestion

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Have you ever noticed that it is common for people to attempt to discredit those with whom they disagree rather than dealing with what they say? This has been called many things, such as “attacking the messenger”, tactical avoidance, distraction, misdirection, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty… but, to me, it is symptomatic of denial.

Why is it that people get so upset by use of the word denial? Has it really anything to do with ‘Holocaust denial’? I don’t think so – this is just a facile way of not addressing the issue – that is to say – it is yet more tactical avoidance: Indeed, I think it is an attempt to deny that one is in denial about being in denial. Is anyone going to be brave enough to deny it tell me I am wrong! :-)

Of course, so-called “sceptics” will say this is an unfalsifiable argument, but is it?

I suspect that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth is round. I would hope that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth is very old. One thing I know is that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth’s climate is changing and that we need to try and stop it. How much longer must we wait for the Republican Party – and worshipers at the temple of free market economics and ideologically prejudiced libertarian conservatives everywhere – to wake up to this reality?

Just how much evidence are they waiting for? What will it take for them to admit they are wrong? How many times must their arguments be debunked before they will stop repeating them?

If global warming stopped in 1998, why has each decade since the 1980s been warmer than that which preceded it? If global warming is going to be beneficial, why is the Pentagon so scared about it? If global warming is not worth fixing, why are organisations like the International Energy Agency and economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus saying it is?

Indeed, why is someone like Economics Professor Mark Jaccard willing to be arrested for civil disobedience in order to make the point that:
“The window of opportunity for avoiding a high risk of runaway, irreversible climate change is closing quickly. Within this decade we will either have steered away from disaster, or have locked ourselves onto a dangerous course. Our governments continue to ignore the warnings of scientists and push forward with policies that will accelerate the burning of fossil fuels. Private interests — coal, rail, oil, pipeline companies and the rest — continue to push their profit driven agenda, heedless of the impact on the rest of us.”

Must we wait until people resort to self-immolation in order to get their point across? I really hope not because, the only difference between this kind of ultimate “alarmism” and a suicide bomber is the number of people killed – they are both terrorists.

Rather than continue to deny reality by dismissing the evidence, so-called “sceptics” need to put their ideological prejudice to one side and fully digest it (i.e. the evidence). Rather than try to repeatedly vomit all over it, they should just accept that it might actually do them some good to chew it over and, along with their pride, swallow it.

Is it now time to admit defeat?

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This is a transcript of an email I sent to Lord Monckton yesterday (and copied to Directors of both the GWPF and the IEA).

Dear Lord Monckton,

I am pleased to note that you were satisfied with my attempt to rectify a somewhat careless remark I made in my email to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on 13 March 2012 (viewable here if you scroll down). I must admit that the comment that attracted your attention (presumably MIT sent the email to you for comment?) was unusual for me, in that I generally try to limit myself to textual criticism (i.e. exposing fallacies in the things people have actually said).

As such, although I am confident than none of it is libellous, based on the research I did for my MA in Environmental Politics (i.e. my dissertation), I believe I have produced a great deal of criticism of so-called climate change “sceptics” and apparently “sceptical” organisations, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the Institute of Economic Affairs, that you and your fellow “sceptics” may be interested to read. If so, a good place to start would be the following: A brief history of mine (12 March 2012).

In the mainstream media there is a distinct lack (no pun intended) of objective criticism of such “scepticism”, which I believe Peter Jacques (University of Florida) is right to conclude is not in the public interest. Furthermore, I believe that all remaining climate change “scepticism” can be reduced to economic rationalism (i.e. the belief that we must not wreck the economy in order to fix the problem). However, even this tired old argument is now looking decidedly unsound, given the findings of Lord Stern (2006, 2009), the International Energy Agency (2011) and, most recently, William Nordhaus (2012).

In addition, of course, we have ongoing observations and/or incoming data revealing that, just as the climate models predicted it would, the warming of the oceans due to the Earth’s current energy imbalance is giving rise to more frequent and more severe weather of all kinds. Thus, although no single event can be categorically blamed on anthropogenic climate disruption, the dice are clearly now loaded – making extreme events that break century-old records (as in the UK and US last month) ever more likely (see the SREX report, as recently-published by the consistently overly-optimistic IPCC)…

I am therefore left wondering when you “sceptics” are going to throw in the towel; and admit that you are wrong?

Yours sincerely,


International Energy Agency (2011), World Energy Outlook 2011.
Stern, N (2006), The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.
Stern, N (2009), A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity.
Nordhaus, W (2012), Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong.

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

Lies, damned lies and Lindzengate

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Ever since Professor Richard Lindzen gave up on the idea of following the evidence wherever it may take him (I am not sure when this happened but it seems safe to assume that it has at some point in the last 50 years or so), it was almost inevitable that he would, sooner or later, be caught out peddling unscientific nonsense to credulous people (i.e. telling so-called “sceptics” what they want to hear).

As if this had not happened before, it certainly happened when I attended his talk at the Palace of Westminster on 22 February 2012: Having discovered that he had given a similar talk as a Keynote Address to the Heartland Institute’s International Climate Change Conference in May 2010, I went prepared with 3 questions. However, I was so amazed by the level of selective data omission and/or misrepresentation that I blew my chance to ask a question by trying to redress even his most basic failure to acknowledge the relevance of palaeoclimatic data that underlies current concern regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Having been invited to submit my questions via email, I somewhat cheekily decided to submit a very long list of questions arising from both what Professor Lindzen said and what he chose not to say. However, whether it be because I made some moderately-contentious assertions or merely because I had the temerity to question his motives, Professor Lindzen has decided to refuse to answer my questions. Furthermore, his superiors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now decided to hide behind the veil of academic tenure – and/or academic freedom – in order to avoid asking Lindzen to explain himself.

This is therefore a very sad day for those interested in upholding the importance of intellectual integrity and honesty in the pursuance of scientific knowledge; and for anyone who believes in the importance of achieving the widest-possible dissemination of that knowledge to – and its proper understanding in – the minds of the general population.

Even if they are not important to MIT, I should have thought such things were important to the American Geophysical Union (AGU). But apparently not. Apparently, it is perfectly OK for a prominent atmospheric physicist to accuse just about every other climate scientist on the planet of being involved in a conspiracy to foist environmental “alarmism” on a credulous world; to be guilty of scientific malpractice, deceit or stupidity; and to do so in a manner that appears deeply hypocritical, obfuscates a great deal of relevant information, and dupes numerous audiences into thinking they are right and the majority are wrong. Truly, this could only happen in a post-modern world where moral relativism and the marketplace of ideas have come to dominate all aspects of society.

Therefore, as a consequence of an ideologically-driven need to deny the reality of all environmental problems (that require modification of human activity in general and business practice in particular), I believe Professor Richard Lindzen is the archetypal example of what happens when political dogma gets in the way of scientific inquiry; and truth appears to be the main casualty.

Unfortunately, the Earth may yet be the ultimate casualty because no matter how many times you repeat a lie – even one as big as “there is no cause for alarm over global warming” – it does not become any more likely to be true.

Since he won’t tell me, I really don’t know or understand why Lindzen says the things he does; or why he chooses not to say the things he omits; or why he uses graphs that are clearly very misleading (even when it has been pointed out to him that doing so either shows him to be incompetent or deceitful), but I am sure of this: It is extremely likely that he is peddling a message that is dangerously misleading and that, allowing for non-linearity in climate science in general and ongoing positive feedback mechanisms in particular, climate sensitivity is somewhere between 2 and 6 times greater than he continues to claim he believes it to be.

Therefore we are left with the stark fact (now attested to by organisations like the International Energy Agency and economists such as William Nordhaus) that:
If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a. [i.e. Point #7 in my summary of James Hansen's recent TED talk]

No cause for alarm? – You cannot be serious!

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This is a transcript of an email – copied to about 20 key contacts (i.e. the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, British and American journalists, and climate science bloggers around the world) – sent at 0900 hrs GMT today, Monday 5 March 2012.
***UPDATE: Please make sure you read this too (and/or instead)!***

Professor Richard S. Lindzen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Boston, MA.

Dear Professor Lindzen,

RE: Your presentation in the Palace of Westminster in London on 22 February 2012

In writing you this third email, I am hoping that it will not be spammed.  I say this because it seems very clear to me that I may have alienated you by previously making “contentious accusations”.  These having been that you have undertaken “previous advocacy work for and on behalf of the tobacco industry”; that you have “fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking”; and that you are now “focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening”These remarks were unsubstantiated potential slurs on your reputation for which I am now happy to publicly apologise.

I say “publicly” because, in addition to accepting this apology, I hope you will forgive me taking the liberty of copying this email to a number of my relevant contacts.  This is because you have publicly and repeatedly (since at least May 2010) questioned the integrity, reliability and/or sensibility of the conclusions of the vast majority of relevantly-qualified climate scientists, the IPCC, and the majority of the World’s relevant professional institutions – all of which consider that we do indeed have legitimate reason to be concerned over ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption.  However, just as James Hansen once described you and other “contrarians” as behaving like lawyers (who only present “arguments that favor their client”), I believe this is what you were doing in your presentation at Westminster – and have been doing repeatedly since at least May 2010.

You have repeatedly asserted that climate sensitivity is very low (i.e. 1 Celsius eventual temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric CO2); whereas the genuine consensus view is that climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2.5 Celsius.  I therefore believe that we have reached a momentous point in human history; and that bad decisions made now will have irreversible consequences.  This is a view recently endorsed by the economist William Nordhaus, who has concurred with numerous other assessments – such as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) and the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (2011) – that delaying de-carbonisation of the World’s power generation systems – and all other mitigating actions – will be a false economy.  If so, then despite being in the middle of a global debt crisis, we simply must change course; because we cannot afford not to.

In stark contrast to this, James Hansen has also suggested that “policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming” and, once again, I believe this is your aim too.  What I am unclear about is your motive(s). However, even if I am entirely wrong, can you please explain why I came away from your Westminster presentation feeling like this?

For example, can you please explain:
– 1. How you can legitimately criticise both Science and the Guardian for publishing a letter signed by 255 prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2010, given that the Wall Street Journal refused to publish that letter – choosing instead to publish one signed by 16 “sceptics”; of whom you were 1 of only 4 legitimate climate scientists?
– 2. Why did you highlight the manipulation of graphs (e.g. by stretching their y-axes) as being the way that those with whom you disagree supposedly make things seem more alarming; and then do exactly the same thing with a number of your own graphs to make it seem that there is no cause for alarm? (e.g. see Skeptical Science)
– 3. The PDF of the presentation that is (or was) on the Internet does not include what I think was possibly the most misleading graph (i.e. the one showing a steeply inclined Keeling curve superimposed on temperature data [as per the screenshot from the video on my blog – see links below]), which appears to show no correlation with it over the short-term).  Is there any good reason why this omission should have occurred?

Therefore, far from being an environmental “alarmist”, I believe I am a realist and – because climate change denial has prevented significant energy policy changes for at least 24 years now - it seems to me that we are gambling the entire future habitability of planet Earth on you being right about climate sensitivity; when the vast majority of the evidence (including looking at 1990 modelling in the light of what actually happened to CO2 emissions) strongly suggests that you are in fact wrong.

To conclude, Professor Lindzen, I am an unemployed environmental advisor and/or lobbyist; I have no employer to embarrass, and no job to lose.  However, it seems to me that it would not be unreasonable for any objective observer to conclude that you have been indulging in the hypocritical obfuscation of many relevant facts; and the misdirection of your multiple audiences.  Therefore, because your presentation at Westminster was not one, could you please give me an unequivocal and clear statement of the reasons for what appears to me to be your entirely unwarranted optimism?

I look forward to hearing from you very soon.

Yours very sincerely,

Martin C. Lack. BSc (Geology), MSc (Hydrogeology), MA (Environmental Politics).

N.B. My two previous emails to you were published as promised last week (subject to minor modification and enhancement with video and screenshot of the “missing” graph) at:
An open letter to Richard Lindzen (28 February 2012)
Prof. Lindzen – try this instead! (29 February 2012)

Policy inaction – revisited

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In October last year, while reading Storms of my Grandchildren, I stumbled across James Hansen’s statement that “Policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming”; and was so taken by it I used it as a title to a post (on 28 October 2011).

As recently as yesterday, the Skeptical Science (SkS) website has published an excellent review of the latest attempt by climate change deniers to prevent action being taken. If you have not seen it, you really should read it in full; as it goes through each climate myth (there being nothing new in what SkS calls the “fake skeptic” opinion piece) presenting a brief, but no less devastating, critique of each one. However, before doing that, SkS notes that the 16 signatories “are also worth noting for their lack of noteworthiness.” Indeed, the SkS piece suggests that Richard Lindzen “…is the only climate scientist of note on the entire list, and is mainly noteworthy for his history of being wrong on climate issues.”

The myths once more debunked are as follows:
– Global warming has stopped.
“Warmists” can’t account for the lack of warming (i.e. a misrepresentation of a quote from a data-mined email taken out-of-context).
– Earth has warmed as sceptics expected (i.e. nothing unusual is happening).
– CO2 is plant food (and not a pollutant).
– Climate change (i.e. “environmental alarmism”) is a hoax that serves only to perpetuate finance for research (as opposed to its denial being perpetuated by the fossil fuel lobby).
– The economic cost of tackling climate change is too great (although no attempt is made to quantify the the cost of failing to act).

With regard to this latter point, I am particularly interested to learn that William Nordhaus has seen the light; and that he denounces this latest attempt to dismiss climate change as environmental alarmism. Therefore, it is clear that I have been out-of-date in criticising his denunciation of the Stern Review elsewhere on this Blog; for which error I am happy to apologise.

Again, if you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read the original SkS post by dana1981: The Latest Denialist Plea for Climate Change Inaction (31 January 2012).

Fables about climate change?

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Continuing my review of Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s Betrayal of Science and Reason (1996), we come to Chapter 8 – regarding (what they called) the “brownlash’s” fables about the Atmosphere and Climate. Given that the Ehrlichs acknowledge that climate change is the biggest problem we face – and the one which contrarians deny most vociferously – I am not sure why it is not tackled first (or last) in their book: This may be because the Ehrlichs are biologists – and more comfortable talking about food, population and biodiversity but, whatever the reason, I am sticking to their order of presentation. Therefore, the last of these posts about the fables promoted by the brownlash will be tomorrow – regarding toxic chemicals.

As for today, although the Ehrlichs tackle all kinds of atmospheric pollution, I think the brownlash has since been comprehensively defeated on all fronts accept that relating to CO2 emissions. Therefore, I will only review here the fables that the Ehrlichs identified as being put forward by climate change deniers that – as you will see – have not changed much in 15 years; and neither have those promulgating them! Indeed, all of arguments identified below (and their rebuttals) can be found on sites like Skeptical Science; and/or summarised in Robert Henson’s Rough Guide to Climate Change. Nevertheless, as ever, the Ehrlich’s comments are very incisive; and remain just as relevant today as they were in 1996. So, using the abbreviation ACC for (anthropogenic climate change), here is the Ehrlich’s top ten:

01. ACC is not a problem: The Ehrlichs’ simplistic response to this was to say two things – You have to roll dice many times to establish beyond reasonable doubt that they are loaded; and if climate change is not a problem to “sceptics” then, presumably, neither would they be concerned if they found a lump in a breast or a testicle (depending on gender obviously).

02. The greenhouse effect is just a theory: A long-time favourite argument of Richard Lindzen’s. To which many have responded, so is gravity! However, the Ehrlichs point out that without greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere, the Earth’s surface would be at minus 18 Celsius and, although water vapour and methane may be more potent GHGs – water vapour is ephemeral and methane is (thankfully) even more of a trace gas than CO2.

03. Problematic ACC is only predicted by models: Ever since James Hansen went on the record as saying that evidence for ACC had emerged from the “noise” of natural climate variation in 1988, this assertion has been attacked. However, all such counter-claims have proven to be misleading, deceitful, and/or based on flawed analysis of cherry-picked data. Most recently, of course, former sceptic Dr Richard A Muller has conceded that multi-decadal warming is happening. Unfortunately, the response of deniers has been one of two things: To add Muller to the list of people duped by the ACC “scam” or to try and claim that a supposed absence of warming over the last decade is relevant.

04. Scientists used to fear an approaching Ice Age: This is such a tired old argument; I can barely be bothered to respond to it. However, as does everybody else, the Ehrlichs point out that between 1945 and 1975, the cooling effect of atmospheric pollution generated by developed countries was greater than the warming effect of ACC. Today pollution from less developed countries may be doing the same thing but this is not good news because one day soon, just as it did before, ACC is likely to dominate once more.

05. The doubling of a trace gas such as CO2 cannot possibly be responsible for ACC: This is just a straightforward refusal to accept a physical reality that is theoretically well-understood; demonstrable in a laboratory; and now, arguably, observable in nature.

06. Humans can’t possibly affect our atmosphere and/or climate: The Ehrlichs’ response to this was to ask how many micrograms of bacteria does it take to kill a 100kg man? So then, just like Nazi propaganda, no matter how many times this lie is repeated, it will not magically become true. It is an unpleasant reality that we all need to accept: The burning of fossil fuels by humanity is endangering the climate and sea level stability of the last 7,000 years that made modern civilisation possible.

07. 20th Century warming is just recovery from Little Ice Age (LIA): This is, in essence, the same argument as that made by people who continue to attack the MBH98 Hockey Stick graph, as if by doing so, they could invalidate 150 years of scientific understanding of the likely effects of doubling atmospheric CO2 concentration. See this recent post on Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Perfect Timing! New “Hockey Stick” Video/Mike Mann in WSJ.

08. Change will be slow – we can adapt: Having been defeated by the science, this is the fall-back position adopted by economically-oriented “sceptics” – both in 1996 and still today! As those with a tendency to support their arguments by quoting from the Bible (“Moi?“) might say, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). However, such an unscientific position ignores the existence of positive feedback mechanisms and tipping points; it also ignores the fact that climate change is already impeding our ability to grow enough crops to feed ourselves or the animals we eat. This problem can only get worse not better. Also, of course, it ignores the fact that trees can’t migrate!

09. ACC is not worth the cost of fixing: Even in 1996, William Nordhaus was trying to tell the world that this is so. Not surprisingly, therefore, he denounced The Stern Review in 2006. However, I have yet to see anyone rebut Stern’s response to this criticism – which was to point out that putting off expenditure on climate change mitigation will be the greatest economic mistake in human history. If so, why are we still making it?

10. Some parts of the world are getting colder: Up until this year, “sceptics” have continued to cite this argument every time some part of the world is hit by some unusually-cold weather. Hopefully, in the face of the spiralling costs of insurance claims arising from increasingly frequent extreme weather phenomena of all kind all around the world (all being caused – as predicted by models – by warming oceans), they will now shut up and focus instead on solving our problem.

May be now people will accept that climate change is an existential threat to all life on Earth? I hope so, because, as James Hansen points out, we have at most 4 years of business as usual before it will be too late.

The Tough Guide to Climate Denial

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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?

Being economical with your scepticism

with 12 comments

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that it is the UK’s original free-market think-tank… but, is it the best, or the most sensible? This would appear to be debatable because, as Tim Worstall has kindly pointed out, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) [which claims to be the UK's leading libertarian think-tank...] accepts that climate change is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it. Furthermore, this is the position adopted by the Policy Exchange [see Moselle and Moore (2011) p.6] and the Taxpayers’ Alliance [see Sinclair (2009) pp.3-5].

Needless to say, they all disagree with many of the methods of mitigation currently being pursued, but so do I. That is not the point. The point is that the IEA seems doggedly committed to promoting the view that anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is either a fantasy, a scam, or a problem that is not worth the economic cost of fixing. I mean, they are seriously behind the curve on this one…

The remainder of what I have to say here is based on my reading of the IEA’s 2008 publication, Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists, (still for sale on their website), compiled and contributed to by Colin Robinson.
– Ian Byatt’s contribution is simply a (Nordhausian) critique of the very low discount rate used in the Stern Review, which Byatt claims results in gross underestimation of the real costs of proposed actions to mitigate AGW (page 92-113).
– David Henderson appears to concede that the climate is changing (as it has done before); but that the magnitude of the problem has been overstated (i.e. conspiracy theory); and that no radical action is therefore required (page 72-5).
– Russell Lewis is clearly a fan of the argument that AGW is a false alarm; considers that current concern is as flawed as that in the 1970s over an approaching ice age (page 5-7); and believes that prominent theologians, politicians, and philosophical scientists have all been duped by what he cites author Michael Crichton has having termed “a kind of fundamentalist religion” (page 40).
– Julian Morris uses classic denialist arguments that CO2 is not a pollutant and that climate change is natural to dispute the reality of a legitimate scientific consensus view that AGW is actually happening; and to support the view that environmentalism is a new religion (page 132).
– Alan Peacock, however, uses religious-sounding rhetoric to reach the conclusion that AGW is an anti-libertarian conspiracy (pages 114 and 130 respectively).
– Colin Robinson agrees that “environmental alarmism” has some of the characteristics of a new religion in his Introduction, which he considers to be dangerous precisely because it challenges the status quo and the sensibility of business as usual. In his second contribution to the collection of essays, he also criticises modelling/forecasting as inherently unreliable; and says any predictions must be treated with scepticism in the light of previous false alarms (pages 42 and 66 respectively).

These guys are unquestionably all extremely well-respected economists and/or businessmen, but they seem to have allowed this to cloud their judgement: Because of their absence of any scientific expertise, rather than engage in rational debate over the highly-probable scientific reality of AGW or the equally-likely political necessity of taking mitigating action to avoid unprecedented environmental changes, they prefer to invoke the supposed irrationality of concern over AGW.

This would appear to lend weight to the argument of those that have suggested that it is Capitalist economics and/or consumerism that is/are the problem; what Daly calls “growthmania” and Hamilton “growth fetishism”. Whatever you want to call it, some economists (at the IEA at least) appear to have decided that they cannot afford the IPCC to be right; and are therefore willing to grasp hold of any evidence they can find (or that other conservative think tanks feed to them) that may confirm this view. In other words, this is cognitive dissonance leading to confirmation bias; being dressed-up as economic rationalism.
Moselle, B. & Moore, S. (2011), ‘Climate Change Policy – Time for Plan B’, Policy Exchange.
Sinclair, M. (2009), ‘Ending the Green Rip-off: Reforming climate change policy to reduce the burden on families’, Taxpayers’ Alliance.


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