Category Archives: Belief

Desperately seeking paradigm shifts: sceptics looking for new ways to attack consensus

Lu_paper

Paradigm shift, really?

Anti-science movements evolve: new sceptic lines of attack

The recent paper by John Cook et.al. clearly showing 97% consensus among scientists that the globe has warmed in response to human activities over the last 150 years seems to have rattled large parts of the sceptic movement.

And while they have been bitterly complaining about the paper, their criticisms have failed to spill over into the mainstream media. Their counter arguments remain firmly lodged within the alternative knowledge sphere they have constructed for themselves.

Failing to gain any real traction in undermining the Cook paper, their tactics are now shifting.

The new line of attack is to undermine the idea that a scientific consensus is stable. Drawing on popular notions of the lone scientific genius (aka The Galileo Gambit) and the history of science, they are beginning to stress the instability of scientific consensus.

How effective that is remains to be seen. It may not be enough to dissuade the public from their growing appreciation a scientific consensus exists, but they’re going to give it a good try.

The hullabaloo over Lu

This may explain why of late sceptics and papers such as The Australian have latched onto the deeply flawed paper by Qin Bin Lu claiming CFCs are to blame for global warming, not CO2. Their strategy is simple:

  • Claim the Lu paper has overturned the 97% consensus
  • Suggest that even if the Lu paper has not overturned the 97% consensus, then consensus can be changed at a moments notice
  • Therefore it would be foolish to act on climate change given these scientific uncertainties.

Whether they continue to champion Lu’s paper or not is besides the point. The tactic is designed to achieve two outcomes. Firstly, continue to undermine the public’s understanding a consensus exists. Secondly, undermine the idea of a stable and enduring consensus on any issue.

This in fact may be even more dangerous than previous lines of attack if one considers the implications of such thinking.

If the public understands there is consensus, they’re more ready to accept the science

While the public has mistakenly thought a debate between scientists has existed this is starting to change. That their attitudes can shift matters.

A study published last year in Nature Climate Change demonstrated that if informed a scientific consensus exists, the average member of the public is more likely to accept the science of climate change:

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

Such acceptance cuts across the left-right political spectrum. For obvious reasons, the very idea of a consensus is considered anathema to the sceptics.

But if the average person can be primed to accept the science in response to understanding a consensus exists, what lines of attack can we expect from the sceptics?

Enter Lu and the idea of consensus being inherently unstable.

The would-be paradigm shifter: Lu at Waterloo

For those unfamiliar with this weeks drama in climate science, Qing Bin Lu at the University of Waterloo (NZ) claims to have overturned the scientific consensus on global warming.

It is CFCs, not CO2 to blame. As noted, this theory has long been discredited.

Lu’s paper has been championed by The Australian, other sections of the conservative press and politicians as evidence the scientific paradigm on global warming has been “overturned”.

His claims have been examined and dismissed numerous times, yet Lu persists promoting his discredited theory [for good commentary see Eli Rabett here and here].

I suspect it’s revival and championing by sceptics has something do with the success of the Cook et.al paper and shifting public attitudes. 

Luntz Mark II: desperate attempts to keep the debate going

For those with long memories or an appreciation of the history of the climate debate, maintaining public confusion was one of the central strategies suggested in the notorious Frank Luntz memo.

Luntz, a Republican operative during the Bush years suggested Republican politicians push the idea the scientific debate remained open. In 2002 Frank Luntz instructed Republican politicians to question the scientific consensus:

Luntz

Thus, if the public comes to understand there is a 97% consensus, their views on global warming and the policy options available to them will change. Right? We crack what is the hardest nut in the debate. 

But the merchants of doubt have a new product. With the Lu paper they are attacking the idea of a stable scientific consensus. They are tweaking their long running strategy of claiming scientific issues (not merely the consensus) remains open

It is Luntz Mark II.

Consensus: a stable ground for policy formation, or not?

The climate debate in the public sphere is not about the science: it is about policy formation.

Policies designed to mitigate climate change have been effectively stalled for decades in large parts of the world at the global level.

The sceptic position, unlike that of the IPCC or scientists is not policy neutral. In fact, sceptics and their backers are specific on policy: keep taxes on industry low, constrain or dilute environmental regulations and ensure markets remain “free”.

But if the public, and by extension politicians, accept the consensus then movement within the policy arena shifts from inaction to action.

So what are the sceptics doing in response to this perceived shift in opinion?

Shifting the debate from being about the percentages of scientists accepting a theory to that of a consensus position being insufficiently stable to form the basis of policy formulation. 

It is well-known scientific uncertainty is a problem within the policy making sphere. One just has to look at how delayed the social response and regulation over the risks of tobacco smoking significantly lagged the scientific consensus.

Thus the sceptics are re-formulating their line of attack to influence both public perception and the policy sphere with this new wedge strategy.

Lone-genius-scientific-paradigm-busting-superstar: re-framing the question of scientific uncertainty and consensus 

Rather than suggesting the scientists are at odds over the science, they’ve taken it a step further. They are now re-framing the question of how stable a scientific consensus can ever be

It is the Galileo Gambit, the idea that all it takes is one individual (or one paper) to radically transform our understanding of the world.

Lu is this weeks would-be climate sceptic Galileo. Next week, next month it will be some other obscure scientist with an equally improbable hypothesis.

They’re looking for someone – anyone – to shift the scientific paradigm. Because if the paradigm “shifts’ (or has the possibility of shifting) then climate change is “not real”. Then the sceptics can continue to argue the debate is not over.

This new line of attack needs to be given consideration.

Anti-science movements don’t fade away they evolve: the long debate has barely begun

The_cow_pock

The vaccine debate is 200 years old

I appreciate not everyone will find the following prognosis cheery, but I think there is some validity to it.

Anti-science movements never truly fade away, their popularity ebbs and flows. Their arguments and tactics evolve and adapt.

They are long-lasting, multi-generational movements that sometimes fade into obscurity (as far as official keepers of knowledge are concerned) and re-emerge in periods of crisis.

Take vaccination as but one example.

The above cartoon by James Gillray from 1802 captures the fear that inoculation against cowpox would lead to cow like appendages sprouting from a person’s body. Indeed, it was produced for the anti-vaccination movement of the day.

Two centuries later, despite the obvious benefits and success of mass vaccination, serious doubt has crept into the public’s consciousness. We are now seeing a resurgence of diseases such as measles and whooping-cough once thought under control. As fewer people vaccinate their children, herd immunity decreases and we’re faced with resurgent pathogens. Children die.

Let us consider another example.

The Creationist movement of the 1920s started out with a very primitive set of arguments against evolution derived from criticisms stemming from the mid-to-late 19th century opposition to Darwin. The Scopes Monkey trial of the 1920s saw them suffer a setback.

The movement was dormant for several decades, as it faded into the background, a tenant of a variety of Evangelical churches in the United States. But slowly in the 1950s it began to re-emerge. In the 1970s advocates renamed Creationism “Creation Science” and gained success in promoting it as an alternative theory to the Evolutionary consensus.

Suffering a number of setbacks in a series of court tussles, creationists again reformulated the basic tenants of creationism and labelled it Intelligent Design.

The climate sceptic movement is no different. They will adapt and reformulate their lines of attack.

This broad trend needs to be given consideration.

 

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The Maginot Line Defence and moral imagination: climate change isn’t real; maybe it is; we should all give up!

Give_up

Mark Lawson is a journalist at the Australian Financial Review noted for his climate scepticism and frequent posts on any climate change thread on The Conversation. Indeed, he is the frequent target of criticism by other posters for making basic errors of fact.

Be that as it may, in the comments section of the post reprinted on WtD, Mark made the following comment in relation to the challenge of establishing global agreements:

I have no quibbles with the article but the main surprise is that anyone seriously thought that an enforceable, global system for limiting emissions could be put in place in the foreseeable future. The immense difficulties were apparent before the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. Activists are only now reluctantly acknowledging this reality.

Getting the US to agree to anything nationally is simply impossible for the reasons the author sets out. Even the well-supported multi-state programs are largely tokens. As for the Chinese, there is big talk but mostly it’s all just hot air. A pilot program for emissions trading in a few cities doesn’t even apply to power stations.

Basically forget it. Come back in a few decades.

Yes – let’s just “basically forget it”.

Indeed, let’s do nothing at all.

Let’s be like Mark and throw our hands in the air and say, “To hell with you humanity, I can’t be ars*d!”

I’m certainly not underestimating the challenges climate change presents – it is truly a problem from hell.

Indeed, there is a real possibility it is beyond humanity’s collective efforts to respond adequately.

However there is a difference between articulating the complexity and scope of the problem and giving up.

Mark employs what I call the “Maginot Line Defence”: it is not so much an argument but the psychological process of moving from denial and/or indifference to defeatism:

Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Maybe it is real? > Oh cr*p it is real! > It seems like a hard problem… hmmmm > We should all give up!

The Maginot Line, for those who don’t know, was a line of fortifications built by the French between the First and Second World War to protect themselves from another feared German invasion.

When war broke out again, the Germans simply – and quite literally – drove around it.

This led the dispirited French armies to collapse in confusion. France fell in a matter of weeks, and the rest they say was history.

At the time the French army was regarded as the most effective fighting force in the world, however the French national psyche had been badly mauled during WW1. Millions had died in the trenches.

Those losses haunted the French in the decades following the Armistice of 1918.

And so, the idea of fighting another such bloodbath was intolerable to many of the French populace.

So they built a wall and hid behind it, feeling safe behind the imagined security it offered.

The rise of Hitler, new developments in military technology and the innovative combined land-air tactics of Blitzkrieg (not a term the German’s used themselves by the way) was a reality many people did not want to face and refused to even see.

Hence the inflexible, supposedly invulnerable, wall of defence built to shelter them from a threat without having to directly confront it.

Those who employ the Maginot Line Defence in the climate debate are doing likewise, but at the individual level – primarily to protect themselves from the uncomfortable thoughts about the future (something akin to terror management theory) or having to address thorny questions about justice and lifestyle change:

“Climate change real? That’s a change not worth thinking about!”

For many, the response is to hide behind a reflective – and reflexive – wall of indifference in order to avoid disquieting feelings.

But reality can only be kept at bay for so long: eventually it circumnavigates even the most artful defences.

It is then people can resort to defeatism:

“Climate change!” you now hear many sceptics and defeatist cry “…even it if was real, way too hard to solve! What are going to do about it?”

The solution they offer:

“Forgot about it – give up! Come back in a few decades!”

Perhaps these people won’t ever personally know someone forced to relocate due to rising seas, floods or collapsing regional economies in drought-impacted areas.

They may regard these as other people’s problems.

Do not they not have the right to ignore the suffering of others and prohibit such trivia punctuating their consciousness?

Of course they do: there is not – nor should there be – any compulsion for them to do so.

The garden of our soul is for us alone to tend.

But should we only consider our own well-being and short-term needs?

Is that an ethical way to move through the world?

Denial is not so much the refusal to accept scientific facts, but a failure to employ the moral imagination.

Those who employ their moral imagination have the capacity to imagine different futures and the suffering (or flourishing) of others; to pay attention to the pull of their individual conscience; and to acknowledge the impact they have as they move through the world.

Or – we could all just give up.

Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.  

In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.

My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.

The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.

Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.

Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.

An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?

In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:

In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.

Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.

The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.

Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect

Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.

He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.

His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:

Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”

Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.

Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.

Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.

They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.

Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.

Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press

The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists. 

The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.

Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):

Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.

 He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.

“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

 Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.

The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):

Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.

Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.

The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.   

False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes

Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.

He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.

In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.

Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.

What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.

The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.

Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.

The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.

We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.

But what is cost of this?

Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.

At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.

But again – at what cost?

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility

It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.

For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.

We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.

Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.

For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.

I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

[Note: see also Graham Readfearn’s piece on the same topic – what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]

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[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog’s author. ]

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Scepticism damaging the conservative political brand: Aussie media becoming alert to the paranoid style of climate sceptics

One of the better sites focussed on the economic and business aspects of climate change is Climate Spectator. Apart from some great coverage on business, climate change policy and the energy industry, they also publish thought provoking opinion pieces.

Thus I’d like to point readers to a great piece by Tristan Edis titled The Mad Monk and Monckton’s mates. To my mind it is indicative of mainstream media (MSM) now understand the fact that Monckton and many climate sceptics are – to put it ever so politely – barking mad.

Edis notes in somewhat amazed fashion Monckton’s connection to the political fringe: 

“So why was a person who made their name questioning global warming invited to launch such a party?  Because Monckton dreams up many of the stories that feed these people’s sense of paranoia and victim hood. Monckton’s beef is not so much with the science of global warming; it’s with the liberal-left agenda more generally. In a January article in WND Weekly, he labels Obama a communist that will bankrupt America within a matter of a few years, claims he has faked his birthplace and confidently predicts will be jailed in five years time. He rails against Obama for allowing “unfettered immigration”, “baby-butchering”, gay marriage, and being “soft on Islam” (whatever that means – presumably nothing to do with executing Osama Bin Laden).”

For many of us, this isn’t new. More importantly, Edis notes by associating itself with Monckton, the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) have hurt their brand:

“A number of individuals and groups that are influential within the Liberal Party and its membership have embraced and championed Monckton’s views on climate change.  These include the Institute of Public Affairs, Andrew Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Gina Rinehart.  Cory Bernardi, who was one of the key backers of the coup against Malcolm Turnbull that installed Tony Abbott, expresses views and is involved in organisations which are closely linked to Monckton and websites like WND Weekly.

The Liberal Party needs to guard themselves against being infiltrated by this kind of extremist nonsense. Abbott was persuaded to meet Monckton back in 2010 just a day after releasing their climate change policy. This was a mistake…”

Let me reiterate that point: climate change scepticism is damaging the conservative “brand”. It may have had a political utility at one point, but no longer. Let’s not forget the cash thrown at conservative politicians by the fossil fuel industry – one wonders if that influenced their views on the science:

Fossil fuel lobby: Campaign donations anyone?

Conservative politician/s: Oh, that’s lovely innit! Thanks, but is there a catch?

During the last American election the Republicans ran on a platform that included the explicit denial of climate change. Readers may recall the events of November 2012 and how that strategy worked out… hint it didn’t go well for the Republicans.

Still, I can appreciate why those in the MSM may have baulked on reporting the actual world view climate change deniers – who are neither sceptical or dispassionate on climate change, but fringe dwelling conspiracy theorists.

Firstly, News Limited owns 70% of the news print market in Australia and has been championing the views of extremists like Monckton for years. Not many journalists, in an industry in considerable turmoil and declining job security, are going to take on editors such as Chris Mitchell at The Australian – or the Sun King himself, Murdoch – who push the sceptic agenda.

Secondly, if my experience is anything to go by, once you start pointing out the obvious connection to conspiracy culture and start criticising said beliefs it brings out an army of angry, embittered trolls. Your inbox and article/website comes under sustained assault.

Fun? Well suffice to say over the years I’ve developed a very thick skin.

Thirdly, much of the activities of these climate sceptics and conspiracy theorists happen on the fringe: you have to know where to look in the very dark corners of the internet. Sites such as World Net Daily (heck even Jo Nova’s blog) aren’t exactly choice online destinations for mainstream Australia.

But crucially it takes time to become attuned to what sceptics are saying – as in what they are really saying.  

When deniers like Monckton reference “Agenda 21” the phrase and its connotations will go over the heads of the MSM and average punter. But to those attuned to the world views of conspiracy culture, the phrase “Agenda 21” is a reference to the “sceptics” belief in a coming New World Order, black helicopters, death camps for pensioners and micro-chips embedded into the skulls of every living person on the planet.

At this point it is safe to say Monckton’s down under tour is a damp squib, fizzing out like firecracker under a torrent of indifference. In previous years he enjoyed far more attention, getting gigs on the ABC, Channel 7, televised debates at the National Press Club, radio chats with disgraced shock-jock Alan Jones and huge support from conservative columnists and News Limited. All of which seems to have evaporated.

If you want a picture of Monckton 2013 Australian tour, imagine a doddery, elderly crank standing in an empty lecture theatre muttering aloud “Good lord, where did all my good friends go?”

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High Confidence: survey of 13,000 science papers finds only 24 that reject climate change

Sometimes a picture (or graph) can say it all:

pie-chart-climate_png_492x0_q85_crop-smart

A survey of scientific literature conducted by James Lawrence Powell of or 13,000 papers on global warming found that ony 24 (0.17%) rejected the connection between carbon emissions and global warming.

Powell reviewed papers published between January 1991 and November 2012 – a twenty-one year period.

It’s not a question of the debate being over – there never was a debate.

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Genesis of the watermelon myth: how right-wing popularism shaped climate scepticism for the past two decades

The emergence of the New Right and climate scepticism

Further to the previous post, I thought I’d share an interesting presentation from The Public Eye, a progressive think tank that conducts research on right-wing popularism. It is a very high level overview of the movement, but worth looking at if you have the time (download the copy from the WtD archives here).

It does need to be said the right is not a monolithic entity – it is comprised of various groups, some in broad agreement and others in violent disagreement.

However they share deep commonalities.

My research has lead me to the thought that the climate sceptic movement is an offshoot, or component, of a broad based right-wing popularist movement that has been emerging and growing in political power since the 1950s.

In order to support such an argument I’ve been tracing the genesis of the ‘watermelon” myth – that environmentalism is merely a new form of socialism (Wikipedia definition here):

Eco-socialists are critical of many past and existing forms of both Green politics and socialism. They are often described as Red Greens – adherents to Green politics with clear anti-capitalist views, often inspired by Marxism (Red Greens should be contrasted with Blue Greens).

The term Watermelon is commonly applied, often as an insult, to describe professed Greens who seem to put “social justice” goals above ecological ones, implying they are “green on the outside but red on the inside”; the term is usually attributed to either Petr Beckmann or, more frequently, Warren T. Brookes,[2][3][4] both critics of environmentalism, and is apparently common in Australia,[5][6] New Zealand[7] and the United States[8]

Clearly the watermelon theory has its antecedents in anti-communism – and yes, some socialists and Marxists have written on environmental issues.

And yet despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall it seems many sceptics are still fighting the Cold War.

Not all environmentalists are Marxists, and scientists aren’t socialists simply because they’ve pointed out the globe is warming: is it that some conservatives simply can’t let go of the Cold War paradigm?

President of the Czech Republic (sceptic and advocate for free markets) Vaclav Klaus is noted for his comparisons of climate change science to Marxism, as this 2011 ABC interview demonstrates:

Geraldine Doogue: Could we talk first about your idea, how much the politics of climate change reminds you of the politics of the communist era in the old Czechoslovakia, please?

Vaclav Klaus: Well, I would like to put it in a mild way, that comparison. You know, I lived, I spent almost half a century of my life in the communist era, where I was forced to accept similar arguments. And I was very angry. I protested, I tried to explain it differently and now I again live in a world of political correctness; in a world when you have one idea you are considered a ‘climate change denier’ or you are considered a ‘sceptic’, and I always try to say that I disagree with those terms, labels, as sceptic, pessimist, denier.

I’d suggest there is more to this than simple right-wing paranoia.

There is a deeper story, far more nuanced than simply equating climate change scepticism with either fossil fuel funded disinformation or lingering fears about reds under the bed.

But first we need to look at the emergence of “the New Right” and the ideologies that informs it.

From reds under the bed to watermelons: the 1950s to today

Public Eye provide an good diagram illustrating the emergence of right-wing popularism since the 1950s and the McCarthy era;

Into this time line – around the mid 1980s – the issue of climate change came to the attention of the various right wing movements that form the basis of this movement.

Conservatives immediately began to formulate a response – and counter-movement – to the perceived threats of a) increased government regulation and b) challenges to cherished values and norms.

It is only now, twenty years after the fact, that we are beginning to recognize how climate change became embroiled in the ‘culture war”:

Taken together, these three facets of our existential challenge illustrate the magnitude of the cultural debate that climate change provokes. Climate change challenges us to examine previously unexamined beliefs and worldviews. It acts as a flash point (albeit a massive one) for deeper cultural and ideological conflicts that lie at the root of many of our environmental problems, and it includes differing conceptions of science, economics, religion, psychology, media, development, and governance.

It is a proxy for “deeper conflicts over alternative visions of the future and competing centers of authority in society,” as University of East Anglia climatologist Mike Hulme underscores in Why We Disagree About Climate Change. And, as such, it provokes a violent debate among cultural communities on one side who perceive their values to be threatened by change, and cultural communities on the other side who perceive their values to be threatened by the status quo.

In attempting to understand climate scepticism I believe we have overlooked how it has been shaped by broader cultural forces. As I have often said, “we” were incredibly naive to think it was simply about presenting the scientific evidence in a “rational and logical manner”.

Parallel cultures and counter-knowledge: think tanks and the fusion right-wing popularism and environmental scepticism

As part of this analysis, I believe we need to draw attention to the important role of conservative think tanks.

They are not merely the ciphers of corporate propaganda.

They are the critical formulators and disseminators of counter-knowledge: disinformation packaged as fact and tailored to the world view of cultural groups.

They are cultural institutions (see above), specifically established in the 1970s to produce counter-knowledge and scholarship in opposition to “official” sources such as academia, mainstream media and science.

They are a critical component of a parallel conservative culture which frequently rejects established scientific theories such as evolution and climate change.

We need to rid ourselves of the simple notion that their corporate funders pay them to spout free-market propaganda: many of their funders share the same world view and cluster of conservative, right-wing values. 

Indeed, one merely needs to look at the context and mission of think tanks when they were established in the 1970s.

The famous memo Lewis Powell memo of 1971 urged the US Chamber of Congress to begin building a parallel system of thought and idea generation to counter ‘socialism” and the enemies of freedom:

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.

Note the broad application of the “enemies”: media, the arts, sciences and politicians.

Powell’s memo did not single-handily create the think-tanks, but it did provide powerful impetus for their creation.

Today, the think tanks are the great “fusionists” of right-wing thought and conspiracy culture.

Over the past several decades they have fused scepticism of environmental issues with a free market ideology and – critically – conservative social values.

One merely has to visit their websites to see the cluster of ideology and values loudly proclaimed: the literature and language of think-tanks abounds with terms such as “liberty”, “freedom” and “democracy”.

Take a closer look, note the language and imagery:

And;

Freedom; liberty; freedom; liberty; freedom; liberty; freedom.

Notice a pattern?

An enormous strategic error has been made: by simply and naively focusing on the scientific arguments promoted and extolled by the think tanks we missed the broader context.

We spoke in facts, they have always spoken of values.

It was always a culture war, and it has been raging for decades.

What do we mean by “right-wing popularism”?

I’ll produce another slide from the Public Eye presentation which illustrates some of the key components of right-wing popularism:

I’d draw the readers attention to two key concepts listed above:

  • Anti-intellectualism – suspicion of elites, including an emphasis on conspiracist allegations of in shadowy forces control the economy and media
  • Producerism – a form of scapegoating that sees attacks from both those above and those below, defining proper identity along very narrow lines.

Sound familiar?

The producerism of climate sceptics: Australia’s Dr. David Evans as an example

The motifs and language of producerism is a common thread throughout sceptic literature.

One has to look no further than the persistent and frequent claims by sceptics that scientists, bankers, government and the media are all engaged in a conspiracy. Public Eye defines Producersim in more detail:

Calls to rally the virtuous “producing classes” against evil “parasites” at both the top and bottom of society is a tendency called producerism. It is a conspiracist narrative used by repressive right wing populism. Today we see examples of it in some sectors of the Christian Right, in the Patriot movements and armed militias, and in the Far right. (see chart of US right). Producerism is involved in the relationship between Buchanan, Fulani, Perot, and the Reform Party. 

Producerism begins in the US with the Jacksonians, who wove together intra-elite factionalism and lower-class Whites’ double-edged resentments. Producerism became a staple of repressive populist ideology. Producerism sought to rally the middle strata together with certain sections of the elite. Specifically, it championed the so-called producing classes (including White farmers, laborers, artisans, slaveowning planters, and “productive” capitalists) against “unproductive” bankers, speculators, and monopolists above—and people of color below. After the Jacksonian era, producerism was a central tenet of the anti-Chinese crusade in the late nineteenth century. In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with antisemitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews.

I’ll be exploring producerism in more detail, but I would draw attention to the fact that bankers and other ‘parasitic classes’ are frequently the perceived enemies identified by parts of the climate sceptic movement.

It also explains the strangely antisemitic strain of thought that finds expression in some climate sceptic literature and expressed world-views (see here and here).

We see echoes of this in the writings of Perth sceptic Dr. David Evans and his partner, blogger Joanne Nova.

Evans and Nova write frequently on the influence of the financial industry and Rothschild family as being the “true powers” in the world manipulating global events.

The genealogy of this form conspiracy first found expression in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century: however it has continued to be influential within conspiracy culture and is a motif frequently recycled and used today.

In one of his recent papers, Evan’s writes about a parasitic class he calls the “paper aristocracy”:

The paper aristocracy has overwhelming wealth. They own or influence all the media – if only because every media organization borrows from banks. They influence almost all the institutions that employ professional economists, by supplying the money for PhDs and providing most of the lucrative consulting jobs for economists. They buy politicians by the truckload. The banksters have even killed the occasional thorn in their side—including, probably, two US presidents, Lincoln and Garfield…”

So when you hear sceptics repeat the oft repeated phrase “follow the money” it is not simply a claim that scientists and environmentalists are motivated by venal self interest: the money is used to exert influence and reshape the political system behind the scene (or so the conspiracy theory claims).

It is a claim to a massive conspiracy that has its roots in a number of strands of right-wing thought.

Again, patterns in thought and conspiracy making can be seen to be emerging.

Eternal vigilance: the existential socialist threat that never fades

I would also add the above the persistent right-wing fear of socialism or Marxism as a resurgent force. The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but the cultural and Cold War warriors have sworn to remain every vigilant to the danger.

This is why the conflict between “freedom” and “tyranny” can never end; it is a holy war, apocalyptic in nature and an existential threat that can never fade.

Again, we see this in a 2012 speech by Vaclav Klaus:

From the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, that is from the establishment of the Club of Rome and its first reports, I became afraid of the green ideology, in which I saw a dangerous alternative to the traditional socialist doctrine. It was evident that it was another radical attempt to change human society. The alleged depletion of natural resources and the so called population bomb were merely a pretence. At that time it was not possible to see the Global Warming Doctrine that arrived later, nor the power and dangers hidden inside it…

The barbarians are always at the gates, waiting to destroy civilisation.

Climate scepticism: the roots of the movement go beyond big oil

One of the most important works on climate scepticism is the Oreskes and Conway text Merchants of Doubt.

I do not intend to challenge the very sound assumptions of that book.

But I did think as I read the work (and I humbly suggest this) it only told part of the story.

Thus I decided to revisit the primary materials from the same periods – the immediate post war years until today.

I also thought it worth while expanding my research beyond the sources listed in Merchants of Doubt and review a broader range of texts, articles and videos by the individuals discussed.

Very quickly I began finding “climate sceptic” materials from the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrating the sceptic movement is more than simply the product of the right wing think tanks funded by “big oil”.

Their language and motifs echoed the claims of right-wing popularism to a surprising degree.

Indeed many of the arguments we are still responding to today – action on climate will destroy the economy, climate change is a religion or a manufactured hoax etc. – were formulated in the mid to late 1980s and have been endlessly recycled in the decades since.

Conspiracism is a key feature of all these movements, and has heavily influenced the culture of the climate sceptic community.

An argument can be made that in addition to the think tanks funded by “big oil”, a broad based right-wing conservative movement has waged a “war on science”.

For far too long we saw scepticism as the one defining characteristic of the deniers: however their scepticism is merely one component of a much broader world view.

Indeed the attack on climate science has been running for decades on multiple fronts by a broad coalition of conservative forces using the language and tactics of right-wing popularism.

Genesis of the watermelon myth: the religious anxiety and climate scepticism Dixy Lee Ray

Those who have read the Oreskes and Conway book may recall Dixy Lee Ray, the conservative Democratic governor of Washington state (see page 130 ff).

Ray wrote one of the earliest sceptic books titled Trashing the planet: how science can help us deal with acid rain, depletion of ozone, and nuclear waste (among other things).

In this work Ray sang the praises of DDT and dismissed the threat of Ozone depletion, helping establish the sceptic methodology for the attack on climate science.

As Orekes and Conway note, Ray was a practitioner of ‘denial as a political strategy”:

“…We see this narrative first emerging someone we have already met: Dixy Lee Ray. In Trashing the planet, Ray sang the praises of DDT and constructed a set of ‘facts” that have circulated every since…”

Oreskes and Conway examine her role in the early sceptic movement, her scientific misunderstandings (or if you are less charitable distortions) and her legacy. However, Ray’s legacy goes beyond the “DDT is safe” myth.

When I looked at the full extent of Ray’s writings I was curious to find the following interview in the Fall, 1992, issue of Science and the Environment: a Publication of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (note the title).

In this interview Ray reflects on the original Rio Earth Summit and claims environmentalism is the next big threat to “liberty”:

R&L: With the world-wide decline of socialism, many individuals think that the environmental movement may be the next great threat to freedom. Do you agree? 

Ray: Yes, I do, and I’ll tell you why. It became evident to me when I attended the worldwide Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last June. The International Socialist Party, which is intent upon continuing to press countries into socialism, is now headed up by people within the United Nations. They are the ones in the UN environmental program, and they were the ones sponsoring the so-called Earth Summit that was attended by 178 nations.

Ray then goes on to make a remarkable series of claims that foreshadows much of the sceptic movements claims about world government, climate change as a religion and the conspiratorial notion the UN Agenda 21 program is intended to usher in a world government:

R&L: Did you see a big influence by the radical environmentalists there? 

Ray: Oh yes. No question about that, the radicals are in charge. One of the proposals that did indeed pass as part of Agenda 21 proposes that there be world government under the UN, that essentially all nations give up their sovereignty, and that the nations will be, as they said quite openly, frightened or coerced into doing that by threats of environmental damage. 

R&L: Much of the current environmental movement is couched in terms of pagan religions, worshiping the Earth, goddess Gaia, equating the value of trees and people, animal rights, etc. Can you account for how this is accepted in the public forum, when traditional Judeo-Christian religious ethics are basically outlawed from policy making decisions? Do you think the general public is just unaware of the tendency to make environmentalism a religion?

On the role of government, Ray is very clear:

R&L: One could argue that the decline of Marxism vindicates Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that the less government does to the complex order of a national economy, the more likely it is that the economy will prosper and the liberty of its citizens will be secured. In the complex order of the environment, what things are appropriate for government to do in order to protect the natural workings of the environment and simultaneously secure liberty?

Ray: I think it’s appropriate for the government to set standards. For example, to describe what is permitted in the terms of releasing waste products into the environment. I think that it’s appropriate for there to be standards with respect to pollution of the air and the water and so on. I do not believe that the government is in any position to say exactly how every single business and every single activity shall reach those performances. The government should set a goal for a clean environment but not mandate how that goal should be implemented.

And there you have it: climate scepticism, religious conservatism, free market fundamentalism and conspiracy ideation.

Ray’s thoughts epitimise the culture war; they also point to the genesis of “the watermelon” myth in context to climate change.

The debate we have been fighting for the last 20 years has been informed by a fusionist mix of social and religious conservatism.

In the Ray interview we see – in its most nascent and earliest form – the contemporary climate sceptic movement born from a culture of right-wing popularism.

Thus when Sen, Jim Inhofe claims in his book The Greatest hoax: how the global warming conspiracy threatens your future about the role of God in climate change:

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.”

My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

…he is not saying anything new.

Indeed his world view and politics is shaped by the sometimes conflicting and at other times overlapping ideology of the New Right.

We also see this with UK journalist and climate sceptic James Delingpole who has devoted an entire work to the concept of “watermelons”. It echos the claims made by Dixy Lee Ray over twenty years ago.

The book, Watermelons: the green movement’s true colors, merely works in an established tradition (form the blurb which says it all):

Watermelons shows how the scientific method has been sacrificed on the altar of climate alarmism. Delingpole mocks the green movement’s pathetic record of apocalyptic predictions, from the “population bomb” to global cooling, which failed to materialize. He reveals the fundamental misanthropy of green ideology, “rooted in hatred of the human species, hell bent on destroying almost everything man has achieved”. 

Delingpole gives a refreshing voice to widespread public skepticism over global warming, emphasising that the “crisis” has been engineered by people seeking to control our lives by imposing new taxes and regulations. “Your taxes will be raised, your liberties curtailed and your money squandered to deal with this ‘crisis'”, he writes. 

At its very roots, argues Delingpole, climate change is an ideological battle, not a scientific one. Green on the outside, red on the inside, the liberty-loathing, humanity-hating “watermelons” of the modern environmental movement do not want to save the world. They want to rule it.

Delingpole, like Ray, warns about vast global conspiracies and the stealth motives of “Agenda 21′ in his text.

Conclusions: climate scepticism as a form of right-wing popularism?

I tend to think the voluminous primary material similar to Ray’s interview supports the assertion the climate sceptic movement is an offshoot – or part thereof – of the right-wing popularism that has been growing in power and influence for the past several decades.

Climate sceptics have utilized the tactics and language of this movement since the late 1980s and early 1990s: I believe the documentary evidence supports this hypothesis.

Indeed, the climate sceptic movement shares many of the same characteristics and traits of right-wing popularism:

  • anti-intellectualism
  • social conservatism
  • conspiracy claims
  • producerism

These topics will be explored in future posts, and I believe it is a hypothesis worth exploring.

Final thoughts

Key message to the environment movement: stop fighting the war over scientific facts; stop thinking climate scepticism is the product of fossil fuel industry disinformation; start speaking of our values; stop being obsessed with “who” funds which think tank, the public is indifferent to this failed strategy. It’s bigger than that: it has always been so.

Climate deniers: making the world safe from bankers? (guest post)

Tim at New Anthropocene has posted an article exploring the strange nexus between conspiracy culture, belief and climate change denial. It is a good extension of some of the conversation that has been focussed on conspiracy ideation.  It is part of the growing awareness that parts of the climate change “sceptic” movement employ motifs and tropes typical of conspiracy culture, some of which extend back decades. Enjoy, Mike @ WtD.

In rejecting evidence contrary to ones values we’re left with an obvious question; what is it about the value that leaves it immune to reasoning?

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris provides such an answer to religious conviction with a fear of death. As discussed in my previous post, this clearly spills into other subjects, such as evolution and climate change, which ultimately question a given doctrine adhered to by an individual. Without meaning to, by challenging the creation myth or omnipotence of a super being (in controlling our climate), we bring the theology into question and with it, one’s immortality. It’s simply unquestionable to such people.

On the other hand, what can we make of the mantra of people like Dr David Evans and Christopher Monckton (associated and apparently shared views with The Galileo Movement)? An outline of this was spotted by Mike at WtD and highlighted in the post, A cabal of bankers and Sister Souljah: Lewandowsky versus the extreme sceptic fringe. I suggest you read through the full article, but for the sake of this post, I’ll mention a few key features.

Basically, dating back to the Middle Ages, there has been a developing class of invisible people growing rich on making money out of thin air, leading us down a path of endless debt to this secret group, siphoned from communities via taxes and interest (bared on, money imagined into existence). It gets weirder in that this invisible enemy is working to develop a single world government that one gets the impression would be oppressive.

Even involuntary commitments, such as only being able to purchase high-efficiency light globes (I suspect fluoridation of drinking water as well – especially if it’s deemed to be costing us) are taken as evidence of the build-up to this new government. Nova provides a caricature of these fears (which she obviously shares).

It reads like Hubbard’s Dianetics.

This doctrine, like its religious counterparts, is far older than the “debate” over climate change and is not really focused on the science of climate change at all (ie. it’s more about the use of fuel to power their dreams and taxes that propose to restrict climate change – the scientific evidence is just a victim to all this). It is an extremely conservative ideology, manifesting its own boogiemen to drawn the necessary conclusions. It justifies (and indeed, exaggerates) a core conservative value: individualism. As Sam Harris puts it in Free Will;

“Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse…

“And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they weren’t born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.”

Now, to bring this back to the opening point; what is it about this ideology that leads one to reject compelling contrary evidence? I suspect the principles of individualism ultimately let such people down and they need a scapegoat.

To return to the Harris quote, such individuals believe beyond all doubt, that it is the individual alone that is responsible for their successes and failures in life. We of course tend to far more easily acknowledge our personal successes than the shortcomings of our actions. In the case of extreme conservatives, the only thing that ought to stand between themselves and the riches they can obtain (or deserve) is, well, themself. Why then, are they not rich/powerful/etc?

It is those who “steal” their money – the banks and governments. It is the “powerful” (which, in most cases, doesn’t seem to stretch to the CEO’s and players on Wall Street within this ideologies – rather, such people are the example they wish to emulate) to blame.

Accepting the compelling evidence against reckless resource exploitation and climate change leads to changes in behaviour necessary to ensure increased sustainability into the distant future (and look how this is portrayed in Nova’s caricature). This ignores the core principles of individualism while amplifying the fears that governments and bankers are out to take your hard-earned money.

Just as with the religiously minded who hears you challenge their doctrine when confronted with conflicting evidence, these extreme conservatives hear mindless puppets to a secret world order, threatening their way of life; their pursuit of personal wealth. It also touches on a sensitive nerve already imbedded to explain their failed attempts to emulate their heroes of success.

It would explain the venomous behaviour we encounter in such “debates” and the overall tone of works, such as Nova’s second handbook.

The only course of action, I suspect is, firstly, keep your distance. Secondly, ask questions (as mentioned in the previous post). Questions such as, “Who is behind the multigenerational “hoax” of climate change?” or “What hard evidence do you have of this secret banker society, their desire for a new world government and involvement with climate change?” or “Why have they been hiding for more than 500 years, waiting to take over – surely they could have in the great depression or at countless other times in history – why wait so long in hiding?”

Nut it out – dig into the rabbit whole. By exposing it to the light, one would hope they would start to see the many unanswerable questions to their ideology – the great lengths they go to make it fit reality. They may start to feel a little silly with the increasingly odd conclusions they have to draw (again, I direct you back to the post at WtD for a more detailed look at it).

The thing to remember is that you’re not arguing with such people over the validity of the scientific evidence regarding climate change. You’re nowhere near it. For that reason, you need to aim the conversation instead to what it really in question; how valid is the idea of hidden bankers out to take over the world?

A Cabal of Bankers and Sister Souljah: Lewandowsky versus the extreme sceptic fringe

Over at Shaping tomorrow’s World, Stephan Lewandowsky has commented on how “the penny” may be dropped for the “mainstream” climate sceptics (Andrew Bolt for example): elements of the “denial” movement are extremists.

Lewandowsky notes in the article “A Cabal of Bankers and Sister Souljah:

There are subtle indications that even among climate “skeptics” a penny has dropped. Ardent “skeptics” suddenly recognize the need to address their own fringe. This is best illustrated by the moves of Mr. Andrew Bolt, a right-wing blogger and Murdoch columnist, who commands a large audience in Australia despite his high-profile conviction for racial vilification.

Mr. Bolt has referred to me variously as a global warming evangelist or smearer. Despite those obvious failings, Mr. Bolt publicly distanced himself from the “Galileo Movement.” The Galileo Movement is an Australian climate-denial outfit that variously reminds me of Monty Python and Fox News.

Although initially listed as one of their “advisors”, together with other practicing scientists such as Australia’s most famous shock jock, Mr. Bolt discovered that the Movement’s views about climate science comprise an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory involving a “cabal” of bankers who strive to dominate the world via carbon trading (or something like that, I apologize if I have not penetrated the full nuances of this theory).

If even Mr. Bolt is concerned about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, then we have arrived at a Sister Souljah moment for climate denial.

Being very familiar with the more problematical claims made by some segments of the sceptic community, I noted the following in the discussion section of the article:

This is an interesting discussion, to which I’d like to bring the following materials and quotes for comment. This will no doubt prompt discussion, but it is important to closely examine the claims being put forward and what is the supporting evidence.

I believe it is essential that commentators – both bloggers and those in the media – spend time reviewing the primary materials.

With that in mind, let us turn our attention some of these claims being made: I fully accept that many individuals may not be aware of the source materials of some of NWO/banking conspiracy theories. It is well understood that conspiracy theorists re-purpose old materials every decade to explain new anxieties. I trust that people will review these materials and the arguments being put forward by some – not all – climate sceptics. I am not accusing any individual of anti-Semitism.

With this in mind, I refer people to the work of Australian sceptic, Dr. David Evans and his paper “Manufacturing money; and global warming” published by the Science and Public Policy Institute in 2009. An archived copy is available here

It is more than reasonable to ask for clarification of the claims being made, in particular due to the apparent sources or influences.

————————————————————

Claim one: international bankers killed two US Presidents

————————————————————-

Evans in the paper wrote: ““The paper aristocracy has overwhelming wealth. They own or influence all the media – if only because every media organization borrows from banks. They influence almost all the institutions that employ professional economists, by supplying the money for PhDs and providing most of the lucrative consulting jobs for economists. They buy politicians by the truckload. The banksters have even killed the occasional thorn in their side—including, probably, two US presidents, Lincoln and Garfield…” (Manufacturing money; and global warming” page 9)

Evans claims “banksters” may have had two US presidents killed.

The major source of the claim that Lincoln was killed by “international bankers” was made in 1978 in the publication “The Rothschild’s’ International Plot to Kill Lincoln” in New Solidarity published in 1976 (the same magazine I believe is/was associated with Lyndon LaRouche and his movement).

I refer readers to page 242. of the book, “The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies”, by William Hanchett (1982) for a brief discussion:

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=LkpXNY32FVoC&lpg=PA278&ots=YIpJgYZb6b&dq=%22The%20Rothschilds’%20International%20Plot%20to%20Kill%20Lincoln%22%20new%20solidarity&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=rothschilds&f=false

I would recommend readers then search the Internet for instances of the 1976 publication and how it is interpreted by individuals and fringe groups. The Lincoln assassination by bankers has also a standard trope of conspiracy culture for several years, and popular among right wing elements who are opposed to the concept of the US Federal Reserve and fantasize about the influence of the Rothschild family.

———————————————————–

Claim two: the Rothschild’s and international bankers are involved in climate change (somehow) and the general economic collapse

———————————————————–

Evans in his paper wrote the following: “There are a small number of families who, over the centuries, have amassed wealth through financial rent seeking. They are leading members of the paper aristocracy. For example, the Rothschild’s are the biggest banking family in Europe, and were reputed to own half of all western industry in 1900. That sort of wealth doesn’t just dissipate, because unless the managers are incompetent the wealth tends to concentrate. The banking families don’t work for a living in the normal sense, like the rest of us. They avoid scrutiny and envy by blending in and make themselves invisible. Since they own or influence all sorts of media organizations, it isn’t too hard. There are unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories, but nobody can really credibly say how much wealth and influence they have. What are the paper aristocracy going to do in the aftermath of the current huge bubble? The course and end of the bubble are quite foreseeable, so they must have a plan. (Ibid. page 32)

This is a problematical claim: in essence the Rothschild’s don’t “work for a living” and “avoid scrutiny” and that they “they must have a plan”. Within aspects of conspiracy culture there is a belief/theory called the “general economic collapse” – that is a deliberate financial collapse orchestrated by shadowy banking cabals in order to profit from the chaos. It is theorised that this “plan” has been in operation for centuries.

Evans details a world chronology that incorporates a history of banking and that of climate change.

He writes: “…In the Middle Ages, goldsmiths took gold deposits from individuals for safekeeping. The receipts for these deposits circulated as money, because they were more convenient than the metal itself. But the goldsmiths learned they could issue many more “receipts” than they had gold. They would typically lend out receipts for ten times as much gold as they had, on the assumption that not everyone would try to redeem their receipts for metal at the same time. Money was thereby manufactured, or created out of thin air. Furthermore, the goldsmith would charge interest on the receipts they lent out, to compensate for the risk of not being repaid and to make a profit.”

Evans also writes: “…The wider class of people who control and manufacture paper money in all its forms are referred to in this essay as the paper aristocracy: the banks, the government, and those who know how to work the system of paper money. They are the kings of the financial system. This banking class started from humble beginnings as goldsmiths, grew rich by over-issuing paper that represented gold, eventually dispensed with gold and all its constraints, and have now graduated to rule the financial universe with a money system based entirely on paper.”

The question is: what has this anything do with climate change? Apart from a distorted view of money and the financial system, I fail to see what gold smiths have to do with climate change as a purported hoax?

Two phrases are of concern, and ***can be**** used as code words (I stress can be): “Rothschild” and “international banking families”.

I refer readers to the following text to appreciate the problematical nature of the claims: “Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia Of Prejudice And Persecution, Volume 1” by Richard S. Levy.

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Tdn6FFZklkcC&lpg=PP1&ots=qKZtsayMXL&dq=encyclopedia%20antisemitism%20vol%201&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=encyclopedia%20antisemitism%20vol%201&f=false

I refer readers to the following entries:

1/ The entry on the “Rothschild’s” on page 624 in which the long history of conspiracy theories involving the Rothschild family is explained

2/ The long running popular rage against “international bankers” that goes back to the 1930s under the entry “Charles E. Coughlin” on page 140 of the book.

3/ See also the entry on page 55.56 “Bankers, Jew”.

4/ See also this discussion of the text “The Profound Revolution” by Mary M. Davison by Political Research Associates and the troubled nature of claims about bankers and the New World Order

http://www.publiceye.org/apocalyptic/Dances_with_Devils_1-01.html

Public Eye notes the following on the international bankers theory of Davison: “In the 1960s, a great deal of right-wing conspiracy’s attention focused on the United Nations as the vehicle for creating the One World Government. Mary M. Davison, in her 1966 booklet The Profound Revolution, traced the alleged “New World Order” conspiracy to the creation of the Federal Reserve by international bankers, who she claimed later formed the Council on Foreign Relations. At the time the booklet was published, “international bankers” would have been interpreted by many readers as a reference to a postulated “international Jewish banking conspiracy.” Davison included the standard call for the people to rise up against internationalism and rebuild a constitutional form of government–a call echoed later by various right wing populist groups including the contemporary armed militia movement.120 Davison later wrote tracts that were overtly anti-Semitic and tied to Christian Biblical passages.”

I note the following passage in Evans “Manufacturing money; and global warming” on page 8, which is an example of Evans writings on the US Federal Reserve:

“The banks and government got together in a big way in the United States in 1913, with the creation of the Federal Reserve. This was the third time a central bank had been created in the US; the previous two ended in ignominy or failure. It’s been a lucrative partnership. The bank money manufactured by the private banks is labelled as national money, backed by the government, instead of just the private currencies of individual banks. Government gets to borrow as much money as it wants whenever it wants. The government has run up a huge tab that future taxpayers must pay off through actual hard work, although the debt is now so large that it can never be paid off without also reducing the value of the dollar, and our descendants may be paying it off in perpetuity. All this for money that is created legally out of thin air, and for which the banks charge interest. Beautiful. As the say in the world of confidence tricks, the best con is one where the mark doesn’t even know they’ve been conned.”

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Claim three: the political class want to usher in a “one world government”

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On March 23, 2011 in a anti-Carbon Tax rally in Perth, Evans made the following claim in a speech: “Official climate science, which is funded and directed entirely by government, promotes a theory that is based on a guess about moist air that is now a known falsehood. Governments gleefully accept their advice, because the only way to curb emissions are to impose taxes and extend government control over all energy use. And to curb emissions on a world scale might even lead to world government — how exciting for the political class!”

The video is available here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di5FyndJbz0

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Claim four: the political class want to usher in a “one world government”

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In a joint publication with Lord Christopher Monckton, titled “Climate coup – the politics”, Evans made the following claim: “…The real issue here is a grab for absolute power by those who already govern. They have grown tired of democracy and would like to do away with it, without ever giving the game away by actually saying so. This is the age-old divide between the totalitarians and libertarians. Coalitions like the current regulating class have always been instinctively totalitarian, desirous of interfering in every tiny detail of our lives—for our own good of course, and prodigiously at our expense. They are now even telling us what kind of light-bulbs we can use. With the rise of democracy, it looked like the regulating class would be subject to the will of the people. The US Constitution explicitly defines the obligations of government to the people, and not of people to the government. However, liberty, democracy, and the free market are now again at grave risk, and “global warming” is the Trojan Horse the regulating class are hoping to ride to victory over the people.”

They also claim COP15 was a failed global coup: “All of that national sovereignty would have been ceded to an unelected group of global bureaucrats: Never in the field of human administration would so much power have been transferred by so many to so few. This was a narrowly averted global coup, an attempt to seize a great deal of power by stealth without the knowledge or explicit consent of the world’s people. It can only have been kept silent with the active support of the world’s media.”

Questions to sceptics and media commentators:

1. Do you support the above claims made by Monckton and Evans?

2. Can the evidence for these claims be provided?

3. Where are the exact sources of these claims from?

4. Do you agree with the claim about international banking families and the Rothschild family?

5. Was COP15 a failed coup?

At the very least, have a look at the article by Lewandowsky.

Hate mail and cyber trolls: great article on science versus vested interests (reprint)

A great article on The Conversation today about the relentless war waged against scientists and science communicators by vested interest groups, conspiracy theorists and internet trolls. Obviously this resonated with me – as I’ve said a number of times on this blog, the climate debate can feel like trench warfare. It’s not for the faint hearted.

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By Simon Chapman, University of Sydney (The Conversation 6 September 2012)

The Charlotte Dawson troll saga shocked many Australians, with revelations of vile tweets, death threats and online intimidation. Nobody should have to endure this kind of abuse, but unfortunately it’s surprisingly common for those of us working in areas that challenge strong interest groups.

Over 35 years, my work as a public health researcher and advocate has upset many disease-promoting industries, their cheer squads and various nut-job cause leaders.

In the 1990s, after lobbying for gun law reform, I got lots of feverish hate mail from “decent, law-abiding shooters” and a traced death threat. Each anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre I’m sent anonymous white feathers. Sixteen years on there has not been another mass shooting.

A leading anti-vaccinationist challenged me to bare my backside on TV while I was injected with all the evil vaccines I supported, calibrated up to match my weight. I didn’t do it but by coincidence, the next day I had five vaccines for an African trip. I write from the grave.

More recently, Gerard Henderson told readers that because I have no medical degree, no one should believe a word I say about the problems with prostate cancer screening – despite similar concerns having been raised by every expert group that investigated the issue. I’m sure Gerard wouldn’t listen to Oxford’s Sir Richard Peto, the world’s foremost epidemiologist, either. After all, he’s a mere mathematician.

Gerard’s sentiments are shared by UK blogger “Big” Dick Puddlecote, who sounds like he might be a Beatrix Potter villain. According to Dick, I’m a “swivel eyed loon … a sociologist who has posed as health expert for the past 30 years.”

The pro-tobacco people also have a way with words. And the growing momentum toward plain packaging has made their heads spin like Linda Blair in the green projectile vomit scene in The Exorcist.

According to the tobacco lobbyists, I am “the Worst Public Health Person In The World … the perfect storm of a card-carrying public health person who is harmful to both public health science and the public’s health.” I am also “responsible for the most pointless deaths of his countrymen since the guy who ordered the army to Gallipoli”.

All this is because in the 1980s, I advised the government to ban smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff) in Australia, thwarting a circling US tobacco company hoping to start a whole new route of addiction here.

For years, the author of this nastiness, “Professor” Carl Phillips who “runs a university-like research shop”, took money from the smokeless tobacco industry. Unlike the fools who awarded me various medals for my work, Carl notes that “nothing Chapman ever did made any substantial difference in the inexorable flow” away from smoking. Apparently, it all happens by itself.

Bathing in cyber sewage

Within the blogosphere is a sewer of frothing, often anonymous, swill. The comments are today’s equivalent of the threatening call from a phone booth. A dozen or so blogs I check on occasionally – with the compulsion we have to look at car crashes – are echo chambers for the same small group of serial hate mongers.

Jay, who has the gift and never exaggerates, says of me: “Like a vicious herpes infection, or a stinking, floating turd that just won’t be flushed, Simon Chapman won’t go away. To say he is a petty, hateful bastard is being way too kind. This man is quite possibly the root of all evil in modern society. In the fullness of the time, the world will see him as one of the most hateful beings to have lived.” I don’t believe we’ve met, Jay.

Always on the spot with timely comparisons, Lou observed recently, “The similarities in reasoning between Simon Chapman and Anders Breivik are terrifying. Both are convinced of their own ‘right’ and thus their justification to take life. Simon Chapman only wants official sanction to do this and I have no doubt he would derive great pleasure in shooting smokers. Indeed I suspect he would spend many years doing little else.” Lock your doors.

One commenter suggested that April should be “make Simon Chapman regret saying silly things on Twitter month”. Terrified, I locked myself in my lead-walled bunker.

Patsy had a red-hot go, insisting I earn $3 million a year (that’s around the total competitive grant funds I share with various colleagues, spread across five years, all of which pays for staff). But Pasty won’t hear a bar of it. She says I’m “a dangerous sociopath and he scares me.”

Another troll says I’m “the kind of vermin that now infest our society … I believe he’s been involved in producing several studies which I would dearly love to boil down in fish oil and force feed him every rotten scrap.”

But nothing prepared me for the UK’s Christopher Snowdon, an “independent” blogger who is now a cyber errand boy for Big Tobacco. I’ve copped “grandpa”, “scrotum-faced head-banger” and “wrinkled rocker”, all because I have attained the advanced age of 60 and sing in a band. With life expectancy of at least another 20 years, about half of young Master Christopher’s age, I plan to be around for a while.

Meanwhile, smoking rates are the lowest on record and still in free fall. Today’s male lung cancer rates per 100,000 were last seen in 1962 and female will never get to half the peak seen in males.

Simon Chapman does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

QoD: “We have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technologies”

E.O. Wilson, a biologist whose work on the social insects I’ve long read with admiration (though I’m less enamoured with his recent work on kin versus group selection) provides today’s quote of the day. It is taken from an article from the Irish Times titled Mental blocks contribute to our inaction on climate change:

If this comes as a surprise, you are by no means alone. “We have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technologies,” is how noted Harvard biologist EO Wilson framed our dilemma. Many scientists suspect the general public is too wedded to magical thinking and heuristic reasoning to truly grasp the implications of what climate science has been spelling out with ever-greater urgency for the last two decades. This is at best a limited explanation.

Evidence from behavioural and brain sciences points to the fact that “the human moral judgment system is not well equipped to identify climate change – a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon – as an important moral imperative”, according to a recent article in the science journal, Nature Climate Change.

Thus I’m not impressed when anyone states “I believe in climate change” or “I don’t believe in climate change”. It has nothing to do with faith – for me at least. I recognise by cognitive limitations and defer not to the expertise an individual, but to the collective knowledge of the world’s scientific community.

I am personally ill-equipped to “prove” or “falsify” climate science: which is why I don’t debate the science. I will read the research in order to deepen my understanding, and ask questions and – yes – even be sceptical. But I believe I have the humility to acknowledge my limitations, unlike some.

The Wilson quote reminded me of the long running discussion that has been raging on my post on countering the denial movement. In response to a question from Sundance, a regular commentator here, on the question of “human nature” I noted:

We are pattern seeking animals, it is what marks our species as distinctive. And is foundational to our survival. Agreed. There is a difference between politics and human behavior, but one informs the other.

I’d also note the “flight or fight” response is also essential to survival (actually that’s a very crude way to describe a complex range of adaptive behaviors, but lets treat it as shorthand). It is near universal among all animals. Deep within the structure of our brain is the amygdala – associated with modulating fear, aggression and memory consolidation. But the flight or fight response can also be maladaptive.

The point is this: the interaction between our psychology, individual values and the norms of our community and society will temper how we react to the world quite profoundly. I have a hunch that the climate change debate is less about left versus right and more about our species and its ability to problem solve.

We evolved in the plains of Africa, and for hundreds of thousands of years lived in extended family groups as hunter gatherers. 5,000-10,000 or so years ago we started farming and building the first cities. In the last 100 years the world’s population has grown from 2bn to almost 7bn. We’ve been to the moon, invented writing and developed complex societies. Our cultural evolution has been stunning, and yes worth celebrating. I celebrate the achievements of our civilisation.

And [all the] while evolution has continued its slow, iterative pace. The cognitive skill set we have is perfectly adapted to foster the individual’s survival instincts has changed little. Put crudely, the problem is beyond the scope of the individual and even groups of individuals.

That’s what makes climate change seem overwhelming – terrifying even. Thus an individual’s reaction in either denial, indifference and at the other extreme fatalism (the world is doomed!) is understandable. Everyone will grapple with these basic emotions – including myself. I have no special knowledge, but I have meditated long on my own response and sought out the best information to ensure I am informed.

Flight or fight responses can be maladaptive: to give but one example of fight or flight misfiring, think of the zebra standing frozen before the lion unable to react.

Climate change is a civilisational challenge that transcends the individual’s ability to both fully understand it’s risks and devise potential solutions. This is why we may be at such a stalemate.

The scientific method is one of our tools in understanding the world, but also recognizing and explaining risk.

Climate science is the early warming radar of civilisation: we can pay attention to the looming danger on the screen, or scream at our instruments in terror and frustration. We can choose to dismiss one set of instruments, and claim it broken. But when all the instruments and all the warning systems are screaming “code red” to ignore them is denial. It’s flight or fight gone awry.

Then we are no different from the zebra standing transfixed in the face of a predator.

Readers here appreciate I am very much focused on exploring and even countering arguments from climate sceptics – this is part of the political debate and the discussion over values. I’ve always acknowledged that. Indeed, my values and centrist politics are stated on the “about page”.

But I see this debate between sceptics and proponents of the science as a tiny component of a much larger, richer and more complex problem of mitigation and adaptation.

And for me that is what is both fascinating and tragic. 

However I think Wilson’s quote sums it up beautifully, and far more concisely than I could.

I am also reminded on a beautiful scene in one of my favorite films, 1993’s Gettysburg (see above), based on the book “The Killer Angels” by Michael Sharma – a fictionalised account that famous battle from the US Civil War.

The scene contrasts our capacity for genius and our frequent descent into barbarity: “What a piece of work is man…”

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